Parallels Access 3.0: Refined mobility features and Apple Watch app

Parallels Access 3.0 refines on some mobility features and shows us the first iteration of an Apple Watch companion app.

Parallels Access is an easy to use remote access solution from Parallels, the makers of the well-regarded Parallels Desktop virtualization solution.

While Parallels Access does support desktop to desktop remote access, my post focuses on the iOS app. There are also Android and Kindle Fire apps.

Parallels recently provided me with a free one-year subscription to Parallels Access for this review. It's normally $19.99 a year.

New features

Parallels Access 3.0 includes some new features for iOS and Android:

New for iOS

  • Universal support for portrait and landscape views
  • OneDrive support joining the existing support for Google Drive and Dropbox
  • File previews in icons through File Manager for easier navigation
  • 64-bit support for new CPU architecture on iOS devices

New for iOS and Android

  • Universal File Manager with local file support, cloud storage, file previews and access to photos
  • New "remoteless" connection for File Manager enabling you to connect to a computer to access files without taking over the screen
  • Ability to transfer files from a remote computer to other apps on iOS and Android
  • Enhanced file preview now supports Microsoft Office files on remote computers
  • Wake-on-LAN feature improvements offering additional ways to wake a remote computer
  • Support for multiple monitors in a web-browser session from a remote computer allowing you to switch between available displays, or see them all at once
  • Access to photos on a mobile device from the desktop agent, including the ability to take photos and copy them to a remote computer

Setting up Parallels Access on a computer

Setting up Parallels Access requiring requires a free account on the Parallels website and selecting a subscription. During the course of writing this article, I downloaded the Android and iOS apps for testing and setup a Windows PC and teo Macs in my home office for remote access.

Downloading the Parallels Remote access application (Windows/OS X) from the Parallels site. I found the setup to be well documented. You probably aren't going to need to call IT for help with the install unless you don't have permissions to install software on your PC or Mac. Figure A shows the Mac version of the Parallels Access application:

Figure A

Parallels Access on the Mac
Image: Will Kelly

From the Mac/PC app, you have the option to turn off access and to control file sharing for that PC

Using Parallels Access

I tested accessing computers in my home office via my iPhone 6 over AT&T and my iPad Air over public Wi-Fi.

While you might think that the use cases for accessing a PC via a smartphone app is rather limited, but Parallels does a great job with user experience on a small screen. The connection was serviceable if not speedy, pretty good for the Northern Virginia area at the time of day I was testing.

The App Launcher for Parallels Access is well laid out even on the screen of my iPhone 6. You have the option to edit the icons that appear on the launch screen. Figure B shows the application launcher as seen on my iPhone 6:

Figure B

Application Launcher as seen on an iPhone 6
Image: Will Kelly

Here's how the same launcher appears on an iPad (Figure C):

Figure C

Application Launcher as seen on an iPad
Image: Will Kelly

I hadn't followed Parallels Access for a while and found their development of the Parallels Access File Manager to be really on target for user seeking a solution for mobile users to better manage files locally, in the cloud, and on remote computers.

You can view and copy files from Dropbox and Google Drive accounts, a draw for potential customers, yet another security policy to write for others. You can also search for files on remote computers, ideal for that "let me connect to my home office PC to see if I can find that file" use case that many of us run into but few care to admit. Figure D shows an example of the Parallels Access File Manager:

Figure D

Parallels Access File Manager
Image: Will Kelly

You can also transfer locally stored files to remote computers and then open with desktop applications.

If you are worried about typing on a remote PC or Mac, you'll be happy to know that Parallels Access offers virtual Mac and PC keyboards that are both well designed and easy to use.

Using the Apple Watch app

I've been tracking the entry of the Apple Watch apps into the enterprise since the Apple Watch first came widely available. While I'm not expecting major enterprise inroads for the Apple Watch until WatchOS 2, it's not stopping me from identifying early leaders and the Parallels Access Apple Watch app makes that list. You can use the app to see remote computers, initiate connections, and control media playback all from the Watch user interface (UI). Figure E shows the Apple Watch companion app:

Figure E

Apple Watch companion app for Parallels Access
Image: Will Kelly

Security and Parallels Access

When you connect to a remote computer using Parallels Access, your data is secured fully using Single Socket Layer (SSL) and 256-bit AES. And whenever a new user, a new computer, or a new mobile device is registered with Parallels Access, the account owner receives a confirmation letter via email.

Final recommendation

My perspective on remote access apps has evolved since I've been writing for TechRepublic so these days I like cloud-based remote access solutions that don't require lots of IT intervention. Parallels Access fits that bill for me.

I like Parallels Access for use cases like business road warriors who want to access their systems at home or back in the corporate office. Parallels Access can also extend the life of those legacy corporate applications running on an old Windows box hiding in cubicles and back rooms in businesses everywhere.

Have you tried Parallels Access 3.0? Share your experience in the comments.

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By Will Kelly

Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management ap...