iPad pro

App of the Week: PDF Expert 7

Readdle Launches PDF Expert 7, Free Update for iPhone & iPad

Today we are incredibly excited to launch PDF Expert 7 — our vision of what the ultimate PDF experience for every iPhone and iPad should be.

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This week’s update to PDF Expert secures it as my favorite PDF app on iOS. The one and only problem I have been having with it for the past year or two was its lack of integration with the iOS document browser, which shows you the same interface as the Files app when selecting which PDF you want to work with. I wrote about this last week with reference to the OmniGroup’s apps getting support for the native file browser this fall.

Accessing the the document browser is a tap away at all times. A ‘recent documents’ option is also one tap away. This is helpful because PDF Expert does a great job of integrating different options for managing your PDFs. It has Dropbox and Google Drive support. It also allows you to store PDFs locally within the app. This is useful for me when I am creating new PDFs or temporarily making copies of them for the purpose of editing the order of pages, the text of my documents, etc...

The PDF Expert 7 interface. ‘My Files’ are locally stored documents which do not sync to iCloud. They can be viewed in the Files app through the PDF Expert file provider.

The PDF Expert 7 interface. ‘My Files’ are locally stored documents which do not sync to iCloud. They can be viewed in the Files app through the PDF Expert file provider.

I like my ‘one true’ copies of my documents to live in iCloud. I will often take a scan of a stack of concert band parts, drag it into PDF Expert, extract the individual pages into separate parts (Flute 1, Flute 2, etc.), and then save these parts back to iCloud. I don’t want any of the extra files generated during this process cluttering up my documents folder, so its nice to have a quarantined area of PDF Expert where they can live.

The old PDF Expert interface.

The old PDF Expert interface.

The PDF Expert file provider, accessed through the Files app.

The PDF Expert file provider, accessed through the Files app.

These local files can also be accessed from the native Files app as PDF Expert is a file provider.

Furthermore, PDF Expert gets its own iCloud folder where you can store documents by default. This is becoming less necessary because of how easy it is to access the Files interface, regardless of where your PDFs are stored.

As mentioned above, the ‘recents’ option makes it more streamlined to find what you want, no matter which of these methods you have used to store documents.

I am focusing a lot on the file workflow here because PDF Expert 6 already had the best feature set of any PDF app I have used on iOS. A clean interface, great editing tools, the ability to edit the text and images of a PDF (for real!) and more. These features are now all free. PDF Expert 7 introduces some pro features that come at the cost of 50 dollars a year. Some of these features include converting to PDF from Word or Excel files, and the option to customize the look and feel of the editing tools at the top of the screen. I am glad PDF Expert chose these features to put in the paid tier. It is just enough that it will be worth it for some users, but all of the good stuff is still in the free version.

I will probably try the one week free trial but will most likely stick with the free version.

These PDFs are stored inside of iCloud Drive, inside a folder called PDF Expert. Though this is becoming less necessary now that the Files app is integrated more directly into the app.

These PDFs are stored inside of iCloud Drive, inside a folder called PDF Expert. Though this is becoming less necessary now that the Files app is integrated more directly into the app.

The new PDF Expert interface puts the iOS document browser. In this screenshot, I can directly access PDFs that are stored in my musical Scores folder, which is in my iCloud Drive.

The new PDF Expert interface puts the iOS document browser. In this screenshot, I can directly access PDFs that are stored in my musical Scores folder, which is in my iCloud Drive.

Spending Time with iPadOS 13

I have been running the beta of iPadOS 13 for almost a month now. iPadOS 13 ships this fall and is the first version of iOS that Apple is branding iPadOS because of its focus on features unique to the iPad. At first you might think this to mean that Apple is adding ‘desktop’ features to the iPad, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that the iPad is in many respects growing into a platform with its own unique set of strengths. Here are my favorite features so far.

New Home Sceen!

The first thing I really love is the new home screen. You can fit way more apps on it now, and they stay oriented the same way in both landscape and portrait because it is a 6x5 grid in either orientation. This wastes way less space on the screen and allows you to cram a lot more apps into a smaller space for extra productivity!

