Skitch, the image annotation and sharing tool that Evernote acquired in the summer of 2011, has today been updated on iOS to include support for PDF annotations. I have been testing the new feature for the past few months, and, while not as full-featured as a dedicated PDF annotation app, I believe it is a solid addition to Skitch.
Posts tagged with "pdf"
Chrome for iOS was updated yesterday with a couple of new features, and considering it’s become my daily browser on all my devices, I thought I should try them out.
The most notable addition is full-screen viewing for the iPhone version. As you scroll down a page, the Omnibox gets hidden; to view it again, simply swipe down anywhere on a webpage. I like the implementation, and I think Google is doing full-screen browsing better than Apple on iOS. More importantly, the status bar remains visible even with full-screen activated (I wish Rdio would do the same). I hope this initial iPhone-only full-screen mode will evolve into Google finally enabling a bookmarks bar on the iPad.
The other addition of version 26.0.1410.50 (I know, don’t ask) is printing. From the Print menu, you can now print webpages using AirPrint or Google Cloud Print. The changelog also mentions the possibility to save PDFs to Google Drive, and I find it curious that this functionality is hidden inside Google Cloud Print’s menu. MacStories readers know about my preference for PDFs and workflows to archive PDFs of webpages. Unfortunately, Chrome’s Drive integration leaves much to be desired: it kept timing out on my devices, and when it worked, a PDF was considerably reduced in quality (screenshot). I’ll keep using my own scripts to archive PDFs.
For a detailed overview of the update, I recommend reading Dan Moren’s piece for Macworld linked above.
I stumble across a lot of interesting webpages on a daily basis. Sometimes it's a video I want to watch later; sometimes it's an article I don't have time to read right away. Other times, I find a webpage that I want to keep around for future reference. For me, there's a difference between articles to read later and reference material: whereas a new item added to Instapaper has a short life span in terms of attention (read, share, archive), a webpage I want to keep around forever needs to be turned into a document I can read anywhere, highlight, annotate, and carry around between platforms and devices. For that, I like PDFs.
I keep a "PDFs" folder in my Dropbox that contains all the documents I check upon regularly for work and personal purposes. They can be eBooks, tutorials, or guidelines from Apple that are essential to my writing online. Thanks to the increasing support for cloud services in apps like PDF Expert, GoodReader, and iAnnotate, I can keep a single copy of a PDF in my Dropbox, use the app I want to annotate the document with, and forget about duplicates thanks to sync. Furthermore, I'm fairly sure that, due to their popularity, PDFs will still be readable and supported 20 years from now, so I don't have to worry about data preservation and file formats.
Lately, I have become obsessed with turning longer articles I find on the Internet also into PDFs for long-term archival. For as much as I like Instapaper, I can't be sure that the service will be around in the next decades, and I don't want my archive of longform and quality content to be lost in the cloud. So I have come up with a way to combine Instapaper with the benefit of PDFs, Dropbox, and automation to generate documents off any link or webpage, from any device, within seconds.
(Disclaimer: what follows is an explanation of a hack I created for personal use. It uses publicly available tools and apps to fill a personal need. You shouldn't create PDFs off websites and redistribute them -- you should support the sites you read instead).
In short, I use the Instapaper Text bookmarklet to fetch a webpage's text and images (while preserving hyperlinks and great typography) and I convert the resulting page to PDF using wkpdf. Created by Christian Plessl, wkpdf is a command line tool that uses WebKit and RubyCocoa for rendering HTML content to PDF. Since wkpdf uses WebKit's HTML rendering, it can generate good-looking PDFs that maintain most CSS2 and CSS3 stylings and properties. I have tried another command line tool for file conversion, Pandoc, but I like wkpdf better for straight HTML to PDF conversion.
Scanner Pro, a camera-based scanning application for iOS devices by Readdle, has been updated to version 4.0, which adds a number of engine optimizations and new features, as well as support for the iPad. I was able to test the latest update to Scanner Pro, and I'm thoroughly impressed by the degree of independence and reliability Readdle achieved with Scanner Pro 4.0.
