Friday, August 3, 2012

iPad Essentials- Displaying PDFs on iPad

In my last post, I talked about the potential benefits of using iBooks for displaying and interacting with ePub books in therapy.  iBooks is also useful as a collection spot for useful PDFs that you might want to display as visuals in a therapy session.

What is a PDF? A PDF is a Portable Document Format, and we have seen them more and more over the past few years.  People have various operating systems and productivity suites (e.g. MS Office, including Word, Power Point, etc, and iWork, including Keynote, Pages), so PDFs sent via email or downloaded from the web tend to solve a lot of compatibility problems so there are fewer "I can't open" incidents.  Pretty much everyone can open, view and print a PDF, regardless of what other programs you have on your computer. PCs benefit from installation of the free Adobe Reader program for reading PDFs, and Macs open them in the built-in Preview application.  PDFs are kind of like pictures of a document; you can't edit them unless they are interactive (like a form) or you use a special program or tools for annotating them.  That's the gist of PDFs on your computer.

PDFs seem to have a new life on iPad, however, because of the way they can be collected and displayed in eReading applications such as iBooks, and annotated (drawn or written on) in other apps, but again, more on that part in a later post.  For now, let's just look at the displaying PDFs part.

Once you have the free iBooks app installed on your iPad, it's very easy to save a PDF to the app.  Why would you want to do this?
-PDFs can help you form a bank of helpful visuals to display during therapy sessions, such as regularly used therapy schedules, strategy sheets, social stories, or other documents.
-Because they are saved in your iBooks, you will not have to scramble around your room to locate the visual or print it again.
-Though the PDF will not be at all interactive, I have found that the mere fact of displaying material on an iPad can engage students more than a paper version would.
-Commercial materials sometimes provide you with PDF files on CD which you can display to students using an iPad.

Let's take one of my favorite materials, Liz Delsandro's We Can Make it Better (buy it!) This past year I was working with a student and for various reasons had to keep my sessions with him, well, fluid.  Social problem solving and narrative were goals for us but I knew I wasn't always going to be able to get directly to those targets.  It helped to have materials from this book at the ready though, and so I added a bunch of the stories (from the accompanying CD of PDF files) to my iBooks.  How do you do this? Well, first of all you could use a file sharing app such as Dropbox, but it is also simple enough to just email them to your iPad:

1. Make sure you have an email account set up in the Mail app (not webmail).  Settings>Mail, Contacts Calendars lets you add email accounts.
2. Make sure you have the iBooks app installed.
3. From a computer, insert a CD or locate a PDF you would like to send to your iPad.  Attach it to an email and send to the email account you can access in the Mail app.
4. Check your email.  You should see it appear as an attachment.  It first will have a little down-arrow symbol which you should tap to download the attachment to the iPad (if it's a multipage PDF), after which your email will look like this:

Tap the PDF icon to open it.

5. Your PDF is now being viewed in the Mail app. Tap the little "Share" button in the upper right corner. If you have iBooks installed, "Open in iBooks" will be the option to tap. Note, if you have emailed a single-page PDF, often those are just displayed in the email window.  Tap and hold and you will see the menu you see above, and can open in iBooks.

Now your PDF is in iBooks and will be saved there.  Swipe to change pages.  Good idea to consider going into portrait orientation when viewing with a student, so that the PDF page takes up the whole screen.

Because PDFs are kept in the app, you might want to consider organizing them into collections. Tap Collections, then New.

Tap Edit when viewing any collection and you can select documents and move them to the appropriate collection. You can also delete them this way...

Saving PDFs to iBooks works a little differently when the PDF lives on the web as a link. Take this brochure for the upcoming ASHA Convention accessed from this page on the ASHA site. Try looking at it on your iPad.  Note that you'll know you are looking at a PDF when the web address ends with .pdf.  Tap the screen and this menu bar will appear (briefly, so tap again if you miss it!) that allows you to save that PDF to iBooks:

You may also be interested in transferring documents you have created for use with students to iBooks.  Here's how you save a document (from Word, PowerPoint, or pretty much anything) as a PDF on a Mac and on a PC.

Here's to portable data!


  1. great information Sean. Thanks for sharing. I've always used goodreader, but this looks like it may be easier.

    1. Thanks, Mary- this is more meant as a simpler solution, yeah, specifically if people aren't into reader-annotators like Goodreader yet. That's my next post!

  2. Dropbox is wonderful. Sync files from your home computer, work computer, and ipad all in one easy to manage place. I really like the presentation of Dropbox files on the iPad.

  3. Excellent post Sean. I use both iBooks and GoodReader. I love GoodReader for uploading and annotating articles that I read but I also like to keep copies of articles in the iBooks. Looking forward to your next post.

  4. Great post, have you discovered the Notability app? Great for opening pdfs and writing over them. Fabulous for worksheets and games on the iPad.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Liz! I will look at many options!

  5. Nice post you can try also this online service pdf to speech