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Also useful is that you can pin your widgets to the left of your apps. I can now see my OmniFocus tasks, upcoming calendar events, recently accessed Files, and notes, every time I return to the home screen. For OmniFocus, I have it showing my Priority perspective, which shows all due items, soon to be due items, and flagged items that are tagged ‘Today.’ This is one more tool to help make sure I don’t let stuff slip through the cracks. The same could be said of the Calendar widget. Having the Files app display recently opened files on the home screen sure does feel a lot like being able to treat the home screen the same way I do my Desktop on the Mac.

desktop safari

The thing that is surprising me the most is how much the new Safari update transforms the way I use my iPad. Safari now runs like the desktop version. This means that websites operate as you would expect them to on the Mac. No more taking out your MacBook for those few websites that just never quite worked right on iOS. For me this is going to change the way I use a lot of my school district’s mandated learning management software, which would often not work correctly, or as reliably, on my iPad.

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But what is really great is that I can now access the full versions of Google Docs and Squarespace from my iPad. Google’s apps on the App Store are still a little nicer, but they have never had the full feature set of the web apps, and now this is nearly a non-issue. Apple and Google need to find out some way to better let users choose if a document opens in Safari or Google Docs/Sheets/Slides, but I expect that to be eventually ironed out.

Even more exciting is that I can finally use the full toolset of Squarespace to update my website on the iPad (just one of the few things that would keep me taking my Mac out of my bag). So far, Apple has already done a nice job with these features, and they are not even ready for public release yet. There are some issues and unexpected behaviors, but not nearly as much as I expected. Desktop Safari has turned out to be the biggest productivity boost of all the new features. And did I mention there is now a download manager!?

multitasking and pencilkit

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There are also some improvements to multitasking. Notice above that I am using two apps open side by side with another one floating in what Apple calls Slide Over view. iOS 13 now adds the ability to manage multiple different apps in Slide Over at once. The implementation is great. It works like multitasking on an iPhone X or higher. You can swipe the little handle on the bottom of the app left and right to page through recent apps, and you can swipe it up and to the right to see all recently opened Slide Over apps. This makes it much easier for me to manage the few apps I am using often in this mode: apps like Tonal Energy Tuner, Messages, and Twitter.

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I now also appreciate that you can have more than one instance of the same app open at the same time. Notice above that I am viewing two notes side by side. When I mentioned that iPadOS is growing into its own specific identity, the pencil tools on the right side of the screen are what I was thinking about. They have been brilliantly updated. And Apple is releasing them for use by third party developers in an API called PencilKit. Here’s to hoping that it is widely implemented so that using the Apple Pencil feels more consistent across apps.

See below also. Swiping from the lower left of the screen with the Apple Pencil allows your to quickly mark up whatever you are looking at. And if you are in Safari, you can now clip an entire website, not just what fits into the screenshot. You can highlight, annotate right from this screen and then send it somewhere like Apple Notes where you can search the article by text.

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For me it is becoming clear that PencilKit is a feature that is going to widely shape and define the iPad as a particular tool for certain jobs that a Mac or an iPhone is not as useful for. Apple is bridging the gap a little by introducing a feature for the Mac called Sidecar, where you will be able to send windows of Mac apps to the iPad to be able to take advantage of the same pencil precision editing tools.

Conclusion

Overall, iPad OS is shaping up to be an awesome release. I didn’t even mention half the features here. And even some of the ones I am most excited about will not reach their fullest potential until third party apps take advantage of them (like PencilKit) or until more people are on iOS 13 (like iCloud shared folders). If you are an iPad user you have a lot to look forward to this fall. If you want to try the beta, you can go here. It is pretty risky though, and I am admittedly very unwise for doing it.

Editing audio with toUch gestures and apple pencil

I Tweeted a thread yesterday about the superiority of editing audio on a touch screen by manipulating regions directly with my fingers and an Apple Pencil.

It became clear that it wasn’t suitable to explain just how comfortable and precise the experience is in written text. So I have done my very best to communicate it through video. Enjoy…

Ferrite is still a very immature DAW by modern day professional standards. And the iPad is still a very immature platform for creative professional software by modern computing standards. What the iPad really needs is something like Logic Pro X. Apple has got to set the standard for professional apps by releasing their own.

Logic or not, Ferrite can get the job done. And gesture/stylus support aren’t the only things that make editing on an iPad more fluid. The form factor of a tablet makes it perfect for “couch-editing.” Plus, iPad is a lot easier to pick up and move from room to room while I am listening to hours of my own podcasts play back.

Microsoft Office for iPad now supports opening files from the Files app more directly

Microsoft Office and the Files App Finally Play Nice Together:

Today Microsoft updated its Office suite for iOS, with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint all reaching version 2.12. Office updates rarely receive detailed release notes, and today was no exception, but user Teddy Svoronos discovered that the updates brought 'Open In' capabilities to the share sheet, which previously only enabled making a copy of an Office document. The 'Copy to' option has now been removed, replaced by the more convenient 'Open in.'