Let me explain. Until today, I have exclusively relied on a large, heavy wireless printer/scanner or my portable Doxie Go to scan, manage, and organize documents. In order to achieve a seamless paperless setup that required zero, or at least very minimal effort to be maintained and consistently used, I thought that the Doxie Go would be the solution for all my needs, as it offers a portable and lightweight device that outputs images at great quality in PDF. More often than not, however, the new devices and apps we have available nowadays bring new questions for issues we thought we had already figured out; as I began using the iPad as my primary computer, I realized how the Doxie, albeit well-designed and extremely usable, would still require me to use a computer to import scans, organize them, delete the ones I didn't like, and upload the rest to Evernote.
I asked myself whether the iPad could even become a scanner. After all, the new iPad got a solid camera update in its latest version, and whilst not on par with the iPhone 4S' camera, an iPhone 4-like lens -- I assumed -- could probably be a decent alternative to physical scanners, even the portable ones. The difference was mainly in the software: I wasn't looking for an iPad accessory to turn the device into a scanner, I was scouting around for great scanner apps that would a) work reliably on the new iPad and Retina display, and b) support various online services, have basic document management features, and an "Open In" menu. Fortunately, Scanner Pro 4.0 by Readdle fits all these requisites, and it does so in a way that allows me to say this is the scanner app to try if you own a new iPad, and plan on going paperless using it.
Readdle is today launching their latest iPad productivity app, Remarks. In some ways it is similar to their existing products such as ReaddleDocs or PDF Expert because it features full PDF annotation capabilities, but it is distinctly different because it is the first of their apps to really push the idea of handwriting and note taking as a core function. We've reviewed many of Readdle's products before and by this stage it is clear to us that they make quality productivity software for iOS, so the real question I had when I downloaded this app was what exactly does it let you do and how might it fit into how I work.
What struck me almost instantly was that this app is clearly aimed at being a PDF creation tool, it isn't like ReaddleDocs or PDF Expert which are more focused as being document management and PDF annotation apps. Remarks may have those same annotation tools but it wants you to create PDF documents, whether it be a handwritten note, drawing or diagram that you want to send to a colleague or perhaps a study note.
In its current form, PDF annotation may be useful but it's a bit of a pain to get a PDF into Remarks, unlike PDF Expert and ReaddleDocs it doesn't (yet) have support for cloud services such as Dropbox or SugarSync. Fortunately, this will only be a short-lived annoyance, Readdle plans to have an update ready within two weeks that adds support for cloud services.
Once you do get a PDF into Remarks, you won't be disappointed - the same powerful annotation functionality that is in Readdle's other apps is also available in Remarks. So you'll get the tools to add text, draw shapes and write or draw in freehand on those PDFs, and as usual it is all editable in Preview on the Mac or any other PDF reader such as Adobe Acrobat.
I think for me, this app will come in handy when I need to take down study notes that also require diagrams or illustrations. Things that I can't do in Evernote, which is very much a text focused note-taking app. In the past I have sketched them down in an exercise book and then for the most important ones I have subsequently drawn them up in Photoshop, OmniGraffle or OmniGraphSketcher, importing those into Evernote. Now I could just use Remarks to make an electronic copy of all my study notes, not just those that are in plain text. I'll probably still use Photoshop or one of the Omni apps for some of my diagrams that are super important so they are a little neater - but its no longer a requirement.
Before I wrap up, I just wanted to make a quick mention of using a stylus with the iPad. The app does recommend using one and I must admit using a stylus in the context of drawing diagrams and general notes does make a lot of sense - using my finger wasn't as effective as I had hoped and it soon got tiring. So I foresee myself picking up a stylus in the near future, to make sure I can take full advantage of what Remarks offers.
