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iPad Apps in One Hour for Lawyers



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War of the PDF Apps: Who's the Winner?

Last week my friend and fellow iPhone/iPad addict Jeff Richardson gave a great review of PDF Expert.  He liked it, but not as much as his current favorite PDF annotation tool, PDF Pen.  I thought I would put both of these apps through their paces, along with iAnnotate PDF and Adobe Reader, which has long been the standard for PDF review and annotation on your desktop or laptop.

I decided to use the same document in each case - I chose a simple W-9 form, because it would also give the opportunity to test and show the form-filling and signature features of each app. I'll fill out the form to send to my client for him to sign.  I initially placed the form in the Downloads folder in my Dropbox account on my desktop.  How did the form fare in each app?  Here we go....

PDF Expert ($9.99)

Downloading the form to my iPad was a breeze in PDF Expert; of the three apps, it offers the widest selection of networks from which to download your PDF files.  

PDF Expert offers a lot of options for getting your documents into the app.

I was able to easily navigate to my Downloads folder in Dropbox and download the file to the app.  PDF Expert mirrors your folders in Dropbox, so it's easy to find the documents you want. But you can create your own customized folders as well.

Folder view in PDF Expert.

I was able to fill the form quickly and easily.  Just press in the field you want to fill out, and the keyboard appears so you can enter the appropriate text.

You can move from field to field by pressing the buttons just above the keyboard.

Do you need to annotate your document?  The annotation toolbar just above the document allows you to do a lot of things.

See the table below for annotation features of all apps.


If you want to add something to a PDF document in a particular location, just press and hold, and you'll be presented with a number of options:

You have a number of options to insert something wherever you press your finger.


Let's say you want to sign the form, or have your client sign it.  Just press Signature, and you'll get a further option:


In this case we'll substitute the word "Client" for "Customer."  Once you press that button, you'll get a blank screen that your client can sign.

Blank signature screen.After signing.Press Done in the upper right corner, and you'll be able to move the signature and resize it so it will fit within the signature box.  If your client isn't right in front of you, you'll need to mail the PDF form either to yourself (to print it out) or to your client.  Just press the Open In... button at the top right, and press Send by E-mail.  That's all there is to it.

PDFPen ($9.99) 

PDFPen is a bit more basic in its user interface - you can create folders here, but it's not very intuitive (press Edit, then drag a document on top of another to create the folder).


Once you open the form, the user interface is simple as well.  The app supports form filling, much like PDF Expert:


Form filling in PDFPen.

All of the annotation tools are tucked away under menus in the top right.  There's one for Markup tools and a window that allows you to insert Objects, pictures, custom items, and proofing marks.  

Markup tools in PDFPen.Proofreading marks you can insert into the document.

That's right - if you're into proofing markup symbols, you have a whole lot to use here. There's also an Information button that allows you to customize whatever annotation tool you happen to be using at the moment.  The annotation tools here are definitely stronger than that of PDF Expert.

Unfortunately, PDFPen does not have an dedicated signature feature - to add a signature, you must either use the Scribble tool, or import an image of your signature.

Once you're done, press the wrench button in the upper right, then Share, then Email Document, to mail the form to yourself or your client.

iAnnotate PDF ($9.99)

I have used iAnnotate PDF for a while, and I think it has the best annotation tools of the bunch. However, it has other weaknesses that make this probably my least favorite tool for filling forms and signing them.  

iAnnotate does not connect to very many services, but it does connect to Dropbox, so I was able to download the file. 

The Library view is very confusing to me, especially everything on the left - I think that it is probably a terrific tool for searching through PDF files, but the user interface is too busy.  Fortunately for us, my document is right there in the middle of the screen, so we can start using it.

iAnnotate's Library View is VERY confusing to me.

The first thing you'll notice is that iAnnotate does not have a form filling feature.  Instead, you'll have to use the Typewriter tool and the maneuver the text into place once you're done typing.

The Typewriter tool can be found on the annotation bar to the right.