After seeing Teddy's tweet, I did a little playing around in the Files app and discovered that, while Excel and PowerPoint documents accessed in Files will load Quick Look previews and require tapping 'Open in' from the share sheet, the experience is even better with .docx files. Those Word-associated documents open directly in the Word app with just a single tap from the Files interface – no need to open the share sheet first.

It is really nice to see proper use of the Files app user interface being adopted into apps by third party developers. The more time passes, hopefully we will see this adoption so wide that opening documents using the native file browser will feel no different on an iPad than it does on a Mac. It always feels jarring on Mac when the “Open” option doesn’t show the Finder. On iPad, custom “open” UIs have been standard since its beginning. Hopefully the Files app introduced this past fall with iOS 11 will continue to change that. 

What I really thought was interesting about this article was something I have been wondering about the Files app since the summer. 

Update: One of the developers working on Office has confirmed my suspicions: the reason Word files open for me with a single tap while Excel and PowerPoint files do not is that I haven't opened those files enough for iOS to know that I would prefer to bypass the share sheet.

I had noticed that tapping on files in the Files app could open them within third party apps but I never understood how iOS knew which apps to use. (For example, standard text files were opening in Byword on my iPhone and 1Writed on my iPad for a time.) It seems that the user can to some extent control these apps by using the “Open In…” option from the Files app and choosing the desired app frequently. Still though, I would love the option to set default apps on iOS. I can tell my Mac which app I want to open PDFs. Why not on my iPad Pro?

Brief Thoughts on Apple’s Education Event

Well it has taken me long enough… This past week, Apple held an education event. Below are some brief thoughts on the subject. Chris Russell is coming on my podcast later this week to talk about all of the details. Keep in mind, I do not work in a school with 1:1 iPads or any kind of deployment strategy. But I am very seriously invested in Apple’s role in education and their vision for how their products fit into the classroom.

New iPad

This device looks great. Adding the Apple Pencil to this model will be an asset for schools. But will schools really pay 89 dollars for a pencil after just having purchased numerous 250 dollar iPads? 

The thing that gets me most excited about this device is its consumer potential. I am tempted to buy one for myself as a (more) mobile counterpart to my larger 12.9 inch iPad Pro.

iWork Updates

Apple Pencil support. FINALLY. This was my favorite announcement of the day. I anticipate editing Pages documents, scribbling on bus attendance lists made in Numbers, and annotating Keynote slides at the front of the classroom on a daily basis. I hate to be cynical (which the rest of this post will be), but Microsoft Office for iPad has had the ability to write on documents with an Apple Pencil since the Apple Pencil launched, two years ago. 

iBooks Author

Seems like the Mac app is no longer going to receive development. All book publishing features have been moved to Pages for iOS and Mac. It doesn’t appear that the new feature does everything that iBooks Author can do. Hopefully this is like when Apple rewrote Final Cut Pro X, took away some features, but then eventually added them back. Or when iWork was rewritten to be the same for iOS and macOS, stripping AppleScript features from the Mac, but eventually bringing them back. I would hate to see iBook authors unable to use workflows they have in the past using iBooks Author for the Mac. 

Classroom App for Mac

Apple’s learning management system comes to the Mac. Great! But what took so long? And can Apple keep up with the vastly more mature and flexible Google Classroom? (See conclusion below)

School Work App

An app for teachers to give assignments to students, check their progress, and collect it back. School Work can route students to other apps to do their assignments using the ClassKit API which is very cool. But why is this separate from the Classroom app? And where does iTunes U fit into all of this?

Conclusion

Apple is making a lot of solid efforts here but a lot of it it feels like too little too late, especially the student and learning management software. I really do hope they can keep up with Google Classroom who has been eating everyone’s lunch for years. Apple will have to be aggressive about adding new features to all of these new apps and making sure that their app ecosystem is flexible enough to compete with Chromebooks which use browser based software. Yes, there are way more apps on the App Store than there are Chrome based apps, but in education (and especially in music education) a lot of the big players are writing for Chrome OS. To me, the draw of Chromebooks in education is not their price, but the flexibility of web based software.

