If you’ve ever read a PDF on your iPhone, you know the experience is less than ideal. For short documents you can manually zoom to make the text readable and pan from line to line. For long documents though, that’s a pretty painful option. The best method you can use involves a Max-sized iPhone turned into landscape mode, but even that comes with drawbacks, such as the weight distribution making it uncomfortable to hold your phone one-handed while reading. A solution has long been needed, and now it’s arrived.
PDF Expert is launching a new feature today, Reading Mode, which offers easily the best PDF reading experience available on iPhone. When viewing a PDF in the app, there’s a new button in the bottom-right corner that opens Reading Mode. This mode takes the contents of the PDF, converts it to a simplified layout that’s optimized for your device’s size, and provides custom view settings you can tweak to your liking. It reminds me a lot of Safari’s own Reader view, but for PDFs rather than websites.
I wish I had Highlights for iOS and iPadOS when I was a lawyer. Back then, it wasn’t unusual for me to review PDFs of legal documents that were hundreds of pages long. Unfortunately, the digital tools I had for annotating those documents were primitive. So instead, I typically fell back on marking up hard copies with highlighters and adding notes in the margins.
Highlights is a PDF annotation app that’s been available on the Mac for a long time but is brand new on iOS and iPadOS. The app translates the analog process of marking up a PDF to the digital world very well by providing tools that demonstrate an understanding of the needs of students, researchers, and anyone who spends a lot of time with PDFs.
I don’t have the same PDF needs I once did, but as I’ve used Highlights the past couple of weeks, I’ve appreciated its flexibility and power, and I expect that anyone who works with lots of PDFs will too.
Readdle launched PDF Expert 7 today with a few new features and an all-new business plan. The app was previously paid-up-front with an In-App Purchase for advanced features. With the launch of version 7 though, Readdle has moved the features that were previously part of PDF Expert’s In-App Purchase and some of what were part of the base paid-up-front app to a PDF Expert Pro subscription that costs $49.99/year with a 7-day free trial. Despite the change, however, existing PDF Expert 6 customers will retain the features they purchased under the old model.
The free version of PDF Expert allows users to access and manage PDFs from cloud services, read and annotate PDFs, and fill out PDF forms. In addition to the other PDF Expert 6 features that are now part of PDF Expert 7’s Pro subscription, Readdle has added three features: conversion of Word, Excel, and image files to the PDF format, PDF compression to reduce file sizes, and customizable app toolbars. For a complete breakdown of free and subscription-only features, be sure to check out Readdle’s blog post about the update, which also lists which features existing customers will retain.
The move by Readdle to a free app plus a subscription is an interesting one that we’ve seen before with other apps, including in the PDF app market. It’s a model that makes a lot of sense for a category where users’ needs vary widely from extremely simple to complex. Whether the price point and feature bundle Readdle has chosen is attractive to enough users to sustain the app’s subscription will be up to the market to decide, but I expect this is a trend we will continue to see with feature-rich apps like this.
PDF Expert 7 is available as a free download from the App Store with an optional $49.99/year subscription for advanced features, which users can try free for 7 days.
Developer and musician Stephen Coyle just released a new app that enables hands-free page turning of PDFs via facial expressions. The aptly-named PageTurn utilizes the power of the TrueDepth camera system found in all iOS devices that support Face ID – the iPhone X, XR, XS, and XS Max, plus the 2018 iPad Pros – to enable turning pages of a PDF using only your face.
There are two options of facial gestures available to control page turning: mouth control, which is the default, or wink control. Mouth control works by tracking the movement of your mouth: if you move it right, you’ll advance forward a page, while moving it left goes back a page. Wink control advances forward with a right wink, and goes back with a left wink. With both of these options, PageTurn provides the ability to set sensitivity so you can customize each gesture to whatever’s most comfortable for you. It feels odd at first making these gestures to turn pages, but in my experience it quickly became comfortable.
PageTurn was designed primarily for musicians, who often bear the unenviable task of turning pages of sheet music while both their hands are occupied playing an instrument. It works with any PDF though, so readers can have hands-free page navigation as well. You can get PDFs into the app via the import button in the upper-left corner, which opens a Files picker, or if you have a PDF open in another app, you can copy it to PageTurn using the share sheet.
