You can’t run Windows apps on your iPad or iPhone, but if you have a Pro or Enterpise edition of Windows, you can remotely access your PC using Windows Remote Desktop. Here’s how to get it set up.
There are a lot of ways to remotely access your computer from iOS, and you can read about all your options here. Remote Desktop, while not as quick to set up as something like TeamViewer, gives a really smooth experience that’s well worth the work if you have a mostly-Windows household. So, we’ll be using the Remote Desktop server built into Windows Pro and Enterprise and the Microsoft Remote Desktop client for iOS 8 or later.
If you can’t use Remote Desktop, though you have other choices. If you’re just helping someone troubleshoot their computer remotely and don’t need continued access–or if they only have a Windows Home edition–you can use Windows 10’s new Quick Assist feature (or the Remote Assistance feature on older Windows versions). Or if you need a more fully-featured remote access program that supports any edition of Windows (and other operating systems), you might take a look at TeamViewer and other remote support tools.
With that in mind, let’s look at setting up Remote Desktop on iOS.
Set Up Your Windows PC for Remote Desktop Connections
If you have decided to use Windows Remote Desktop, the first step is getting it set up on the PC you want to control from remote devices (if you haven’t already). Again, you’ll need to be running a Pro, Business, or Enterprise version of Windows for this to work. Home and other versions can work as a Remote Desktop client for connecting to another machine, but not as a server.
You can read our full guide to turning on Remote Desktop in any version of Windows, but here’s the short version.
First, access the System Properties dialog. How you get there differs a bit in each version of Windows. In Windows 8 or 10, hit Start and search for “Allow remote connections to this computer.” In Windows 7, hit Start, right-click “Computer,” and then choose “Properties.” No matter what version you’re using, though, the System Properties dialog will look the same.
Once there, switch to the “Remote” tab, and then select the “Allow remote connections to this computer” option.
When you’ve got Remote Desktop turned on, you should be able to connect to that computer remotely from any device connected to your local network using the instructions in the next section.
If you want to allow remote connections to the PC over the Internet, though, things are a bit more complicated. You can use a secure method, like setting up a VPN, or a straightforward way, like configuring your router to forward Remote Desktop requests to that PC. What you choose is up to you, but we’ve got a full guide to walk you through it. Once you’ve set that up, you can move on to the next section.
Install and Set Up Microsoft Remote Desktop on Your iOS Device
Now that you have Remote Desktop configured on the PC to which you want to connect, it’s time to turn your attention to the iOS device from which you want to connect. You’ll first need to download and install Microsoft Remote Desktop. When that’s gone, go ahead and fire it up.
The first thing you’ll see is a lonely little screen waiting for a new connection to be added. Do that by tapping the “Add” button at the top right.
We’re going to be adding a connection to a PC, so tap the “Desktop” option. If you’re working with a company that provides remote access to your work PC, they may have you use the “Remote Resources” or “Azure RemoteApp” options instead, depending on how they have things set up.
When you add a new desktop PC, you can type the PC’s full name or use the IP address. If you’re connecting over a local network, you can use either the name or the IP address. If you’re connecting over the Internet, you’ll need to use whatever public IP address is exposed to the Internet for your local network. Type the name or IP address and then tap “Done.”
If you want, you can tap “User Account” and add your Windows user name and password so that you don’t have to enter it each time you connect to the PC. If you’d prefer the security of having to enter your credentials each time, just leave that option alone. Tap “Additional Options” to do a little further configuration.
The “Additional Options” page lets you control a few things:
- Type a friendly name if you used an IP address or your PC has a name that’s not easily identifiable. This friendly name is used only in the Remote Desktop app.
- If you have a more sophisticated local network with multiple subnets, you can configure a gateway device to which all Remote Desktop requests are sent. You’ll need to know the IP address of that gateway.
- You can configure sounds made by the PC to play on your iOS device, the PC itself, or to make no sound at all while you’re connecting remotely.
- If you’re a left-handed user and the PC to which you’re connecting has the mouse buttons swapped, the “Swap Mouse Buttons” switch forces Remote Desktop to respect that.
- The “Admin Mode” option applies only to administrators logging into a Windows server that also functions as a terminal server. If that doesn’t apply to you, just leave it turned off.
When you’re done configuring options, tap “Desktop” and then tap “Save” to save your new connection.
After you create a connection, it will appear in the main “Remote Desktop” window. Right after you’ve created it, the connection will look blank. After you’ve used it, the connection will contain a thumbnail image captured the last time you connected. Just tap the connection to start it up.
Assuming you’ve got Remote Desktop configured properly on your PC, you should connect right away. If you see a screen telling you that the PC is not verified, it’s nothing to worry about. Your desktop PC likely isn’t set up to supply proper authentication credentials. As long as you know you’re connecting to your PC, you’re good to go. Tap “Accept” to continue with the connection. Optionally, you can also turn on the “Don’t as me again for connection to this computer” option if you’d rather not see the message again.
When you’ve connected to your PC, you should be in pretty familiar territory. You can interact with your PC pretty much the same way as if you were using it directly. You will notice a few options on a menu at the top of the screen. The “Zoom” button on the left just lets you get a closer look at what you’re doing.
The “Keyboard” button on the right opens an on-screen keyboard. While in Remote Desktop, you can’t use the regular iOS or third-party keyboards. Instead, you’ll use a keyboard provided by Remote Desktop. The one little change you’ll need to get used to is that the keyboard doesn’t pop up automatically the way it does in iOS. You’ll need to tap the button to show the keyboard and tap it again when you’re done using it and want to see the rest of the screen.
Tap the middle button on that menu to open a few Remote Desktop options. On the left, you can switch between connections if you have multiple connections set up or even add a new connection on the fly. On the right, the “Home” button takes you back to the Remote Desktop app home screen without closing the remote connection. The “End Session” button closes the remote connection. And the “Mouse Pointer” button toggles between letting you interact with the remote PC by touch (the default) or an actual mouse pointer you move around on the screen.
That’s pretty much all there is to using a Remote Desktop connection from your iOS device. Getting Remote Desktop set up in the first place is the trickier part, especially if you need to connect over the Internet. Once that’s done, using the Remote Desktop app in iOS to connect to and control your PC is pretty straightforward.