PDF on the iPhone: The first swipe

Duff Johnson is the CEO of Appligent Document Solutions

As the iPhone continues to grow in popularity, business applications for the iPhone OS are proliferating. Inevitably, a number of these applications focus on electronic documents, which is another way of saying (whether their developers recognize it or not) that they focus on PDF files.

This article surveys a few of the current crop of PDF-aware applications for the iPhone. I selected the features that seemed significant based on what I found, then rated each feature as implemented for concept and execution. All software was current as of October 5, 2009. I focused on PDF-handling features, with relatively less attention paid to connectivity, support for non-PDF formats, and so on. By way of disclosure, Appligent Document Solutions has not released iPhone software, so we don’t have a dog in this fight.

Generally speaking, all PDF apps for the iPhone are simply viewers. Before you go looking, rest assured that none yet offer form-filling, submission, digital signatures, support for Acrobat JavaScript, etc. There are MANY PDF handling and manipulation features I can think of that none of these apps can (yet) manage, but instead of kvetching about what’s lacking, this is a review of what’s on offer today.

All testing was conducted on an iPhone 3GS (black, of course). Ratings given are from 0 to 5, with 5 being the highest score, 1 meaning minimal effort and 0 indicating that no attempt was made to offer the feature at all.

One final note: If you are selling a PDF app, you need to demonstrate that you have a clue as to the appropriate use of PDF. Most vendors surveyed here provide their product documentation in PDF form. That’s not a bad thing per se, but none of these bothered to ask themselves whether an 8.5×11 inch page format is really ideal for users reading the manual on the iPhone. Accordingly, all vendors providing documentation in this format got an automatic score of ‘1’ for thoughtlessness in this area.

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