There is no doubt that PDF is a prominent format for digital documents, if not the most widespread one. However, reading PDFs on a laptop is not comfortable. People tend to print them. Not very green. Tablets and more specifically the iPad look as a good device to get ride of the paper, save some trees, while still carrying a large PDF library.You may argue that using an electronic device is not very green either, think of production, electricity and disposal.
We’ll leave this debate for another post.
iPad is shipped with the iBooks app. At first, iBooks looks great as for most apps by Apple. At least graphically. Unfortunately, one gets disappointed when trying to use it seriously for reading PDF documents. The first disillusion comes quickly when importing files to the iPad. You need to select your files one by one before dragging them into iTunes. You can’t drag a folder, not mentioning a hierarchy of folders. Moreover, this connection is static. Ideally, one should be able to refer to a folder in her laptop and iTunes would keep it in sync with iBooks. But, this is not for iBooks users. To be honest, this is more an issue related to iTunes. A last issue related to iTunes is that by default, it copies files into its own folder. Although todays disks allow storing hundreds of gigabytes, one usually don’t want storing duplicate files. Fortunately, this can be fixed by setting the appropriate iTune preferences. In the advanced pane, uncheck “Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library” as shown in the snapshot below.
From the reader perspective, iBooks biggest issue with PDFs is related to zoom handling. PDFs are often in letter or A4 format. Comfortable reading requires some level of zooming. But, then one needs to be careful with the touch screen. It may accidentally make a horizontal scroll and lose the sentence being read.
Let’s finish with a pros of the iBooks. A double tap zooms text to fit the screen or toggles full text view. When zooming it shows the area where the double-tap occurred. Although there are few bugs to have the right scale with some documents with tables, but it works fine most of the time. We tried it with a double column document and a double tap makes a zoom on a single column, which is what a user expects.