As the name implies, iAnnotate is an app that offers a full suite of PDF annotation tools. Using a simple menu design, users can highlight, markup, write on and share PDF documents across a wide variety of platforms.
What follows is an overview of some of the major features:
By default, the app will open in Library View, which is basically a menu of the editable files and folders on your device. In this view, users can sort, share and search through their files. It also allows users to create and edit folders for organization.
Here is a screenshot provided by the developers of the app (click to enlarge):
As shown above, the search and sort bars are located along the left side of the screen. The search function is impressive; not only can a user search through documents by name, they can also search through the full text, tags, and annotations attributed any document. Note: this only applies to items that have recognized text. For example, text from PDFs that are saved as images are not text-searchable.
Below the Search Box is a Selection Panel; this is useful for editing or moving a number of documents at a time. For example, if a user wanted to open all of the PDF files in a folder, they could just tap on the Select All button and all documents would be added to the panel. From there they could be tagged, shared or opened as a group.
Importing Images and Documents:
When opening the app for the first time, users are prompted to sign up for a Branchfire account. Signing up for the (free) account unlocks critical functionality in the app. Specifically, it will allow users to do two important things: import images and import Microsoft Office documents.
The Import Images button allows users to import pictures from the camera roll, Photo Stream, or directly from the iPad camera. Once an image has been imported, it can be freely annotated and shared as any other PDF file. For example, in order to give feedback on a student project, a teacher could photograph the project, annotate the photograph, and email it back seamlessly. This would work for a either a written paper or a three dimensional product.
The Branchfire account also allows users to annotate Microsoft Word and PowerPoint documents. In order to do so, however, the app first (automatically) creates a PDF copy of the file which is then annotated. In other words, once a Word Document is annotated, it becomes a PDF file and is no longer editable in Microsoft Word.
As of this post, Google docs are not recognizable in the app.
The ability to annotate Office documents can be very useful in the classroom. For example, if a student emails his/her paper to their teacher, all the teacher has to do is open the attachment in iAnnotate (shown below). This, in turn, creates a platform by which comments and feedback are rich, complete and instant:
Similarly, by tapping on the Import from Web button, users can save a copy of any website as a PDF file, which can then be annotated. Obviously, this has implications for classroom handouts, instructions and as a vehicle for student collaboration.
Lastly, the Manage Connections button allows users to sync their iAnnotate files with cloud storage providers. iAnnotate currently supports integration with Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive, or WebDAV. Any changes made on the app can be synced automatically to the cloud (or saved as copies so as not to alter the original version).
In order to open an individual file for annotation, just tap on the document’s icon when in Library View. Alternatively, one can open a number of files at once by using the Selection Panel.
When opened for editing, the document(s) will appear in a tabbed-layout (much like the appearance of Google Drive). This allows users to quickly toggle between multiple open projects. Also worth noting is that iAnnotate will automatically keep track of annotations in several documents at once, even bringing the user back to the same place they left off in the document.
Here is a screenshot of the Document View workspace furnished by the developers (click to enlarge):
The above graphic provides an overview of the basic functions and tools associated with Document View. However, there are a few functions that deserve further attention.
First, there are tapping and swiping shortcuts to be aware of: single tapping on the screen will hide document tabs. Tapping once will hide the tabs; tapping again will reveal them. Similarly, a three fingered swipe will bring the user to a full screen mode. This is useful for presentations or to simply view the document without any toolbar distractions. Double tapping anywhere on the screen will bring up a toolbar which displays the five most recently used tools.
Additionally, users can tap on a document’s tab to bring up a few quick options (i.e. close, share, print, info, duplicate and delete):
These options are very useful for sending out annotated documents as email attachments, for example.
Working With the Toolbars:
When working with an individual document, users will see a customizable toolbar located on the right side of the screen. By default, the toolbar will have some of the common tools such as pen, highlighter and notes. However, users can easily add tools to the list by tapping on the double arrows at the bottom, then tapping on the plus sign.
Here is a screenshot of the process:
As demonstrated in the left portion of the image above, users can in fact create multiple customized toolbars. These toolbars can be populated with commonly used tools, or tools with similar functions (such as page navigation). Editing these toolbars is a simple drag and drop process.
While the menu of available annotation tools is vast, they are broken up into 5 categories: Annotation, Navigation, View, Document and Utility. Users can browse through the tools by tapping on individual categories. There is also an All Tools category that users can scroll through in order to find what they are looking for.
Here is a screenshot of the tools menu:
iAnnotate walks the line between extensive functionality and the simplicity that has become a staple of the iPad experience. The menu system, while huge, is fully customizable and easy to use in practice. Moreover, the app makes it easy to receive, annotate and share documents without cumbersome file transfers and text boxes. Also useful is the fact that the app is fully integrated with cloud services.
Used as a grading or editing tool, the app elegantly works around what can often be a clunky process, making for a richer and more personalized collaborative experience.
Platforms: iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later.
iTunes Rating (out of 5 stars): 4 1/2