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  1. Computer Skills
  2. VNC
Computers

Accessing a Mac from an iOS Device Using Screens

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:

Remotely controlling a Mac from an iPhone is one of those things that seems like it belongs in a sci-fi movie, or at least, has a ridiculously long and complex set up procedure that only the geekiest of geeks could get through. 

Thankfully, that’s not the case.

There are a few different ways to do it but, after trying most of them, the simplest, most effective way is to use Screens. All the other solutions I looked at were either way more expensive, far worse, or suffered from that ridiculously long and complex setup procedure problem.

So, let’s look at how to remotely access a Mac from an iOS device using Screens.

Introducing Screens

Screens is a Mac and iOS VNC app. It costs $19.99 on iOS. You install the Screens Connect server app on the Mac to which you want access and then connect through with the client Screens app. 

It’s very simple to use.

One of the biggest advantages of Screens over other VNC clients is that it keeps everything in sync through a Screens ID. There’s none of the awkward faffing around in settings and configuration menus that normally comes with trying to set up an open source protocol.

Setting Up Screens on a Mac

Go to the Screens Connect website and click Create a Screens ID. Enter your email and create a password, then click Create a Screens ID again.

screens id
A Screens ID keeps everything in sync.

Next, download Screens Connect from the same website. Move the app to the Mac’s Applications folder and run it.

Log in with the Screens ID and click Continue a couple of times. 

screens connect
Screens Connect is the client app that runs on the Mac.

For Screens to work, Screen Sharing and Remote Login need to be enabled. Screens Connect will check if they are. 

system preferences
Make sure Screen Sharing and Remote Login are enabled.

If they aren’t, go to System Preferences > Sharing and then tick the boxes next to Screen Sharing and Remote Login.

Screens Connect will also check if NAT-PMP (NAT Port Mapping Protocol) or UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) are enabled on the router. If it is, you’ll get the green tick saying all is good and that Screens Connect is running. 

green tick
Once you get the green tick, Screens is ready to go.

Unfortunately, if NAT-PMP or UPnP aren’t set up or available on your router, I'm unable to offer much advice. Every router is different. 

You'll need to track down the router model and Google things like “Belkin N300 user manual” or “Belkin N300 UPnP setup”. Follow whatever instructions you can find and enable NAT-PMP and UPnP then try running Screens Connect again.

Setting Up Screens on iOS

Download and install Screens on the iOS device you want to use to access the Mac. Open the app then go to Settings > Screens Connect and sign in with the Screens ID.

setting up screens
Setting up Screens on iOS.

Go back to the main screen and add a connection by tapping the + icon. You’ll see a list of all the computers connected to the Screens ID. Select the one to which you want to connect.

In the Authentication section, add the Username and Password of the Mac’s user account. To finish, tap Done.

If the Mac you want to connect to is available, there’ll be a little green dot next to its name. If it isn’t, the dot is grey. If you’ve followed the instructions, the dot should be green. If it isn’t, check that Screens Connect is running correctly on the Mac.

configuring screens
Connecting to a Mac through Screens.

Tap the Mac to which you want to connect. Screens will automatically connect through the VNC protocol information stored in the Screens ID.

Once you’re in, you’ll see the Mac’s screen on the iOS device. 

Using Screens From Anywhere

Screens is simple and intuitive to use. The app uses standard iOS design ideas. As long as both the Mac and iOS device are connected to the Internet, you should have no trouble using it. 

When you’re logged in, you can move the mouse around with one finger. You zoom and pan around your screen using two fingers. To primary-click, position the mouse where you want to click and then tap the screen. 

logged in with screens
Logged in with Screens.

To secondary-click, tap with two fingers instead.

At any time you can bring up the keyboard by tapping on the keyboard icon in the bottom left of the screen. You can also press special keys like Command or Option with the buttons in the tool bar. 

When you tap a special key, it stays on until you click or type a letter. 

onscreen keyboard
The onscreen keyboard lets you control the Mac completely.

This means you can do keyboard shortcuts and bring up the Force Quit menu by pressing Command-Option-Escape.

A few minutes playing around with Screens is more than enough for most people to get the hang of it. If you run into any difficulties, check out the support section of the developer’s website.

Wrapping Up

Screens is an awesome service that makes it simple to remotely connect to a Mac from anywhere. I’ve used Screens to log into my Mac from coffeeshops, airports, buses and dozens of other locations. 

I’ve never had an issue. 

Even better, it’s not just an iOS app. If you’ve got two Macs, you can use the Mac client on one to remotely access the other. It’s great when you’re travelling to have total access to your home computer, especially when you can do it from any device.

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