Mac and Windows come to Android with Parallels

The days where you have to be settled and situated at your computer are over, and provided your desktop or laptop is connected, you can access it from your smartphone, says Parallels.

Once a program that made Windows and Mac integrated and joined at the hip, the convergence software that is Parallels Desktop is changing, and it appears for the better.

With over five million units of the Parallels Desktop software sold, the company changed tactics last year, unveiling Parallels Access, a solution which made it possible to run your Windows or Mac computer from an iPad or iPhone, making it possible to leave the computer at work or home and do your work from the road.

Not everyone uses an Apple phone or tablet, though, and Parallels has picked up on this, readying the next version of its Access service for none other than Android owners.

“We know the world is changing,” said Kevin Greely, Channel Manager for Parallels in Australia and New Zealand, adding that “no one ever has their mobile device too far away from them.”

To help with this changing world, Parallels Access will work on Android phones and tablets, with a free app making it possible to connect to the Parallels subscription service to let you access a Windows PC or Mac OS X computer from afar, taking advantage of either a WiFi, 3G, or 4G connection and some of the special sauce that makes virtualisation possible.

With this app (and the small client needed for Windows and Mac OS installations), owners of Android phones and tablets will join iPhone and iPad owners with access to a portable version of their desk-based machine, with a way of interpreting the resolution from that system, touch-based controls optimised for the mouse and keyboard based ones used on the physical machine, and the ability to run any program — Mac or Windows — on their smartphone.

“While traditional remote desktop products are trying to show a large desktop on a small mobile device, we worked hard to make remote access from mobile devices a truly simple and effective experience,” said Jack Zubarev, President of Parallels.

“With this in mind, Parallels Access enables people to interact with full-featured Mac and PC apps with touch gestures just like the apps were made for their iPhone, iPad or Android device.”

One of the most important ways to improve the experience was to turn our touchscreens into an input device with a little more control, such as is the case with a conventional mouse pointer. To help with this, there’s some software smarts at work, including “SmartTap” to pinpoint roughly where you should be clicking, and a magnifying glass called “Lock N Go” that lets you see up close what you’re itching to click, with the operation clicking as you move the magnifying glass around.

We’re checking to see whether some of the extra Android controls from devices like the S Pen used on Samsung’s Galaxy Note products will work, but right now, it seems like that support would have to be thrown in later, with a similar cursor experience across iOS and Android.

Software keyboards are also supported across both Android and iOS, with third-party keyboard support likely working, though we’re looking into that.

Both operating systems can change the resolution based on the device you’re using, too, making it possible to show everything your computer looks at, or just what your device can hold.

But only Android will offer the ability to add shortcuts to your favourite programs directly to the homescreen, so if you want to use Microsoft Word or Steam from your computer, the shortcut can be added straight to the Android desktop, which is something Apple’s iOS will not allow.

Overall, it’s an intriguing service, and one that finally moves Parallels beyond the sphere of just Apple users, which has been where the company has been firmly placed for years.

While you pretty much had to have an Apple product to make Parallels useful in the past seven years, this year is the first time we’ve seen this extend past the iPad, iPhone, Macbook, and Mac-anything-else, with Android owners now able to tap into their computer, regardless of the major operating system they’re using.

There is a catch, mind you, and that is the computer has to be running Windows 7, 8, or 8.1, while the Mac has to be running 10.7 and above for the Parallels client to work. Likewise, an Android device needs at least Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich,” while iOS devices need iOS 7, with the iPhone 4S and higher supported on the smartphone side, and the iPad Mini and iPad 2 and higher supported on the tablet side.

Parallels Access doesn’t come free, either. The app does, but the service doesn’t, though Parallels has shifted the pricing considerably, dropping from $54.95 per year down to $24.99 annually for up to five computers being accessed across unlimited mobile devices, with more pricing options available for business.

That said, if you’re at all curious how the technology works, a two week trial is available now for the service, with the app already sitting on Apple’s AppStore and the Android app landing today.