Guest post by Blake Watson.
I've tried a lot of remote apps, but for me, HippoRemote gets the nod. Once you go through a surprisingly painless setup process, HippoRemote will connect to your computer and hand the reins over to you. Your iPhone is now a fully-featured multi-touch trackpad. Tap the keyboard button at the top of the screen and HippoRemote will provide you with a standard iPhone keyboard with some extra features attached. Explore further, and you will see that HippoRemote turns your iPhone or iPod Touch into an advanced media browser that lets you interact with some of the coolest media programs on your Mac, including the built in stuff like iTunes and Front Row as well as third party apps like Boxee and Hulu Desktop. Let's walk through some of HippoRemote's features. HippoRemote comes in a few different flavors, so we'll be looking at HippoRemote Pro.
The keyboard behavior of HippoRemote is arguably the best available on a remote app. Most standard iPhone keyboard behavior is present. For example, spacing after a period or a comma will change the keyboard from the punctuation layout back to the alphabet layout. Tapping the shift key once will keep it activated until you tap a letter, then it is deactivated. If you want CAPSLOCK then double tap the shift key to activate it, then tap it once when your done. These behaviors are the Apple standard, but many remote apps do not use them because of the way characters are sent to the computer. I find that these behaviors are important because they increase typing efficiency.
In addition to replicating iPhone's standard keyboard behaviors, HippoRemote takes advantage of iPhone's built-in ability to predict what you are writing. HippoRemote displays what you are typing in a text field on the phone at the same time that it is sending it to your computer. If you misspell a word, you can tap on it to see substitutes and HippoRemote will make the correction on your computer automatically. HippoRemote also displays a list of the last few strings you've typed. Touching one will re-type that string.
Besides standard keyboard layouts, HippoRemote provides arrow keys and modifier keys (command, option, etc.) as well as the full range of function keys.
HippoRemote adds one feature that I haven't seen in other remote apps: it has support for TextExpander Touch. TextExpander Touch allows you to create snippets of text that can be automatically triggered by specified shortcodes (eg, "fn" could expand to your full name). You don't need TextExpander on your Mac for these to work, as TextExpander Touch expands the snippets before they're sent to the computer.
The keyboard supports vertical and horizontal orientations. And in the Basic or Lite versions of HippoRemote, the keyboard and the trackpad can be displayed at the same time.
The multi-touch trackpad features left and right mouse buttons as well as the ability to use tapping, two-finger scrolling and other gestures. If you are like me, and have trouble using more than one finger, you will appreciate HippoRemote's unique scroll button. By moving your finger from the bottom of the screen to the middle, you activate a scrolling knob that allows you to scroll by moving your finger in a clockwise or counter-clockwise motion. That means you can use one finger to scroll without the need to look down.
Like the keyboard, the trackpad supports vertical and horizontal orientations.
Profiles for Remote Control Panels
HippoRemote Pro can change its interface based on what application you are using. For example, I am currently in the Mac OS profile. At the bottom of the trackpad area, there are several buttons that allow me to do things like trigger Spotlight and Expose or run macros that control volume, press eject, open Dashboard and other functions. Switching to the iTunes profile provides a control panel for manipulating playback. Switching to the Pandora profile allows you to control the Pandora web app. There are dozens of profiles installed with HippoRemote and more can be added from inside the app itself. If you are technically inclined, there are instructions for making your very own profiles.
On top of all these great features, HippoRemote includes a native web browser and Twitter client. You can even open links from HippoRemote's Twitter client directly in your Mac's web browser.
HippoRemote comes in three flavors: HippoRemote Lite (free, ad-supported), HippoRemote Basic ($1.99USD), and HippoRemote Pro ($4.99USD). Unfortunately, it's a bit confusing as to what features are found in which versions. For the purpose of this review, I used the Pro version. If you are looking to replace a keyboard, I recommend getting the Pro version. At about five bucks, you'll be getting all of HippoRemote's features at a fairly inexpensive price compared to most assistive technology software. However, if having the trackpad and keyboard display simultaneously would be useful for you then you will want to grab the basic version.
If you need to know about a specific feature and you can't find it on the HippoRemote website, feel free to contact the developer. He actually has an interest in making HippoRemote even better for people with disabilities and will value any feedback you provide. That being said, you can always send me an email too.
Here are some other apps that are similar to HippoRemote. Depending on your needs, one of these might work better for you. I have these apps installed on my iPhone. Although I am not planning to review them at the time of this writing, you can email me if you have questions about them.
- Rowmote Pro, $4.99USD, by Evan Schoenberg
- Designed for iPhone and iPad, good keyboard behavior, can display keyboard and trackpad simultaneously, can simulate the Apple Remote Control including support for dozens of applications.
- TouchPad, $4.99USD, by Edovia, Inc.
- Designed for iPhone and iPad, good keyboard behavior, can display keyboard and trackpad simultaneously, great user interface, Windows compatible, media remote.
- Touchpad Elite, $0.99USD, by iTeleport LLC
- Good keyboard behavior, can type locally and then send a paragraph at once, can display keyboard and trackpad simultaneously, Windows compatible, media remote.
- Air Mouse Pro, $1.99USD, by R.P.A. Tech, INC
- Optional accelerometer-based "air" mouse activated by physically moving the iPhone/etc in the air, good keyboard behavior, can display keyboard and trackpad simultaneously, Windows compatible, media remote, separate iPad compatible app.
If you can operate an iPhone or iPod Touch, you might find that typing with HippoRemote is faster and more efficient than typing with an onscreen keyboard. And as an added bonus, you get some powerful, easy-to-use controls for interacting with popular media applications. And if you happen to be a Windows user, you're in luck. HippoRemote is compatible with Windows and Linux as well as Mac OS X.
- Blake Watson