If you are just looking for an app to annotate PDF documents it might be a better idea to go for PDF Expert or ReaddleDocs. But if you want to do more freeform note-taking, drawing diagrams or creating your own simple PDFs, Remarks is the way to go. Remarks is available in the App Store for $4.99.
Released last night on the App Store at $9.99, PDFpen for iPad brings Smile's popular PDF editing and annotating tool to iPad owners, sporting features that take advantage of the native functionalities offered by iOS 5, such as full iCloud integration.
I have played with PDFpen for a few hours, and I have to say I am impressed by the amount of polish and options that went into this first release. Whilst you obviously won't find all the tools and menus from apps like Readdle's PDF Expert in version 1.0 of PDFpen for iPad (PDF Expert reached version 3.2 yesterday), Smile's latest app shows a promising future because of features it already comes with, such as iCloud storage across iOS and OS X or native Dropbox and Evernote integration via APIs.
I'll start with the exporting options. Unlike several PDF management apps, PDFpen doesn't stop at offering a standard "Open In..." menu that simply forwards a local document to other installed iOS apps; the app does that, too( and quite cleverly I might add, as upon exporting PDFpen asks you if you want to save a "document" with annotations editable by other apps, or a flattened copy), but it also directly integrates with Dropbox, Evernote, iDisk, Google Docs, webDAV and FTP. If you choose to export PDFs to Dropbox or Evernote, PDFpen will let you log in and pick a destination folder -- personally, I'd recommend storing regular PDF docs in Dropbox, and those that you want to OCR in Evernote, as the service provides great search functionalities for this.
Sharing options can be accessed on a per-document basis from the upper toolbar's sharing menu; alternatively, you can select multiple documents from the main screen and share them online (or locally, through WiFi Transfer and iTunes Copy). Overall, also considering PDFpen's support for iCloud from day one, if you put strong emphasis on sharing options for your documents, I'd say you should strongly consider a PDFpen setup on your Mac and iOS devices.
When it comes to editing a PDF, as I said earlier PDFpen doesn't sport all the options of a popular competitor such as PDF Expert yet, but credit where credit's due -- Smile has been supporting PDFpen for years and I'm sure features will come over time. Plus, it's not like the app is underpowered in this first release -- PDF Expert simply offers more because it's been around longer. As with the Mac version, PDFpen lets you annotate documents with notes (which you can export separately), various shapes and arrows, images from the iPad's Camera Roll and your own text. Images can be freely moved and resized on screen, whilst text can be entered with the keyboard, or through direct touch input. As you can see from the screenshots, the app supports different types of highlights and colors, with a toolbar allowing you to modify colors and font sizes, among other things. Personally, I'd like the developers to reconsider the organization of the toolbar menus, as I've sometimes struggled to find a particular option because it was too buried inside a popover menu with multiple choices. Perhaps contextual menus or a taller toolbar could help in this regard.
Text can be manipulated, too, either through boxes you can move on screen, or by dragging your scribbles around. What's cool about PDFpen is that it lets you tweak the opacity/fill color/width parameters of any shape, as well as re-arrange any element in the back/front of other annotations on screen. And, obviously, if you need to digitally sign PDFs, PDFpen will let you do that as well by letting you save any annotation as a template you can reuse later.
You may be wondering -- how do PDFpen's annotations compare to the competition? Pretty well, I'd say, except for some issues with compatibility across apps that, I assume, could also be due to different implementation techniques between developers. Highlights, notes and colors work fairly well, with colors and text styles accessible from a bottom toolbar or popover menus. What I've noticed is that PDF Expert is much more intuitive in editing annotations and highlights thanks to an enhanced iOS popup menu, whereas PDFpen can feel a little clunky in relying exclusively on the popover metaphor. Moreover, PDF Expert generally accepts any kind of PDF edited from other applications you throw at it, while I had PDFpen not properly recognizing highlights and shapes from some third-party PDF apps. Both solutions, however, exported PDFs (editable or flattened) to Preview and Acrobat just fine. I would say that PDFpen offers smoother animations and transitions (the sidebar with thumbnail previews is a personal favorite of mine) with an overall simpler approach to controls and annotations tools, whereas PDF Expert is obviously more mature because of its longer development cycle. I can't comment on other apps, as PDF Expert is the only PDF editing app I've used regularly until today.
