Useful PDF formatting tips for iPhone

Useful PDF formatting tips for iPhone

Summary: To the bewilderment of users coming from the Windows Mobile smartphone world, Apple's mobile platform, the iPhone and iPod Touch, don't come standard with user access to a file system and a file reading application to read those files. Instead, it's what longtime Apple calls a "third-party opportunity." Here are some tips for formatting PDFs for the iPhone.

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Useful PDF formatting tips for iPhoneTo the bewilderment of users coming from the Windows Mobile smartphone world, Apple's mobile platform, the iPhone and iPod Touch, don't come standard with user access to a file system and a file reading application to read those files. Instead, it's what longtime Apple calls a "third-party opportunity."

Of course, you can send yourself a the file, a text file, or a MS Word document or a PDF among others, enclosed in an email message and then open it. The version of Mac OS X that lives in the iPhone understands many document types. But the file interface is your Inbox.

A number of file transfer apps are available in the App Store. One popular program is the $6.99 Air Sharing by Avatron Software. However, a recently added application is Briefcase by Hey Mac Software, which appears to have a more elegant file transfer interface.

While PDFs are very readable on the iPhone, the "portability" concept can be strained when the handheld device opens a large file meant to be rendered on a more-powerful platform, such as a desktop or a notebook computer. To help this situation, I've noticed a spate of tips to improve the readability and performance of PDFs on the iPhone.

Randall Hand, writing as Yeraze, notes in a blog post that you can Save As in Preview and use its built-in Reduce Filesize filter. But this "completely scrambles the colors, rendering the resulting file unusable." He then provides a step-by-step guide to creating a new filter in ColorSync Utility that correctly resamples images in the file and corrects the colorspace.

On the right is the original PDF, weighing in at 33.9 Meg. On the left is the new PDF, weighing in at 3.4 Meg. A full order of magnitude difference in filesize, with little to no visible change. If you zoom in very far, then you'll see the images are much blurrier than originally. However, the text in PDF documents is almost all vectorized Truetype fonts, so they are untouched by this process. The result is a PDF that's much smaller on disk, and much faster to navigate (because of the reduced memory footprint).

If this filter editing is too much bother, you can spend $35 for Apago's excellent PDF Shrink application (it's useful for cutting down the overhead of any PDF that you need to share). At the What's On iPhone blog, author Danc, offers a tested set of settings for PDF Shrink.

On Mac OS X Hints, reader wallsbk submitted a very good tip for formatting long original documents for reading on the iPhone. To avoid all the pages and scaling and clinking, Wallsbk created a custom print setting for 3.5 inches wide by 300 inches long.

This gives a very readable single-column document that doesn't take up much space. I do wish I could get rid of more margin, but it's not a bad solution as is.

Topics: Smartphones, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility

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5 comments
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  • Wow, iPhone sounds terribly complicated!

    [i]Of course, you can send yourself a the file, a text file, or a MS Word document or a PDF among others, enclosed in an email message and then open it.[/i]

    Wow, Windows Mobile is so much easier to use than this.
    NonZealot
    • No no no... It Just Works

      You don't understand

      The interface is so intuitive and simple, any complication must be due to the user not understanding just how intuitive and simple it is to operate.

      ;-)
      iTeaBoy
      • Too late -

        sending it email works ~ and so fast on 3G ~ LOL :-)
        No More Microsoft Software Ever!
  • Just use Stanza instead

    Another alternative is to use Lexcycle Stanza, whose desktop interface extracts the text from a PDF before sharing it with Stanza on the iPhone, thus "reflowing" the PDF and making it more easily readable. PDFs with complex formatting don't translate well, but for most text-heavy PDFs, this is by far the best way to manage and read documents on the iPhone.
    lnnbigg
    • ...but it gets tricky :(

      I did do this, but I found that Stanza would refuse to format it properly for me, making me read hunks of text on a small iPhone screen. It may well be just because I'm on a Mac, though.

      A trick I found is to open the PDF in Stanza, and if it is completely out of whack to copy all (Ctrl/Command-A, Ctrl/Command-C), and then open a "New From Clipboard" window (Ctrl/Command-N). For some reason, this makes it work. Just edit the Book Info (Ctrl/Command-I), download, and you're all set.
      neurovore