We get a lot of questions on this subject, so we want to explain exactly what is going on when it comes to remote support and mobile devices.
Whether on purpose or through creative writing, the remote support and access industry has done a pretty poor job of addressing the questions of customers about what functionality is available and how it works. Hopefully the following information will help clear up any confusion.
Most all mobile operating systems can act as the controller, where the mobile device is used by technician to control computers or other mobile devices. Vendors creating a controller app must create the app, go through the app store submission process, and then maintain the client across revisions. Most vendors focus on the big two, iOS and Android, with some tools providing support for other mobile operating systems.
Acting as the controllee is the difficult part. Very few mobile operating systems can actually be controlled. Restrictions put in place by the OS or the device manufacturer often limits what capabilities vendors can provide.
Even when a vendor advertises the ability to Control or Support a device, this is often a loose interpretation of remote support. They often confuse terminology or blatantly try to mislead customers that their apps can control mobile devices, while the app typically falls short of that goal. True remote support should provide:
It is currently against the terms and conditions of Apple for apps on their marketplace to provide full remote control of the iPad, iPhone, or iPod devices. The limitations primarily come down to the use of public versus private APIs. The public API Apple provides does not provide access to the necessary permissions, and apps trying to bypass this are not allowed on the iTunes store.
As of November 2013, no public API exists for obtaining screen captures. A slew of private APIs exist that can accomplish the general task (most notably UIGetScreenImage), but they are off-limits for anything in the App Store.
From App Store Review Guidelines (November 2013):
2.5 Apps that use non-public APIs will be rejected
Who knows, there are a lot of organizations out there that would love to have this capability. Apple is probably receiving constant requests from users, IT managers, and vendors who would like to have more control over the devices they use.
The current direction Apple promotes for non-standard app deployment is their Enterprise provisioning and MDM programs. Each provides methods for achieving part of the ultimate goal but not a true remote support solution.
We will continue to monitor the situation. Our team has played with iOS for a while and if an approved method becomes available we will certainly provide a solution.
Yes, you can control jailbroken devices. Private APIs in enterprise-deployed apps can provide some capability. There are options for connecting devices to computers directly or through Airplay for some viewing options. Each of these methods are sketchy at best and not a solid structure for establishing a support model.
There are several online statements or websites that we are asked about frequently, so we have addressed each to help resolve any confusion.
From the Bomgar® page iOS Support Page (November 2013):
"With Bomgar®, support representatives can support Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices to help remote users resolve issues and configure settings."
That sounds promising... But farther down the page:
"Full remote control of iPad, iPhone or iPod touch is in violation of Apple terms and conditions. Bomgar® continues to monitor the situation and is prepared to offer the ability to remote control iPad, iPhone and iPod touch devices once a sanctioned method is made available. However, at this time, neither Bomgar® nor our competitors may legally remote control Apple iOS devices."
Take "full remote control" to mean "anything useful".
From the TeamViewer page Mobile Device Support with TeamViewer (November 2013):
"TeamViewer mobile device support lets you connect to Android and iOS (iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch) mobile devices through the TeamViewer QuickSupport app. Support mobile devices remotely, all from the convenience of your workstation."
Again, sounds promising... But farther down the page:
"TeamViewer mobile device support for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch allows you to deploy custom iOS configuration profiles. Push settings to the device like e-mail account, Microsoft Exchange account, and Wi-Fi settings, all from your workstation. Other features include the dashboard view as well as the ability to transfer files to the device."
Notice they failed to mention actually controlling the device? That wasn't an accident...
From the LogMeIn page Mobile Support - iOS (November 2013):
"Rescue enables support of iOS devices through a free app downloaded from The App Store."
But then below the fold:
"Remote Control & Remote View support is not available on iOS devices."
This is another common example of mixing the language of controller and controllee.
These are the accounts from our most respectable competitors. The most appealing feature sets highly promoted with the negatives downplayed. But each of these companies would probably have an app to control iOS devices if Apple permitted.