As far as my workflow is concerned, in spite of PDF Expert offering more features with an editing toolbar that I prefer, I think I'll stick with PDFpen, for a couple of reasons. First is iCloud support, which I regard as a must-have these days for people serious about keeping the same set of documents always in sync between devices. Second, I like the idea of getting used to the same group of apps on my Mac and iOS devices -- in case you don't know, PDFpen is available on the Mac as well and it's a really powerful app. PDF Expert doesn't offer a Mac client, but it's got an iPhone version; I, however, don't read or edit PDFs on my iPhone. Last, PDFpen's excellent export capabilities allow me to considerably streamline my iPad workflow when it comes to importing PDFs (from Dropbox, Papers, or PDF Converter), annotating them, and saving them for long-term storage either in Evernote or Dropbox. I've also recently bought a Doxie Go portable scanner from Amazon, and I can't wait to test PDFpen with the Camera Connection Kit and direct Evernote uploads alongside Doxie's software. This experiment will also prove how PDFpen can handle large libraries of files and how well the renaming/combining features can work when handling a lot of files.
At $9.99, PDFpen for iPad is a fantastic first version and I look forward to seeing what future updates will bring. Get the app here.
ReaddleDocs 3, the latest version of the popular document viewer and file manager for the iPad was released a few days ago and it packs a bunch of new features and improvements. The app is a little odd in some ways, because at its core it is trying to recreate the file system on an iPad — something that Apple has tried its very best to stay away from with iOS. But in reality, if you've wanted to be productive on an iPad you're inevitably going to need some sort of file system, because whilst iCloud is beginning to help with document and app sync, it isn't all that helpful for syncing between apps.
As a result, I use a few other 'cloud' services to keep all my documents in sync and available everywhere. The primary one I use is SugarSync, but I also use Dropbox (primarily for collaboration) and occasionally Google Docs. This allows me to use any of the computers I have at home, where I will have all my documents ready and available - I can even edit them and see those edits synced across to the other computers where I could access that same file the next morning with all the edits included.
But how do I deal with documents on the iPad? It's been a bit of a complicated issue since the iPad was first released, and initially I was just emailing any documents I needed on my iPad to myself and then opening that email up on the iPad - but this was messy, complicated and required advanced 'knowledge' to send that file before you could see it on the iPad. Eventually I realised I had to find a better way to solve this, and that's where SugarSync and Dropbox come in. Both these services (and a multitude of others) slowly began to be supported by various apps for the iPad and iPhone, hooking straight into the services. This was a far better way to open files on the iPad - but the apps felt very rough around the edges.
In recent months I've been using iFiles on the iPad and iPhone, it's been pretty great and it was certainly the best app I had used to date for viewing documents from my Dropbox folder and SugarSync services. Then about a month after I started using iFiles, I came across PDF Expert. Primarily I was using it for PDF annotation, but I noticed it was also a pretty great file viewer, particularly because it would also integrate right into Dropbox and SugarSync. So over the past few months I've been using PDF Expert for most of my document viewing needs and occasionally opening iFiles.
When looking at it simply, PDF Expert and ReaddleDocs 3 are nearly identical — they share very similar user interfaces and are close in functionality too. Where they differentiate is mainly in price (PDF Expert is nearly twice as much) and in annotation abilities (it is far better in PDF Expert). So before I go into too much detail, if you want to do a lot of PDF annotation on the iPad, PDF Expert is what you should purchase (even if you want to use it as a document viewer, because it is also good at that). In all other cases my recommendation is for ReaddleDocs 3, particularly if you want to do some file management - it is virtually identical and also has some annotation capabilities.
Jump the break to continue reading my review of ReaddleDocs 3.