How to view a Raspberry Pi desktop on an iPad

My exploration of using a mouse with an iPad got me thinking: since I log into my Raspberry Pi remotely using SSH and the app Termius, could I also run a remote desktop session on my iPad too?

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Almost all of the work I do with my Pi can be done using the command line, so SSH access is generally sufficient. Occasionally, though, I need a GUI. To date I’ve done this with VNC software, accessing the Pi’s X desktop on a Mac.

And, yes, it can be done on an iPad. First, you’ll need to set up the Pi side of things. While the linked post goes on to cover macOS’ built-in VNC viewer, you’ll need to install a third-party app on an iPad. Fortunately, Real VNC’s app VNC Connect (formerly VNC Viewer) is free and despite its emphasis on Real VNC’s remote access products, it can be used to make a direct connection to a VNC server on a local network.

Update VNC has begun charging £10 a year for access to a non-Real VNC server. Or you can view ads. Are there any decent, free alternatives?

Get the app from the App Store and run it. Select the Address Book section from the sidebar and click on the + icon at the top right of the screen.

Enter your Pi’s IP address or — and this is easier — its hostname followed by .local:1:

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The :1 indicates we’ll be connecting to remote desktop 1. Give the server a friendly name, click Save and then, in the next dialog, tap Connect.

You’ll be asked for a password — this is the one you entered when you set up the VNC server on the Pi, which may not necessarily be the same as your Pi user’s password. Flip the switch to save your password for a speedier login next time.

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By default, VNC treats taps and swipes on the iPad screen as mouse movements. Unfortunately, pointer and finger tip aren’t placed at the same location. This is intentional: Real VNC says it’s so that you can see the pointer at all times. But I found it tricky to use as the distance between finger and pointer changes as you move across the screen.

So I switched to touchpad entry, which maps taps to the Pi display directly. Make the change by tapping the i icon in the VNU Connect toolbar at the top of the screen (shown in the pic below) and then tapping Interaction: select Touch panel. This is much better, but still not perfect: there’s no right-click emulation, which there is in mouse mode. Given how infrequently I fire up the VNC remote desktop, this is not too much of an issue, but it is a shame that this common operation is not fully supported by VNC. If you do a lot of work on the Pi desktop via VNC it might even be a deal-breaker.

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1 thought on “How to view a Raspberry Pi desktop on an iPad

  1. captclaude

    There is an article on Lifehacker on the various VNC apps for the iPad. I have a bit of an allergy to RealVNC because they only allow a limited number of stored connections before you have to buy into their ecosystem. I use TightVNC.

    Reply

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