Plenty of other press releases and product pages from less reputable companies have promised full control of iOS devices, but trust us, they all come with major pitfalls: they require the device to be jailbroken, the device has to be hooked to a computer, or the functionality is far less impressive than the marketing department would have you believe.
Android, like iOS, is pretty locked down by default. The necessary permissions are locked so that, out-of-the-box, only Google can access what is required to provide true remote support. But there is a light ahead for Android.
Android remote control requires each remote support vendor to work with each device manufacturer to enable the control. Each support vendor provides an Android package for the manufacturer to sign with their Android platform key.
This seems daunting: dozens of remote support vendors each forging agreements with dozens of Android manufacturers adds up to hundreds of agreements. Fortunately, the issue is somewhat mitigated by market share of the various device manufacturers. While there are dozens of players, a small handful controls 80-90% of the market.
You've seen the ads, but Samsung's multi-million dollar marketing push for business isn't all fluff. They've actively worked with remote support vendors (among other app vendors) to provide the ability to do "real stuff" with their devices.
And you get great coverage with Samsung: Samsung dominates Android device sales with 63% market share. So for once a dominant market position works for the greater good. While LogMeIn supports HTC, no other remote support vendor supports any other manufacturer cracking 1% of global market share.
This table provides a quick view of what we can find online about the major Android device manufacturers and which of our competitors have remote support capability. TeamViewer provides some support for a few manufacturers who did not make our list because of their market percentage.
|Samsung (63.3%)||HTC (6.5%)||LG (5.9%)||Sony (5.6%)||Motorola (5.0%)|
We're working with any device maker who will work with us. Everything is built; they just need to sign it. We are more than happy to partner with any device manufacturer, feel free to contact our team if you would like to discuss further.
Remote control requires two permissions for an Android application: READ_FRAME_BUFFER to capture the screen, and INJECT_EVENTS to control the device. That sounds fairly straight-forward, until reading the annotation in the preceding links: Not for use by third-party applications. The two permissions are defined with a protectionLevel of signatureOrSystem, which means only the device manufacturers can grant access.
Roots, custom roms, and third party OEMs can enable this. ScreenConnect works with this stuff and so do others. But don't expect to run into much of it in the wild.
Windows and Blackberry are each making some headway in the market through acquisitions and partnerships. A lot of companies talk about remote support functionality for both. But in the fine print, they are referring to the older versions of these OSes: "Windows Phone" and "Blackberry" could each be referring to about 5 different versions, as each manufacturer has totally broken with their past OS at least once...if not more.
The summary is that currently both operating systems are pretty locked down similar to Android and iOS. Few vendors are actively trying to find loopholes around this because of their current market shares, but if they continue to make headway that could change.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what is available in terms of remotely viewing and controlling mobile devices. Confusing marketing statements, terminology variations, and consumer expectations have compounded the issue. Below, we have compiled information that should help with general market capability and that of ScreenConnect.
Can anyone view or control an iOS device (iPad, iPhone, etc)?
No, the ability to view and control an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch is not permitted by Apple. The necessary permissions are secured at a level only available to Apple, and there is no indication they will change this policy. We constantly monitor resources for changes to their policy and if ever available we will do our best to provide support.
Can Android devices be controlled?
The Android operating system has similar restrictions as iOS. However, each device manufacturer has the ability to provide access to the necessary permissions. ScreenConnect has partnered with Samsung to provide full remote support and is involved in other discussions.
Can I use my Android or iOS device to support customers?
Sure, ScreenConnect provides technician clients to remotely view and control Mac, Linux, Windows, and Samsung devices. For more information visit our ScreenConnect Compatibility page.
What about other Android devices?
Kiosks, digital signage, gaming, and healthcare system support are all areas where we have partnered with other organizations to provide remote support and access capability. We are always happy to work with new organizations, you can learn more on our OEM Integrations page.
What about other mobile operating systems?
We are investigating options to provide support for Windows and Blackberry systems both from a host and guest perspective.