Screens 4, which I reviewed in April, improved the process of logging into and controlling a desktop computer remotely with a long list of features that eliminated hassles inherent in trying to control a desktop computer from a touchscreen display. Screens 4.2 continues down the same path offering a host of smaller refinements along with two headline features – Mobile Trackpad, which lets you use an iPhone as a trackpad for the computer you are connected to remotely, and Dark Mode.
With version 4.2, Screens' developer, Edovia, is taking its pricing model in a different direction. Without upgrade pricing in the App Store, economic realities make it hard for utility app developers to maintain and extend their apps. With that in mind, Edovia has made the two major features of this update, Mobile Trackpad and Dark Mode, separate In-App Purchases. That way, existing users of Screens 4 get the benefit of improvements to existing features at no extra cost and only customers who want the new features need to pay for them. In light of the difficulties of building a sustainable business from utility apps on the App Store today, Edovia's approach is a fair one.
With Mobile Trackpad you can use a second iOS device as a trackpad to control the cursor of a remote computer. To start, I connected to my family's iMac using my iPad Pro and Screens. Next, I started Screens on my iPhone. At the bottom of my iPhone's screen was a button that said 'Start Mobile Trackpad.' Tapping the button displayed a list of nearby devices, which in my case, was my iPad. I tapped 'John's iPad' and Screens immediately began to initiate a connection between my iPhone and iPad. After a couple of second, the two devices were connected and my iPhone was transformed into a trackpad.
I immediately fell in love with Mobile Trackpad. One of the difficulties of remotely connecting to a computer with a touch-based device is controlling the remote computer's cursor. By separating control of the pointer from the display on which you are viewing a remote desktop, Mobile Trackpad makes using Screens feel more natural. The experience is different than using a Magic Trackpad because the iPhone wasn't designed as a trackpad, but the experience is nonetheless superior to viewing and controlling a remote desktop from the same screen.
Mobile Trackpad works just as you would expect. Swipe around on the surface of your iPhone to move the mouse pointer and tap to click. A two finger tap or tap-and-hold gesture is the equivalent of a right click, bringing up a contextual menu on your remote desktop.
I like having dark modes as an option in my apps. Screens' dark mode is a handsome dark grey. Of course, once you connect to a remote computer, what's displayed on it will impact how light or dark Screens' interface is, but I know I'll appreciate Dark Mode at night when I'm lying in bed and remember that I should have checked something on my Mac that I don't want to get up to deal with.
In addition to the two paid features in Screens 4.2, the update includes many smaller improvements that will make the app more useable for everyone. For instance, there is a little indicator below each remote screen that you have saved. The indicators are red if the remote computer isn't available, green if it is, and yellow if it may be available. It's a small touch, but one that makes the UI more glanceable and, consequently, faster and easier to use. In addition, Screens' action popover now includes labels for each action making it more clear what each one does.
I move between iOS and macOS a lot and Screens continues to be my go-to app for accessing things on my Mac from my iPad and iPhone. Screens 4.2 is a solid overall update, but I'm especially happy about Mobile Trackpad, which will make interacting with my Macs remotely much easier.
Screens 4.2 is a free update on the App Store. Mobile Trackpad can be purchased for $2.99 and Dark Mode for $0.99 as In-App Purchases.