The chances are that if you’re reading this site then you are comfortable with using Android. If you’re the technically minded member of your family, it’s highly likely that you get called upon to help out with all manner of computer and mobile problems — I know this has long been the case with me!
Helping someone fix a problem can be a nightmarish task. When distance is an issue, you may decide to try resolving the problems with a phone call, but this can turn out to be an extremely frustrating experience for everyone involved: trying to explain how to navigate to different settings in an operating system can be almost impossible if the person on the other end of the phone is not familiar with what you’re telling them to do.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just take hold of their phone and do it for them? Well, of course it would… but sadly it’s no always possible. If you get a call from your mother looking for help, and she’s on the other side of the country, another solution is needed. For desktop operating systems there are numerous remote assistance tools available that make it possible to take control of the computer of the person you are trying to assist so you can make the necessary changes without having to explain it to them step by step. This is exactly what Zikk brings to Android: it is remote assistance for your phone and tablet.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right from the start. Slightly confusingly, despite the fact that the version number for the app is 1.0.7, it is still described as being a beta tool. The repercussions of this at this stage seem to be that it limits the number of supported devices. I have six different Android devices at my disposal (HTC One, HTC Sensation, Nexus 7, Sony Tablet S, Hudl and Aries 7o) and the app is only compatible with half of them.
The reason for this is that Zikk can only be used with phones, not tablets. This is a shame, as there is no reason that tablet users would be any less in need of assistance than phone users — nor indeed why they would not be just as capable of providing help.
In order to get started, both you (I’ll assume you’re going to be the one providing rather than looking for help!) and the person you’re assisting need to have the app installed. If you are going to be helping someone who really struggles with their phone, you might want to try to do this in advance, but even if this is not possible, it should be fairly easy to explain how to grab a copy of Zikk from Google Play.
Should you find that you need to help someone who doesn’t yet have the app installed, it is possible to send a request via SMS which includes a download link so they can get up and running.
During the setup process you have to provide a phone number, but this only has to be entered on one of the phones. The reliance on SMSes and phone-only compatibility concerned me slightly (was there a risk of racking up a huge bill?), so I got in touch with the developer.
He assured me that the app uses a data or wifi connection to communicate and that data usage is minimal anyway. This allayed my fears about on-going SMS charges, and I was pleased to hear that there are plans for a tablet-friendly version of the app at some point in the future.
Before we go any further it is important that you don’t be fooled into thinking that this is some sort of remote access tool. It does allow for remote administration of devices, but only in a very limited way; you are not going to be able to take remote control of your mother’s phone!
There is a strong focus on simplicity within Zikk. Everything is clear and easy to find… there is no room for confusion. The introductory screen gives three options — offer help, ask for help, or configure phone settings.
Opt to adjust your own phone settings through the app and you’ll gain access to a subset of Android’s own Settings, and this is exactly what you’ll be able to work with remotely as well.
The settings available are a little limited. You’re not going to be able to fix problems remotely, but you will be app to help someone configure settings such as changing backgrounds, connecting to networks and switching Bluetooth on and off. There’s also the ability to remotely set reminders, although I’m not really sure how useful this is.
The concern with any form of remote access app is that something could be done in the background without your knowledge. If you are on the receiving end of help, no settings will be changed without your approval.
The connection to your phone has to be approved, and once your helper has done the necessary configuration, you’ll be given a list of the changes they have lined up and they’ll need to be confirmed before they are actually put in place.
So is it any good? If you don’t set your expectations too high, then it’s great. From both parties involved, things could hardly be simpler. There’s no fiddling about with network configuration, setting up accounts or anything like that — you can be up and running in just a couple of minutes.
Obviously this simplicity comes at a price. Zikk is great for getting out of trying to explain to elderly parents how to go about changing a ringtone, but even if it’s not used remotely, it presents a much more accessible set of system options that casual users are likely to find easier to get to grips with.
Zikk is definitely an interesting tool. It is (hopefully, at least!) not going to be something you’ll turn to every day, but it’s useful to have installed in readiness so it’s there when the need arises.