There's also no feature for adding a signature - you can use the freeform draw tool, but it's just not as satisfying as the other apps.

Where iAnnotate really shines is in its annotation tools - it blows all the competition away.  Just look at this page - and we're just looking at the specific annotation tools!  There are other tools for Navigation, View, Document, and Utility.  It's very powerful in this regard.

Get a load of all these options!

To send the form to your client, you'll have to go back to the Library, press on the file until this toolbar pops up, then press E-Mail.

Adobe Reader (Free)

Adobe Reader's features just don't match up to either PDF Expert or PDF Pen, as the chart below clearly shows.  I'm tempted to give it some slack; after all, the app is free.  But wait a minute - this is Adobe we're talking about, right? The desktop version of Acrobat has some of the best annotation and collaboration tools around - is it too much to ask for just a few more of them in the iPad app?

Unfortunately, Adobe Reader does not connect to any service, so to get our form into it we must go the other direction.  I uploaded the form into GoodReader, then opened the form with Adobe Reader.  Like PDFPen, Adobe Reader does not support folders; you'll just see a list of documents.

Adobe Reader's documents list.


And when you get to the annotation screen, the commenting tools are also pretty meager, with really the only customization being the ability to adjust the opacity of the annotation:


To fill out the form, just press the field and start typing.  Like all of the other apps there are buttons at the top of the keyboard from moving from field to field.

To sign the form, tap the fountain pen icon  at the upper right.  You'll be prompted to tap where you want to sign.  

Adobe Reader's signature page.

You can then customize the signature further when it's place in its correct place.

If you want to get a secure signature, you can send the signature out using Adobe's great EchoSign service.  This is one area where Adobe Reader shines - EchoSign is really a terrific tool for client and other signatures, and its integration into Reader is terrific.

So who wins?  Again, it depends on what you're looking for in a PDF annotation/signature app.  Based on the chart below, I'd say that PDF Expert wins on breadth of features, PDFPen and iAnnotate win on breadth of annotation tools, and Adobe Reader wins on signature security.



What do you think?  Let me know your favorite PDF annotation tool in the comments.


An "Open In..." Rant (and a call for your Open In Faves)

It happened to me again today.  I downloaded a few new apps, and want to test them out using documents on my iPad.  I go to GoodReader or Dropbox, find the document I want to use, and then press the "Open In..." button in each app.  As I suspected, neither of the new apps appears in the list.  Apple's iOS inexplicably limits the number of apps that appear in the "Open In..." box of any app on your iPhone or iPad - a "feature" or "bug" that really needs to be changed.

Conventional wisdom says the number of apps in the "Open In..." box is 10, but I can say differently.  Just testing out different types of documents in my GoodReader app, most of the document types limit me to 10 apps in the "Open In..." box - Word, PDF, Excel, and PPT all offer me 10 different app from which to choose. However, I also have an RTF (Rich Text File) in my list of files, and when I press "Open In..." for that, I am presented with...twenty-five app choices!

Theoretically, when you click on "Open In..." you are given choices that apply to the file type you are trying to open.  For example, when I want to open a PowerPoint file, Keynote is always the first option in the list. It's clear that an RTF file can be viewed in a lot of different apps - otherwise, why would it give me so many options?  And if that's the case, why can't iOS give me that many options for all of the files I try to open?  It's a puzzling conundrum that has yet to be figured out, and one on which Apple has so far been silent.

Jeff Richardson had a great writeup on this very issue over at iPhone J.D. back in January - he sets forth the problem succinctly, and offers some workarounds.  I agree that the best workaround is simply to delete apps that do show up on your "Open In..." list until the apps you actually want appear in the list - then reinstall all of the apps you had to delete.  But as Jeff explains, this approach is inelegant - and as far as I'm concerned, a real pain in the butt.  

