One of the most useful features for desktop administrators -- the ability to remotely control end users' PCs -- is coming to the iPad.
As more tablets have entered the enterprise, IT pros have struggled without the ability to support them in this manner. Such a feature has topped many admins' wishlists.
There's definitely high demand.
founder, Tech Superpowers
"It's total hyperbole calling remote access and control the holy grail of desired features, but it's going to be remarkably helpful," said Andre Preoteasa, director of IT for Castle Brands Inc., an alcohol distribution company based in New York City.
Apperian Inc., a Boston-based mobile application management (MAM) vendor, will release an administrative iPad remote control function as a premium add-on to its cloud-based EASE Platform. The feature also offers remote iPhone control, but most admins said they want to focus more on supporting iPads.
The value of iPad remote control features
The scenarios where remote control would be handy are pretty much the same, whether you're talking about an iPad or traditional PC. That's why IT pros have wanted this feature for a long time, Preoteasa said.
"As a troubleshooter, being able to remotely control a mobile device would be extremely useful when setting up, at the very least, corporate mail," he said.
"There's definitely high demand," said Michael Oh, founder of Tech Superpowers, an Apple service provider based in Foxboro, Mass. "Anyone supporting iOS, or any tablet for that matter, would love to have remote control."
To date, most mobile device management vendors have provided the ability to remotely view an employee's tablet, but that's about it, Oh said.
"If it was easily possible, from a technical standpoint, you would see a dozen different apps out there," he said. "There's nothing I know of that allows people to take over an iOS device remotely."
"Obviously, jailbreaking every device under IT's control is not a viable option," said Craig Mathias, an enterprise mobility consultant with the Farpoint Group, an advisory firm based in Ashland, Mass. "Given the nature of iOS devices as very personal devices, it's unlikely Apple will ever develop its own remote control solution. So this could be a big deal."
Some observers, however, are skeptical that remote control is even necessary on a tablet.
"From my 2-year-old to my mother and in-laws, all of them have never really gotten stuck using an iPad where they really have to have someone help them figure it out," said Raheel Retiwalla, CEO and founder of GoFuzed, a Dallas-based enterprise social network vendor. "The only time people really need help is when they can't turn an iPad on, at which point this ability would not be useful."
Retiwalla said he could imagine certain situations popping up, outside of the help desk, where remotely controlling an iPad would be useful, such as when testing new applications or setting up devices for remote workers.
Apperian's iPad remote control breakthrough
IT pros struggling to support and enable mobility might not be aware of MAM and its capabilities, but they do understand the benefits of remote control on traditional PCs, said Alan Murray, senior vice president of products at Apperian. Company execs hope the iPad remote control feature will bring a greater awareness to MAM, which gives IT the ability to add additional code for enforcing security and management policies around individual business apps -- without touching personal apps or data.
Murray declined to explain precisely how Apperian will provide these iPad remote control capabilities, other than saying it takes advantage of existing application programming interfaces (APIs) and its MAM product. For an iPad to be remotely controllable, it must have a specific app installed through Apperian's EASE platform. Once the app is launched on the device, an IT admin can select the device through an HTML5-based browser interface.
The browser points to a session-specific URL generated by the app on the tablet, and once the session begins, the admin can interact with a remote view of the device and a virtual keyboard. Admins can also use a dialog box to type and submit information on their physical keyboards.
"We're merely a man in the middle connecting the iPad back to the admin interface," Murray said. "But we're all iPad users ourselves and wanted to put as much power in the end user as possible, so they feel comfortable using this."
For security, the end-user client is locked to the employer's licensed copy of EASE, so that only the proper administrators can gain access to the device. Device users must explicitly allow all remote control sessions, and access to the device is protected by a PIN, which an admin must enter remotely before the session begins.
The device user can even configure the client app to deny access to specific apps and other parts of the device. Access to the camera and phone are blocked by default.
Apperian will announce pricing for the remote control feature when general availability hits at the end of October. If demand for the product is high enough, Apperian would consider offering it as a standalone product, Murray said.