With remote control apps for your smartphone, you can use your phone's screen to control your computer when you can't reach the mouse or even when you're not near your computer. Many apps offer similar features in two basic categories: touchpad apps such as Logitech's Touch Mouse for iOS, Airborne Mouse for Android or Remote Mouse for both platforms; and remote desktop apps such as TeamViewer and Splashtop, both available on all mobile platforms.

Remote Touchpad Software

One type of remote control allows your smartphone to act like the touchpad on a laptop. Whether or not your computer already has a touchpad, this type of app moves your computer's cursor relative to the direction you move your finger on your phone's touch screen. You can also use gestures to perform right-clicks and other mouse actions, and use your phone's on-screen keyboard to type on the computer.

Remote Desktop Software

To control your computer when you can't see its screen, you can use a remote desktop app to display your computer's desktop and programs directly on your smartphone's screen. Unlike remote touchpad apps, remote desktop apps allow you to tap on the screen where you want to click, rather than moving the cursor using relative motion. These apps do have their limitations, however, so it's best to use a remote touchpad app if you have access to the computer's monitor.

Remote Desktop Limitations

Remote desktop apps won't work for all situations. Due to the latency of transferring video to your phone, the phone's screen often displays fewer frames per second than the real monitor. Depending on the app and your connection, your desktop may also display in fewer colors or with a lowered resolution. Programs that appear in full-screen on your computer may not work at all on a remote desktop app.

Software and Network Requirements

Regardless of which app you opt to install on your smartphone, you must install the matching app on your computer as well. You can download the necessary computer app from the app developer's website. This app must remain running on your computer for your phone's app to find the computer. Remote apps work best over your local network, meaning your computer needs to connect to the same router -- either via Ethernet or Wi-Fi -- as your phone. Some apps can connect over the Internet, but you'll get a faster connection if you use your local network.