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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.

App of the Week: Scanbot (and Scanner Pro)

This week’s App of the Week is Scanbot

As years pass, I solidify my mainstay productivity apps. I might try 100 todo or scanner apps, but many of the ones I depend on have been on my home screen for years. For a very long time, Readdle’s Scanner Pro was my scanner app of choice for getting documents and sheet music from the real world into my digital database. Scanbot has recently come to challenge it. 

Rather than explain all of the features, I have simply embedded a quick screencast below that shows it off. Both Scanner Pro and Scanbot allow the user to very quickly get paper into their phone, make the text searchable, neaten up the edges, and prepare the document for sharing. Both apps make it easy to customize ways to send finished documents to specific locations in your file system. Scanner Pro does this through custom workflows and Scanbot does it by remembering my most commonly saved locations in my iCloud and Google Drive (you can see this on the last screen of the screencast). But Scanbot has a few nice touches that ultimately push me over the edge, especially considering how tedious scanning documents with a phone can be...

Getting the final scan into a particular location is smoother for me in Scanbot because it always has my most recently saved locations one tap away. I also really like the way that when selecting the edges of the paper, Scanbot has handles that drag an entire edge, whereas Scanner Pro only has handles in the four corners. Notice in the video how Scanbot even detects the edge when I get close and automatically snaps to the edge of the page. Note that both of these apps have an automatic mode that detects the edges for you and bypasses this step. I just wanted to demo the neat snapping feature in the video.

Both apps also create a folder in iCloud Drive that will automatically save all snapped documents so that you can instantly run over to another device like your Mac and get to your new files.

Scanner Pro does have a few unique features. First, its custom workflows are very powerful and can do multiple things with your finished PDF (for example: save a document to Evernote with specific tags, add it to a specific folder in Dropbox, and email it to a coworker all in one tap). Second, it can scan your camera roll for things that look like documents (maybe a business card or a page you shot on your camera in a hurry) and transform them into PDFs on the spot. Third, it integrates with Readdle's other great productivity apps, like PDF Expert

Check out these awesome scanning apps and level up your digital organization!

GarageBand on Mac Now Syncs Projects with iOS

Read Cult of Mac's overview of the new GarageBand update for macOS. I think this is essentially adding the feature to the Mac version of GarageBand that Logic added a few months back. I played around with it for a few minutes last night, trying to sync a project between the Mac and iOS version of GarageBand. Unless I am missing something, this workflow runs into all of the same issues as the Logic feature that I wrote about when it was released. The process is not direct as you still have to manually prepare the file for syncing and create a duplicate copy whenever you go from Mac to iOS or iOS to Mac. And I really wish I could edit the audio on my iPad too. My iPad Pro is powerful enough!!!

Syncing a File Between Logic and GarageBand (iOS) Through iCloud - First Test

I have taken it upon myself to test out the latest updates to GarageBand on iOS and Logic on Mac. Specifically, I have been pushing this new feature where you can prepare a Logic file you have started on the Mac for use on the GarageBand app on iOS.

This feature is compelling to me because a lot of my audio editing these days requires the power tools of Logic, but also the ease of simply booting up a project and making lots of light edits. For example, when I podcast, I usually only manage 2-6 tracks, not 30+. I need Logic for the control over my plugins, quick workflows, etc… but I also need a light and efficient way to make small edits on the go. I am constantly moving around between a busy schedule of public school, private lessons, concerts, gigs, and other miscellaneous commitments. It is nearly impossible to get any editing done on a Mac alone. The iPad is the perfect platform for this. Press the wake button, launch the app, and make a couple of quick cuts. There has not been a great way to work with Logic projects on the iPad, at least until this recent feature announcement.

Testing the First Project

Here is how I ran my first test of this feature. I created a Logic file on my Mac and added some software instrument tracks and audio tracks. I tried two audio tracks and two software instrument tracks for the first test. I wanted to keep it simple for the OS to handle and simple for me to keep track of how precisely it was syncing my edits (or not). 

After recording some MIDI notes and audio into these four tracks, I went to the File Menu and selected “Share->Project to Garage and for iOS.” This act creates a GarageBand version of the file in the “GarageBand iOS” folder which is stored within the iCloud Drive folder.

File Management is Messy as Usual

Ok, so this is where things get weird. It saddens me that Apple’s iCloud Drive model continues to overcomplicate the file syncing process. In my book, Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers, I ponder why iCloud Drive does so little to compete with file services such as Dropbox, which has been simpler, more intuitive, and more reliable since the start. The same issue I describe in my book is at play in this Logic->GarageBand workflow. 

It is still weird to me that iCloud Drive has container folders within itself that are app specific. It seems to me that this is an unwelcome abstraction for users who are accustomed to putting files in whatever folder they want. You can do this in iCloud Drive, by the way, but then the counterpart apps on iOS do not practice the syncing the same way. For example, if you sync a Keynote file from a Mac to an iPad by placing it in the “Keynote” folder, you can instantly see it when you boot up Keynote on the iPad. However, if you save it somewhere else in the iCloud Drive folder, it will not appear in the file viewer on iPad. You have to manually go looking for it by clicking the “new” button and then selecting it from within iCloud Drive. I wrote more precisely and clearly on this topic a few years back.

