Wednesday, 3 February 2010

iTouch ... mice?

Today I have mostly been playing with TouchMouse, a free iPhone app from Logitech that allows you to control your computer from your iPhone. Strange idea, but interesting, I thought.

In order to control any particular machine, you need to download the TouchMouse server for your operating system (currently Windows or Mac) and, of course, install the TouchMouse client on your iPhone. Starting up the client presents a list of detected servers on your particular wireless network and lets you select one, or enter an IP manually. I've not had to try the IP method yet because it has detected my Windows and Mac laptops perfectly every time.

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In use, the app resembles a cross between a 2D mouse and a 3 button trackpad. The bulk of the iPhone screen is used much as a Macbook trackpad, including 2-finger scrolling (horizontal and vertical) and 2-finger right clicks. Alternatively, you can use the mouse buttons situated at the top of the screen.

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For entering text, press the keyboard button at the bottom and your standard iPhone keyboard pops up. There are extra buttons that allow you to use command, option and control keys (press once to turn on, press again to turn off). Entering text is done in exactly the same way as a normal iPhone app, and the text you're typing appears above the keyboard so you can confirm you've typed what you intended.

In use, it works pretty well. The mouse movement is occassionally a bit jittery and it seems to sometimes detect button clicks when you intend to do short movements, but for short term remote control it would be perfectly acceptable. Another problem is that the keyboard is very limited. There is no TAB key, for example, so entering text in a web form is a bit clumsy because you have to vanish the keyboard, move with the mouse, and reshow the keyboard for each input box.

For all its faults, though, it does what is intended. If you want to control iTunes for a party, or a video player or presentation when used through a projector, it's ideal. And of course, with a few annoying exceptions (TAB keys are important, damnit!) you have a much better array of controls in a remote-sized device than you would with, for example, the Macbook remote. If you are purely using the mouse functionality and have no need for the keyboard at all, you can pop the iPhone down next to you and have a cool little trackpad for firkling with your machine from afar.

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