I'd Apple to fix this feature/bug, but I'm not going to hold my breath - it has been a known issue for nearly two years, and still nothing from Cupertino.  So I guess my plea goes out to the app developers themselves - if you intend users to view documents or other files within your app, then give us another option than an "Open In..." button.  The most direct way of doing this is to allow us to connect to our Dropbox or Box or other file synching accounts - that way, we could open the documents directly, without getting other apps involved.  And easy access to our files is what all of you developers want for your users - right?

Given that the "Open In..." list isn't likely to change any time soon, I thought I'd open up the comments below for you to chime in on the question:  What are the 10 Must-Have Apps in your "Open In..." box? If you're limited to 10 apps, which are the apps you absolutely need to have there?  Here are mine - looking at the list, it's pretty basic:



What about you?  What apps make your ideal "Open In..." list?  I realize that not all of these apps open the same types of documents - but if this was the same every time I tried to open a document, this would open just about everything for me.


Dealing with App Failure

It happens to all of us, eventually:  an iPad app you're using freezes up, or it takes too long to respond.  Although Apple's mantra "it just works" is true most of the time, sometimes things just don't work.  Fortunately, there are a couple of pretty easy ways to deal with apps gone wild.

Option #1: Quitting an App.  The first (and easiest) thing to try is simply stopping the app that's giving you problems.  First, pull up your task bar by going to your home screen, then pressing the home button twice.  Just press down on the misbehaving app until it starts jiggling, then press the red minus sign in the upper left. Confirm that you want to close the app, and poof!  It's gone.  Now try to restart the app.  In most cases, this will solve the problem.

Option #2: Reinstalling the App.  In those cases where it doesn't work, reinstalling the app is the next thing to try.  To do that, press down on the app icon (not on the task bar, in the regular place where it lives).  Then press the black x in the upper left corner.  Confirm that you want to delete the app, and it will be removed from your iPad.

(Warning:  some apps store data in them, and if you delete them you might lose all the data contained in the app.  Before deleting an app, make sure the data is backed up somewhere else, or that you don't need any data in the app.)

Next, go to the App Store and press Purchased, to see those apps you already own.  At the top of that screen, make sure Not On This iPad is pressed, so you can see a list of those apps that aren't currently installed on the device.  Navigate to the app you just deleted, and press the cloud icon to the right of it.  After you enter your iTunes credentials the app will be reinstalled.

Option #3:  Reboot! If this doesn't solve the problem, or your issue is much worse than a single app, then rebooting the iPad might do the trick.   You've probably done this before:  just press and hold on the sleep/wake button for three second, and slide the button on the screen to power it off.  Once it turns off, press the sleep/wake button again, and it will turn back on.

Sometimes this doesn't work - the iPad is so frozen up that pressing the sleep/wake button has no effect.  If that's the case, the press and hold the sleep/wake button and the home button at the same time for 10 seconds.  This will perform a "hard reset" on your iPad, which is basically the same as a reboot.

The Nuclear Option. If all else fails, you may need to wipe the device and start over.  There are two ways to do this, depending on whether you're using Apple's iCloud service.

First, make sure your iPad is backed up.  You may be using the iCloud service to back up your iPad, or still using iTunes.  Either way, do a backup (if your iPad is in crisis, I hope you did a backup recently!).  Then take a deep breath and head to Settings, then General, then Reset.  Press Erase All Content and Settings.  This will return your iPad to its original factory settings, without any of your content on it.  The iPad is basically a new device for you now, and starts with a Welcome screen; after you choose your preferred language and agreeing to the Legal Terms, you'll get a screen that gives you three options:

  • Set up as a New iPad
  • Restore from iCloud Backup
  • Restore from iTunes Backup

If you're using iCloud, select that option.  You must be connected to a wireless network for this to work, and you'll be prompted to select a nearby network.  You'll be prompted to sign into your iCloud account, and you'll then select the backup you want to restore.  iCloud will then restore all of your settings, and reinstall all of your apps.  If you have music or videos on your iPad you didn't get from the iTunes store, you may need to transfer them manually from their source. 

