iAnnotate from Aji, LLC is an iPad app that downloads, reads and annotates PDF files. It works well as a PDF reader and storage app, but its strength is the ability to mark up a page with a colored pen, yellow highlighter, underlines and text notes.
From the product page at Aji, here’s the full list of features:
- A complete annotation system: Text Notes, Highlight, Underline, Free-Form Drawing, Bookmarks, and more. An intuitive interface allows for viewing and editing annotations without leaving the document reading view.
- Full-featured PDF reader: Continuous-scrolling page display with all standard scroll/zoom gestures supported, and full-screen reading mode. Edit mode now supports two-finger scrolling.
- Easy transfer of PDFs: Send and receive PDFs via email, Dropbox, through iTunes sync, by browsing to any PDF link, or using our free desktop transfer software.
- Tabbed PDF Reading: Quickly switch between multiple open documents. Tab setup and page locations are always remembered, whether switching tabs or quitting and returning to the app.
- Fully Customizable Toolbars: Reposition and resize toolbars, and drag-and-drop to configure tools included on each.
- Comprehensive PDF support: Copy-and-paste text, view existing PDF annotations, support for internal and URL links, and PDF outline/bookmarks support. Fully integrates annotations directly into the PDF.
- Document and full-library search: Search your entire PDF library to instantly find all documents with any keyword. Tabs sort new, unread, and annotated documents.
- VGA output: Use the iPad VGA dock connector to display your documents onto an external projector or monitor. Your document view, along with all annotations and popup displays, is mirrored as you navigate and annotate the document. You can also reference documents in other tabs on your iPad, without affecting the presented display.
- APS (Aji PDF Service): Free companion desktop application for easy sync with your existing desktop PDF collection. Recommended for large libraries of documents.
This app is unlike other apps that you may have used on the iPad in that you’ll be interacting, in detail, with the text. To that end, there are palettes on the screen and on screen help that guide you to mark up that text. You’ll need to read the on screen prompts carefully, then practice with the various tools from the palette.
Palettes on side for markup, on bottom for bookmarks, paging, find.
I downloaded the iPad User Guide that I’d saved on Dropbox, then practiced. I had to learn how to touch a markup to bring up the ‘popup editor’ and then delete a markup. (That’s the first thing one always wants to do: clean up an experimental mess.)
I takes a little practice to slide your finger over just the text you want for the yellow highlighter. I finally got the gist of it. Touching the display in any white space makes the palettes disappear, so you can focus on the text. If the file is very large, you may have to wait a bit. When I loaded a 150 page PDF, the yellow highlighter was dimmed until the file was processed. Unfortunately, there’s no progress indicator for that.
Sample Markup w/ text note, yellow highlight, drawing
One mystery I encountered was the initial connection to Dropbox. That’s accessed with the file cabinet icon, upper left. The wording of the login screen makes it appear as if one is setting up a Dropbox account for the first time rather than just logging in. (See the screen shot below.) The developer admitted that the popover doesn’t have the best choice of wording and will fix it in the next release. Also, I asked about the dimmed, truncated text (same screen shot) that says “Leave blank to require at …” The developer pointed out that it should say “Leave blank to require at login”. That will be fixed in the next update also.
Dropbox Login popover (and some markups)
In summary, this is one of those apps that requires some practice and time on the learning curve in order to extract the power of the markup tools and file functions. Recognizing that, the developer has added ample on screen prompts with explanations to help at every step.
This tool can come in especially handy for students of any kind. As we move increasingly away from paper books, a tool like this is essential for marking up important text. However, not every document of interest may be in PDF form, so a Mac and a Dropbox account are likely to be essential partners. Also, the Aji FAQ reminds customers how to save Mac documents in PDF format. Here’s some text from a recent Aji announcement that caught my attention:
“Aji, LLC has just announced that their popular iPad app iAnnotate PDF will be part of the required course materials for first-year medical school students at Stanford. Apple recently announced that educational institutions will be able to buy apps in bulk through iTunes, and as part of a trial program to integrate the iPad into academics, Stanford School of Medicine will now be providing all of their first-year students with iPads.”
What I Liked
I liked the ability to work with Dropbox. While there is iTunes sync, e-mail, and Aji’s file service, Dropbox appears to be emerging as a universal standard for file access with the iPad. I liked how the palettes disappear easily for a clear view when reading the doc. I liked the bookmark system, and I liked the VGA interface. I think the price, for this caliber of app is fair. In all the considerable time I spent with this app, it never crashed.
What I Didn’t Like
You must be able to identify each individual markup, by touching it and bring up the popup editor to delete it. I would have liked to see a function that deletes all markups or at least allows versioning. That way, if you make a big mess, as I did during testing, you can either wipe them all out or go back to a previous version.
I didn’t like how much screen space the text annotation used when it’s revealed. I know the icons have to be big enough to touch reliably, but I’d still like to see more thought and technique there.
Also, the developer was somewhat unresponsive. It took several days to make a technical connection via the PR rep, then my questions took a long time to answer. For example, I still haven’t found out how to do successive finds of a single text item. I hope this doesn’t reflect the level of customer service in general. I did note, however, that the Aji Website has an excellent video and FAQ to assist. Here’s a link to the User Guide. [Update: after the initial find, there are two arrows at the top of the display that allow you to step through the document, forwards and backwards. The found item is highlighted in a yellow rectangle.]
The Bottom Line
One of the problems with the iPad is that there is no shared storage. Each app has its own folder of docs. So if you want a great PDF reader, like GoodReader, which is ridiculously low priced as well as a markup tool, you’ll need both apps. Then you can share via Dropbox. (GoodReader has announced markup capability for version 3.) For now, iAnnotate is a great — and the only — iPad tool for students to annotate PDF files.