Things get murkier when you consider that iCloud Drive has two GarageBand folders. One for iOS and one for macOS. I get why they did this. Projects made on an iPad and shared with an iPhone are automatically saved to the iOS folder which makes that process less convoluted. And the same is true of two Macs working on the same project that was started on macOS. Mac projects have to do some prep work to get files ready for iOS so it is important to make the distinction. But since macOS is capable of this prep work, why can’t it happen automatically when the Mac version of a file is closed? And why, if iCloud is capable of syncing complex GarageBand projects, does the Mac version still try to save projects to a local folder called “GarageBand” that is stored within the “Music” folder by default? 

 

iCloud Drive still sports these strange, app specific, folders, including two segregated folders for GarageBand projects. This does not even include the local GarageBand folder that is stored within the Music folder on the computer's hard drive.

iCloud Drive still sports these strange, app specific, folders, including two segregated folders for GarageBand projects. This does not even include the local GarageBand folder that is stored within the Music folder on the computer's hard drive.

This process only gets more complicated with Logic thrown into the mix. Here is why…

Back to the Story

Ok, so I prepped my Logic file with four tracks to be worked on from an iPad and it saved it as a GarageBand project and placed it into the “iOS GarageBand” folder within my iCloud Drive. Now I go to my iPad and boot up GarageBand. Hooray! The file is already waiting for me in the file browser when I launch the app. I tap on it, and it opens, reliably! Except my two audio files have been compressed into one track. I can understand this because audio tracks take up far less processing power when they are collapsed. But what if the audio part is what I wanted to edit on my iPad? Shouldn't this be an option when I prepare the file for GarageBand? The iPad version can definetely handle more than one audio track at a time.

Next, I fool around with this project on iPad for a bit, adding audio effects to the vocal track I recorded. In this case, I am adding the effect that makes the voice sound like a monster and the audio track is just me saying “YAAAAAAAAASSSSS” over a funk beat. So my wife is now rolling her eyes from the couch. 

This is the only edit I make, because again, I am trying to keep this simple. I go back to my Mac and find the “GarageBand iOS” folder. Certainly, I can open this file right back up in Logic, right? Wrong. I double click the file and it opens in GarageBand. Fair enough, but wait, now GarageBand wants me to save the file to another location because it has to reformat it for the Mac. So I have to create a duplicate copy elsewhere? Doesn’t that sort of defeat the point of this new feature? Ok, fine. I click “Save As…” Where does GarageBand want to save the new version? The “GarageBand” folder within my “Music” folder. Seriously? Not even the “macOS GarageBand” folder in my iCloud Drive? Ok, I get it. Most users have only 5GB of iCloud space. Apple is making the right decision here. So now I have two versions and have already interacted with four different folders just to manage this one file. 

  1. The Logic file was originally stored in the “Logic” folder from within my “Music” folder.

  2. The “macOS GarageBand” that I saved the GarageBand version of that Logic file to.

  3. The “iOS GarageBand” folder that I had to send the iOS version of the file to.

  4. The local “GarageBand” folder that I am now being prompted to save my GarageBand for Mac file within.

“Sigh.” Am I done yet? Nope, because I have to open the local copy and prepare it to go back to Logic, which then offers me to save a third copy of the file. Where? In my local “Logic” folder, also located in the “Music” folder… Are you keeping up? My original Logic file was created in that folder, so now I have four copies.

I am not really sure what I expected. If GarageBand and Logic can do all of this heavy lifting, it seems some of the file management stuff could be automated. My dream scenario would have been that I could save the Logic file right to the iCloud Drive from the Mac, open it from the same location on iOS (using GarageBand) and then just seamlessly go back and fourth between the two, but who am I kidding. I guess we just aren’t there technologically. 

Conclusion

It seems like this feature is just laying the ground work for a future where either Logic exists on the iPad and can sync projects over iCloud (my iPad Pro is certainly powerful enough for it). Or for a feature much like I just described above, where the iOS never gets Logic but the two become closer and closer in feature parity until it doesn’t matter.

That second scenario is what happened with a lovely app Apple used to make called Aperture. Aperture was to iPhoto what Logic is to GarageBand. iPhoto and Aperture became so compatible that at one point, you could even direct both apps to edit the same photo library. Want to know what happened to Aperture? Apple discontinued it a few years back. Now we have the Photos app to replace both iPhoto and Aperture. And while I miss some of my pro photo editing tools from Aperture, photos are an area where I can get by with most of the features that are still left over in the Photos app. But Logic is NOT an application that I could get by with if it were ever dissolved into GarageBand. So lets hope Apple is not following down that same path…