If you're using iTunes, then you'll be prompted to plug your iPad into your computer.  iTunes will then perform essentially the same restore as iCloud, and you'll be prompted to select the right backup to restore.  The process is the same, and at the end you'll have a fully restored iPad.


An Update on MS Office on the iPad

Back in February I posted about two new apps that allow you to actually work with Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint on the iPad - OnLive Desktop and CloudOn.  Shortly after that, OnLive ran into a bit of trouble with Microsoft, because it wasn't properly licensing the Windows 7 software that users accessed through the app.  This week, OnLive and Microsoft kissed and made up; OnLive will be running its app on the Windows Server 2008 RS engine, rather than Windows 7.  Some users say it doesn't work as well as a Windows 7 environment - for one thing, the fantastic handwriting recognition tool is not available any more - but I didn't notice anything too disturbing when I tried out the update.

I'm still a big fan of CloudOn, and this week they also issued an update.  Now Box users can connect to the service, and the app also provides support for Adobe Reader - so you can read PDF files within the app. Unfortunately, the Commenting and Signing options have been disabled, so really all you can do is read PDF files.  There are certainly better apps for working with PDF files, but it's nice that CloudOn added this feature.

Have you tried out either OnLive or CloudOn?  Leave a comment and let me know which one you prefer.


The Paper App - for Your Creative Side

One of the most beautiful apps I have used was released a couple of weeks ago, and I thought I'd spend some time talking about it today.  It's called Paper - although if you're looking for it in the App Store, make sure to search for "Paper by FiftyThree."  The app itself is free, but to take advantage of all of its tools you'll have to make a couple of in-app purchases - the Color, Sketch, Write and Outline tools will cost $1.99 each, or you can get it all bundled into the "Essentials" package for $7.99.

Let's be clear - Paper may not be an app that would be useful to the average lawyer.  But if you like to sketch, draw, or keep basic lists, the app may be worth a try - because from what I've seen, the app can help you create some pretty amazing drawings.  Here are a few examples from the Fifty-Three site:

These images and many more are available at

You can create and keep as many notebooks or journals as you want.  The notebooks are customizable with 11 pre-designed covers - but you can also cover your notebook with the photo of your choice.  In the screenshot below, the last two notebooks are from images I had in my Photo Roll.

To start using Paper, just tap on one of the notebooks.  You can add as many pages you like to the notebook simply by pressing the + button in the menu under the notebooks (Note:  when the notebooks are closed, pressing the + button will create a new notebook.  To add new pages to a notebook, the notebook must be open before you press the + button.

To start working with a page, just do a two-finger spread motion to expand the page to full screen.  Drag your finger up from the bottom to call up the toolbar.  From there you can select the tool you want to use, and the right color.

Pick a tool, and start drawing, writing, or sketching.  If you need to undo something, just swipe two fingers in a counter-clockwise direction - it will remove everything you did in the reverse order it appeared on the screen.  There's also an eraser if you want to get rid of something quickly, or refine something you've drawn.

Paper does not work in Portrait mode - you can certainly draw with that orientation, but it will display sideways when you view the page later.  

Once you are done with a page, you can share the drawing on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, or as an image to your camera roll.  You can also mail the page to anyone as a JPEG file.

The main drawback I have with Paper is with writing.  I'm not much of an artist, so if I used this app I would use it to take notes.  Unfortunately, Paper does not come with a wrist protection feature like many of the note-taking apps I have reviewed and regularly use.  I am not sure how the person wrote on the image above; I can only imagine it was done without the wrist touching the iPad, because I am having a lot of trouble writing on it in my usual manner.  Also, if you want to write on this, use a stylus like the Wacom Bamboo - something with a rubber tip.  I was unable to write with my JotPro.

In all, I really like the Paper app - and if you like to sketch accident scenes or other types of diagrams in your practice, then it might work for you.   For taking notes, however, I think it lacks many of the features of other, more robust note-taking apps.  Then again, Paper wasn't designed for the kind of note-taking I have in mind.  I'm keeping it around, though, for fun drawing, and if I ever wind up taking a class that helps me d