I use my iPad as my main tool to annotate research literature, as well as sorting data and commenting on draft papers or student work. I have previously sung the praise of iAnnotate in this post, as I consider it one of the best apps for marking up PDFs on an iPad. I have also previously used PDF Expert quite a lot, and decided a couple of days ago to test out their new app, PDF Expert 5.
However, both of these apps have now left me with a problem which is a complete deal breaker: they lump words together when I export annotations.
Exporting annotations is an integral part of my work flow. Every time I have marked up a PDF on my iPad, I extract the annotations (this is a feature in all good quality PDF apps for iPad), and email them to myself as plain text. I then create a separate file in Devonthink (copied to Evernote), where I add my own summary and comments to the annotations.
However, back in March I started noticing that iAnnotate seemed to lump a whole lot of words together, which were not lumped together in the original text. For example, in a recent article I worked on, a sentence which looked like this in the actual PDF:
Instead, if we accept the general point that in cultural terms, teachers, like other workers, are creatures of their occupational situation, then we might do better to address ourselves to how the material circumstances of the occupation might be modified so as to elicit a different kind of cultural response
looked like this in the annotations I emailed to myself:
Instead, if we accept the generalpointthat in cultural terms, teachers, like other workers, are creatures of their occupational situation, then we mightdo betterto addressourselves to how the materialcircumstancesof the occupation mightbe modifiedso as to elicit a different kindof culturalresponse
And that’s a total pain in the butt to edit manually.
I had an exchange with the developers at iAnnotate about this, and was very sad to hear that they couldn’t do anything about it in the short term. They suggested that I attempt to go through an additional step of rescanning the document in Preview or Adobe Acrobat on my mac, but since I already had GoodReader which didn’t give me this problem, I just switched apps rather than adding an additional step to my workflow. I compared a range of PDFs from different academic publishers, both old and new, and the result was consistently the same: iAnnotate would lump words together, while GoodReader didn’t. So, GoodReader it was.
When I tried PDF Expert 5 a couple of days ago, I ran into the same problem. I immediately contacted the developer, and they had the same response as Branchfire (the developer of iAnnotate): they don’t know how to fix this in the short term.
So, I’m back to GoodReader. And that’s not a bad thing. GoodReader is a high quality app, and at 5 dollars in the app store it’s arguably better value than some of its competitors. I miss the continuous scrolling and the set mark/return to mark feature of iAnnotate, but apart from that it has all the features I need. The sync with Dropbox (I sync my Bookends library to GoodReader) works well, and an advantage of GoodReader compared to iAnnotate is that it has a proper zoom function for hand writing, which makes it much easier to leave comments by hand, which I often prefer to typing on the iPad keyboard. They do, however, have a smaller feature set than iAnnotate – but GoodReader will take you a long way.
Some of the features include:
- highlight, underline, squiggly underline, strikeout, free text, free hand writing, ‘bubble’ notes
- two way sync with Dropbox
- bookmarks for navigation
- horizontal and vertical (but not continuous) scrolling
- search within document
- easy access to ‘undo’ button (something I also missed in iAnnotate at times)
- tabs for displaying different PDFs at the same time
Here are a couple of screenshots. In the first, you see the user interface when marking up a PDF, and the menu for exporting annotations.
If you select “E-Mail Summary” in the menu, your annotations are extracted and placed in an email. Here’s a snapshot of what the annotations look like as they are being exported:
I’m sad to leave iAnnotate, and I hope they sort out this issue at some point. I was also excited about the new ‘review mode’ in PDF Expert 5. But for now, GoodReader is doing the job, and it’s doing it pretty well.
Update on 07.01.14: The developers at PDF Expert has now told me that the issue with jumbled text will be fixed in a future update, but there’s no specific date yet. The developers at iAnnotate has told me that “they cannot provide an immediate solution”. Finally, GoodReader just came out with an update yesterday.
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