It's a phone, it's an iPod, it surfs the web, and it finds the closest restaurant serving fried calamari. If you hack it, you can install killer third-party applications. But in addition to all of that, the iPhone is also a killer remote control. You could spend hundreds of dollars on a multimedia remote with a touchscreen interface, glorious album art, and all of the fixings, but if you've already got an iPhone, you really don't need to. Today I'll show you a number of ways you can use the iPhone to remote control everything from iTunes playback to your Windows or Mac desktops.
Control iTunes Playback
Probably the most practical and generally useful application of the iPhone-as-remote, there are a handful of tools that let you remotely control iTunes playback with your iPhone available for both Windows and Mac PCs. The one thing they have in common: They all work inside the iPhone's Safari browser.
Remote Control iTunes with Signal (Windows/Mac): Signal is a shareware Windows and Mac application. Not only is Signal the most attractive iTunes remote solution, but it's also the easiest to set up (with the exception of Telekinesis, which—although it's not as attractive or feature-rich—is extremely simple to set up). To get started, just point your browser to the Signal homepage and grab the free demo. Once installed, point your iPhone's browser (or any browser, for that matter) to
http://yourlocalIPaddress:3569 to get started.
The demo isn't that crippled, especially considering you still get nearly as much and sometimes functionality with the demo version as you do with the full versions of the other freeware solutions for iTunes remote control. When you're searching your library, it displays "Please Register to View" for every third item. That means you can get a good look at what the application can do and can decide whether or not you're interested in purchasing a licence for a somewhat steep $US29.95. I'm not sure it's worth all that, but it really is chock-full of impressive AJAX-y goodness and uses virtually the same interface as the iPod's Now Playing screen.
Remote Control iTunes with iPhone iTunes Remote (Mac):
If you prefer to go the open source route, iTunes iPhone Remote is a Mac application written in Python and AppleScript that runs a simple web server (like the rest). To install it, you need to install the AppleScript Python module from SourceForge and then download and extract the latest release (linked at the bottom of the page). Unzip the folder, then navigate to it in Terminal and type
python run.py. Then just point your browser to http://yourlocalIPaddress:8000. From here you can navigate your library, play and pause music, and adjust the volume.
It's still a little barebones and not everything works perfectly (it's not as polished as Signal), but it works pretty well and it's free. Additionally, the developer says a new version is in the works to be released in about a month, so it could improve dramatically.
Remote Control iTunes with the PSP Remote App (Windows):
If you want to go open source for Windows, you can try something like this previously mentioned iTunes PSP remote control hack, which is just running a web server and optimising the display for a small screen—which means it could be ideal for your iPhone. To use it, you'll first need to set up a personal web server (or install the server in the linked howto). Then, after copying the appropriate files to the appropriate directories, you'll point your iPhone browser to
The problem with this one is that it's really not optimised for iPhone display, but it's also open source, meaning that if you want to roll up your sleeves and dive into the HTML template and CSS file, you could potentially get a pretty good layout worked out.
Remote Control iTunes, Launch Applications, Browse Your Files, Snag iSight Shots, and More with Telekinesis (Mac)
Aside from iTunes remote control capabilities (which are currently limited to play/pause, track seeking, and volume adjustments), the open source application Telekinesis can launch applications and files or serve them up to your iPhone—once again, though Safari.
After you install it, you can access Telekinesis at
http://yourlocalIPaddress:5010. You'll see the launch page, from which you can browse and launch applications (apps will launch remotely on your computer), snap a shot with your iSight camera, browse and launch files from your documents folder (actually, you can easily browse to any folder on your hard drive and launch pretty much any document), and even serve files that your iPhone can handle—like images—directly to the phone.
Remote Control Your Desktop with VNSea
Last, if you've followed along with our instructions for installing third-party iPhone applications, you can use Installer.app to install a VNC client called VNSea. If you've set up a VNC server on your home computer, you should be able to use VNSea to connect to and control your home computer just like (or at least sort of like) you're sitting in front of it. Keep in mind, though, that VNSea is currently in very early stages of development, and it froze up on me a lot when I was testing it out. In a bit more time, though, it's sure to be an excellent remote desktop solution.
Adam Pash is a senior editor for Lifehacker US who appreciates remote control in all its forms. If you want to learn everything there is about the iPhone, check out his book on the topic. His special feature Hack Attack appears every Wednesday on Lifehacker AU.