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Use Your iPad as a Remote Control

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Apple’s free Remote app isn’t included with the iPad, but it should have been. Remote works over a Wi-Fi network, letting you use your iPad as a remote control for playing audio files and videos in iTunes on a computer or on an Apple TV. In this excerpt from my new ebook “Take Control of Media on Your iPad, Second Edition,” learn all about using your iPad as a smart (and large) media remote. Although none of the steps are difficult, it can take some effort to wrap your head around the best way of controlling your media with the iPad.

Know When the Remote App Makes Sense -- Apple has introduced a number of ways to control and play media among devices, so take a moment to review your options and match your needs to what Apple’s Remote app can do:

  • Computer: If you’re playing audio stored in iTunes on a computer through that computer’s built-in speakers or through speakers directly attached to the computer, you can use Remote. However, if that same audio is stored on your iPad, you may prefer to play it on the iPad’s speakers.

  • AirPort Express or AirPlay-savvy speakers: You can use Remote to control output to these speakers through iTunes on a computer. If, however, the audio files are available on your iPad, you might find it simpler to play them from your iPad by streaming via AirPlay.

  • Second-generation Apple TV: A second-generation Apple TV doesn’t store content; instead, media plays through it. If that media is not on your iPad, then use the Remote app. However, if that media is on your iPad, you might find it simpler to send it to the Apple TV using AirPlay.

  • First-generation Apple TV: Remote is a great alternative to the physical remote control that comes with the first-generation Apple TV. (At present, you can stream audio from iTunes on a computer to a first-generation Apple TV, but you can’t stream it from an iPad or other iOS device.)

On either Apple TV, the Remote App lets you type passwords or other text using the iPad’s keyboard, a notable improvement over using the physical remote. Remote also lets you navigate and configure various Apple TV settings, providing a trackpad-style interface to the Apple TV.


Control iTunes on a Computer with Remote -- The Remote app uses a Wi-Fi connection to control one local iTunes library at a time. However, the Remote app and iTunes have to get to know each other. The first time you launch Remote, you’ll see a screen that offers two methods for acquainting them — Add an iTunes Library or Home Sharing. Either option appears to work well, but Apple’s knowledgebase article suggests using Home Sharing.

You can connect to only one Home Sharing account, but (at least theoretically) you can also connect to one or more iTunes libraries.

Home Sharing -- If you are already sharing your iTunes library with Home Sharing, you can connect the Remote app to the library through Home Sharing. You need an active Internet connection so Apple can verify the Home Sharing Apple ID.

Follow these steps in the Remote app:

  1. If you don’t currently have any active connections, tap Turn on Home Sharing. Otherwise, tap the name of the active library at the top of the sidebar, then tap the Settings button, and then tap the switch to turn on Home Sharing.

  2. In the popover that appears, enter the same Apple ID and password that your iTunes library uses and then tap Done. Apple verifies the Apple ID and confirms that Home Sharing is on.


  3. Tap Done again to close the popover, and then (if necessary) tap your iTunes library’s icon to go to the main Remote screen.

Now that you’ve connected with your iTunes library, you’ll see the name of the library at the top of the Remote sidebar.


Tip: If you can’t connect Remote to iTunes, first try restarting your iPad and quitting and relaunching iTunes on your computer. If that doesn’t help, consult this somewhat geeky Apple article for more advice.

Add an iTunes Library -- This easy method requires that you make a physical connection between the iPad and the computer.

(In my testing, I couldn’t make the steps below work if Home Sharing was on in iTunes on the computer. If Home Sharing is on, in iTunes on the computer, in the Advanced menu, a command will say Turn Home Sharing Off.)

Here’s how to make the connection:

  1. In Remote, if you don’t currently have any active connections, tap the Add an iTunes Library button. Otherwise, tap the name of the active library at the top of the sidebar, tap the Settings button, and tap the Add an iTunes Library button.

  2. Follow the directions in the popover that appears and connect your iPad to your computer just as you would if you were syncing it — the iPad will be listed in the iTunes sidebar (under Devices) twice; make sure the Remote listing is selected. No Remote listing? If you’ve waited 30 seconds or so and you don’t see a second entry for your connected iPad, try quitting and relaunching iTunes on your computer. If the passcode still doesn’t work, tap outside the popover on the iPad and then repeat Step 1 to get a new passcode to try.

  3. Image

  4. On your computer’s keyboard, type the passcode that appears on the iPad’s screen.

  5. After the verification is completed, click the OK button.

Now that you’ve connected the Remote app with your iTunes library, you’ll see the name of the library at the top of the Remote sidebar.

Disconnect Remote from an iTunes library -- If you’ve connected to more than one iTunes library, you can switch between them by tapping the name of the active library at the top of the sidebar in the main Remote screen. Then tap the name of the library that you want to switch to.

To disconnect Remote from an iTunes library permanently, from the main Remote screen, from the top of the sidebar, tap the library name. Your options are as follows:

  • If you have an Edit button at the upper left, tap it and then tap the X beside the library that you want to disconnect from.

  • For a library that is controlled with Home Sharing, tap the Settings icon and turn the Home Sharing switch off.

Tip: To disconnect a copy of iTunes on a computer from all Remote connections, open the iTunes preferences, click the Devices button on the toolbar, and then click the Forget All Remotes button.

Run iTunes with Remote -- When Remote is connected to an iTunes library, you can operate Remote on your iPad screen to play media in iTunes on the computer remotely. As you tap options in Remote on the iPad, you can even watch the iTunes window change on the remote computer. Remote uses similar controls for locating and playing music as those employed by the iPod app; in fact, you may have to look closely to see the difference.

If you’d like to use Remote to send playback from the computer to some other device via AirPlay, you can — read “Control AirPlay in iTunes,” ahead.