Apple’s software engineers seem spread very thin and unable to balance the release of various applications, consistently over time. This is true of many of Apple’s consumer apps. Mail and Reminders, two tentpole productivity apps have fallen way behind the competition. Calendar has not seen any more than a few major feature updates since I started using the Mac back in 2006. Apple’s apps are part of the “nice” factor of being in the ecosystem. Sometimes an app like Notes will get some major new features, but then we won’t hear from it for a few years. Google’s apps, by contrast, lack the same design sense, but are constantly being updated with new features. And they are not locked into annual OS updates like iOS is. In my opinion, this is Apple’s biggest problem right now.

Ironically, software is still my draw to Apple products. Even though their hardware is the most indisputably good thing they are doing right now (I am nearly without complaint of my iPhone X and the iPad 10.5 is perfect), it is the software that locks me in. In other words, I am much more committed to macOS and iOS than I am Mac and iPhone. This leaves me with some long term concern about my interest in continuing to use Apple products. And great concern about any educational institution who jumps on the iPad bandwagon just because apps are bright and colorful and demo well on stage. Apple has to show continual support for their education software if their dream for the classroom is to come true.

 

Gvido Music E-Reader

Just this past week I was recording a forthcoming episode of my podcast with Chris Russell (which should be posted within the next few weeks) on working with digital scores. We got talking about stand alone sheet music reader devices, in particular how previous devices were made instantly irrelevant when the iPad came out.

Click the link below to read about a new device in this class, the Gvido Digital Music Score. The article goes into depth about the technical details of this device. I still cannot see how something like this is going to take off when even the top of the line iPad Pro is only hundreds of dollars cheaper and can do way more. I have a Kindle Paperwhite and I do think that E Ink is beautiful and far easier on the eyes during extended lengths of use. Still though, I think I would choose my iPad over this any day of the week. 

Early impressions of the Gvido music e-reader from the 2017 MOLA conference

 

Improved Apple Pencil accuracy in the new iPad Pro and its use with music apps

I am trying to be careful not to post too much about iOS 11 and the new iPad Pro on this blog, but a post from David Sparks last week struck me as quite relevant for musicians and educators. David Sparks is an Apple productivity guru, and co-host of one of my favorite podcasts, Mac Power Users. 

Sparks is also a jazz enthusiast and plays the saxophone in his spare time (although I am not sure how he has any). In my opinion, he is a primary authority on using iPads for work, and he has been using the new 10.5 inch pro for over a week now. He highlights a few uses of the Apple Pencil with music apps in a recent blog post of his. I have quoted it below...

David Sparks: One Week with the New iPad Pro:

In addition to a faster screen render, the new iPad also provides a faster scan for the pencil at 240 times per second. You won't notice any difference when drawing quickly. The first time I tried it, I made broad fast strokes on prior generation iPad right next to this 10.5 inch iPad and couldn't notice a difference. Then I got thinking about the times I try to use the pencil with precision and I started doing some tests. I use the pencil to make very small and detailed annotations on PDFs. I also use the pencil to write music in NotateMe. It was with that second test that I really got religion. NotateMe allows me to write music on my iPad with my pencil. It transcribes the music as I write it and even gives me a little preview. I like using the application to sketch of ideas for songs and solos. This task gets a lot easier with a higher scan rate on pencil. The application gets a better reading and, as a result, gives me better response. No longer do my eighth notes turn into quarter rests. One remarkable part about all this is the fact that I did not have to buy a new Apple Pencil. The iPad improvements were all that were needed in order to give my existing Apple Pencil these new powers.

 

Quick thoughts on the new 10.5 inch iPad

I walked into an Apple Store over the weekend and had a moment to play with the new 10.5 inch iPad Pros. 

OH MY GOODNESS. The hype is real. These devices are light, gorgeous, and powerful. The 120Hz refresh speed ruined me for all other screens in just the two or three minutes I played around with it. I think Apple has hit the sweet spot in size. I can actually see myself downsizing to this model when I purchase my next iPad. I use the 12.9 for sheet music right now and it is great. I usually end up flipping my iPad in landscape mode and running a score on one half of the screen and a note taking app on the other half during rehearsal. I tried this workflow on the 10.5 and it was actually legible from far away. Maybe I have good eyes. I really miss the hold-ability of the smaller sized iPads for things like reading. I will have some tough decisions to make in a few years when I assume I will have to upgrade my 12.9. Or maybe I should embrace the multi-pad lifestyle and use the larger one for scores and the smaller one for reading. If only forScore would sync a score library over iCloud...