PageTurn is a simple utility, but for those who could benefit from it – musicians in particular, and also users with accessibility needs – it’s a potentially revolutionary tool that enables new ways of doing a common task that weren’t previously possible. The app is a shining example of the creativity of indie developers.
As Federico and I discussed on AppStories this week, PDFs are a big part of the work day for many people. There are several solid PDF apps for iOS, but one of my favorites is PDF Viewer by PSPDFKit, the maker of a PDF viewing and editing SDK that many well-known companies use to integrate PDF functionality into their apps.
One of PDF Viewer’s advantages is that it’s free. With version 3, PDF Viewer’s core functionality remains free, but it is introducing a Pro Pack that is a set of advanced features available as part of a $9.99/year or $2.99/3-month subscription.
It’s a savvy move and one that’s been well-executed. By first building a free PDF app with functionality that rivals established paid apps, PDF Viewer has made a name for itself in a crowded market. The broad feature set of the free version of PDF Viewer, which we’ve covered in the past here, here, and here makes it hard for someone to argue that the app is only useful if you pay for the In-App Purchase. That’s just not the case. If you work with PDFs every day, you’ll love the new pro features, but the app’s free version still serves more casual users as well as ever.
Since the release of iOS 11, I haven’t seen many apps use the system’s new document browser – the built-in Files view that can be embedded in document-based apps as a root view. I covered this feature extensively in my iOS 11 review. Apple’s iWork suite of apps has switched to Files’ document browser, as did MindNode 5, but I’ve struggled to find other examples of high-profile third-party apps abandoning their custom file managers in favor of Apple’s solution. As I argued in September, my guess is that a combination of bugs and lack of deeper customization for the document browser is preventing more apps from embracing it. Which is too bad, as the Files integration brings substantial benefits in the form of drag and drop, iCloud Drive and third-party locations, recents and tags, and more.
PDF Viewer, the powerful PDF editor for iOS we originally reviewed here and here, is adding support for iOS 11’s document browser with version 2.1, launching today on the App Store. After testing a beta of this update for the past week, I’m impressed by how the folks at PSPDFKit have been able to fine-tune the document browser to the app’s needs.
Last fall, PSPDFKit introduced PDF Viewer, a powerful, free iOS app for viewing and annotating PDFs that matched or exceeded many of the features found in paid PDF apps. Since then, the team behind PDF Viewer has rolled out a steady series updates, adding new features and refining existing ones. The latest update continues that trend with major additions that round out PDF Viewer’s feature set.
Readdle released a major update to PDF Expert today. Version 6 incorporates powerful PDF editing tools, in-place cloud-based editing and annotation, document-level assignment of passwords, and more. PDF Expert was already one of the premier PDF apps on iOS, but free alternatives have given it a run for its money recently. The new features in PDF Expert 6 should help maintain its status as a favorite for many PDF power users.
After macOS Sierra was released, reports of problems with PDFs created with Fujitsu’s ScanSnap scanner surfaced. Apple resolved those problems with the release of macOS 10.12.1, but it turns out the problems with PDFs on Sierra run deeper.
Adam Engst of TidBITS has a rundown of several issues that plague Preview, Apple’s PDF app, and many third-party PDF apps. The source of the problems seems to be PDFKit, a developer framework for handling PDFs in macOS. According to developers who spoke to Engst, Apple rewrote parts of PDFKit to unify the macOS and iOS PDF code bases. In the process, developers say that Apple introduced a series of significant bugs and deprecated PDFKit features that broke third-party apps that use PDFKit.
Most recently, the macOS 10.12.2 release seems to have introduced a Preview bug that deletes any OCR layer embedded in a PDF that is edited in Preview. Meanwhile, third-party developers have run into new bugs that affect the handling of PDF annotations.
Engst, the co-author of Take Control of Preview, concludes that:
… I have to recommend that Sierra users avoid using Preview to edit PDF documents until Apple fixes these bugs. If editing a PDF in Preview in unavoidable, be sure to work only on a copy of the file and retain the original in case editing introduces corruption of any sort. Smile’s PDFpen [which doesn’t use PDFKit] is the obvious alternative for PDF manipulation of all sorts (and for documentation, we have “Take Control of PDFpen 8” too), although Adobe’s Acrobat DC is also an option, albeit an expensive one.