Note that if someone quits iTunes on the remote computer, Remote cannot launch the app and begin playing media.

Control AirPlay in iTunes -- With Remote, you can choose where iTunes sends its audio via AirPlay. The AirPlay control appears in two places within Remote:

  • On the main Remote screen, tap the Speaker icon to the right of the playback controls at the top.

  • On the Now Playing screen (accessed by tapping Now Playing at the lower right), tap once to review additional controls (such as the Genius and Shuffle buttons), then tap the AirPlay button at the right of the volume slider. Tap a device name to enable (designated by a checkmark) or disable it.


Notice that you can control the volume of each active AirPlay audio destination from the AirPlay popover and that you can choose multiple AirPlay destinations (tap Single if you want to send audio to only one destination).

If you have a second-generation Apple TV on your network with AirPlay enabled, it appears as an AirPlay audio destination, too. Wrap your head around that for a second: You can tell iTunes on your computer to send its audio to the Apple TV via a command from your iPad — that’s what I call a digital entertainment ecosystem!

Note that when you turn an AirPlay audio destination on or off, playback pauses for a few seconds while iTunes synchronizes the music stream.

Set Up a Second-Generation Apple TV with Home Sharing -- The second-generation Apple TV comes with an attractive metal remote control; it almost looks like a work of art. And yet, given how much more control the Remote app on the iPad gives you, the only reason to keep it around is as an emergency backup. Perhaps you can put it in an attractive display case on your coffee table while your iPad does the real work.

But, before you put away the metal Apple Remote, you need it to set up Home Sharing on your Apple TV so that the Remote app can later control the Apple TV:

  1. Using the Apple Remote, navigate to the Computers column on the Apple TV’s main menu.

  2. In the Computers column, select Turn On Home Sharing.

  3. In the onscreen keyboard that appears, use your remote control to enter your Apple ID and password. (Using the buttons on the control to enter characters is awkward for long IDs and passwords, but you only have to do it once.)

Once the Apple ID and password are verified (your Apple TV must be connected to the Internet for that), all the iTunes libraries on your home network that have Home Sharing turned on appear in the Computers column of the Apple TV main menu. What’s more, your iPad’s Remote app can now control your Apple TV. To make the connection, follow the steps in “Home Sharing,” earlier.

Add a First Generation Apple TV -- Do the following to pair the iTunes library on your Apple TV with the Remote app on your iPad:

  1. If the Remote app isn’t currently connected to anything, tap the Add an iTunes Library button that appears on the main screen. Otherwise, tap the name of the currently connected library at the top of the sidebar and then tap the Settings button; then tap the Add Library button in the popover that appears. Remote displays a screen with a passcode.

  2. Using the remote control that came with the Apple TV, on the Apple TV, go to Settings > General > Remotes and then choose your iPad.

  3. Using the remote control, enter the passcode from Step 1.

Yes, using the Apple remote to laboriously enter the passcode on the Apple TV screen isn’t much fun, but once you’ve done so, your iPad can take its place.

To disconnect a first-generation Apple TV library from Remote, tap the name of the active library at the top of the Remote sidebar. On the Settings screen, tap Edit, and then tap the X button that appears by a library.

Control an Apple TV -- You can use the Remote app to control media playback as described in this chapter so far. However, another option appears when you’re connected to the Apple TV: Control. To access the Control screen for the Apple TV that Remote is currently controlling, tap the Control button at the lower right of the main Remote screen.

The nearly blank Control screen operates as a virtual trackpad: Drag to move the selection highlight among the Apple TV’s menus and tap to select an item.


To navigate back one level in the menu hierarchy, tap the menu button.

If options are available (for example, to mark a TV show as watched), tap the Options button at the lower left. Tap Done to return to the main Remote screen.

To switch among different organizational tabs, such as listing podcasts by date, show, or watched state, flick left or right.

The Control screen enables other non-obvious but helpful controls.

For video, do the following:

  • Play or Pause: Tap once.
  • Rewind or fast-forward: Flick left or right, or drag and hold
  • Jump back 10 seconds to replay: Drag two fingers to the left.
  • Show chapter markers: Flick down to reveal, then flick left or right to skip.

For audio, these commands are available:

  • Play or Pause: Tap once.
  • Rewind or fast-forward: Drag left or right and hold.
  • Previous song or next song: Flick left or right.

Take Control of Media on Your iPad -- The Remote app is just one way to use your iPad as a media hub. Using the iPad, you can watch movies, listen to music, read ebooks, view photos... and just as important, wrangle the content for getting it onto your device or accessing it wirelessly. I cover it all in “Take Control of Media on Your iPad, Second Edition,” a 158-page ebook that’s available for only $15 (or less, if you bought the previous edition).

 

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Comments about Use Your iPad as a Remote Control
(Comments are closed.)

wanapitei  2011-04-26 13:44
The one thing not covered is how to acquire Apple's Remote App if one doesn't already have it. Not available on the Mac App store.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-04-26 15:01
Doh! Of course... Since you're using the iPad as the remote control (and not a Mac), Apple's Remote app is available in the iOS App Store, not the Mac App Store. The link is in the book, and I'll add it back to this excerpt. It is:

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/remote/id284417350
Michael Paine  2011-04-29 21:07
See also JfControl:
http://digitalsirup.com/jfcontrol/index.html
It controls many more apps than iTunes.
Tuckerman Moss  2011-05-07 08:38
Oh dear - while ios 4.3.3 fixes the location cache hullabaloo it also destroys the ability to use the Remote App to control a 1st gen AppleTV. My iPad2 could find and control my old AppleTV yesterday before the update - but not today. Remote simply will not find the old AppleTV nor will it allow you to log into it. Bummer.