My favorite iPad apps for reading

I am writing a series of articles on my favorite iPad apps (starting here). In this one I am focusing on my favorite iPad apps for reading. I love reading on my iPad! I have lots of reasons for appreciating this tool for this purpose:

  • I can take a ton of reading with me. Actually, that’s probably literally true. Given the five magazines (the last six months of each), three newspapers, and dozens of books that I have on it, I have a good start — and there’s lots of space left.
  • The magazines are absolutely gorgeous. The colors are bright, the graphics are clear, and the photos and videos are abundant. The magazine editors are also learning how to take advantage of the additional freedom that publishing electronically affords them.
  • In combination with the Logitech Keyboard Case by ZAGG, the iPad can be put in either landscape or portrait and set on a table so that it can be read hands-free and in a good reading position.
  • The screen on the iPad 3 is bright and clear. Until you’ve seen it, it’s hard to understand what I mean when I say it looks like “electronic paper.”

In the following I describe three types of reading applications that I use (in addition to the newspapers, magazines, books, and Web browser that are on the iPad): for information gathering, for productivity, and for fun & exploration.

Information gathering

I use these two applications in my information gathering process for my teaching and research.



I use this application almost every day. For one thing, it presents a beautiful reading screen. Its main purpose is as a receptacle for articles that I want to read but for which I don’t currently have the time. When I am reading articles on the Web (on either my iPad, laptop, or desktop) and come across one that I want to read later, I click on a bookmarklet that saves the text of the documents in my account. The next time I open the iPad app, the documents download themselves into my iPad so that I can read them later, either online or off. I have used this app many times for offline reading (such as when I am in an airplane).

Recently I have begun to use the email feature. Many apps allow the user to email an article of interest. Well, now Instapaper has an email address for collecting articles. If I send an email with the article to that address, then the article gets added to my app just as if I had used the bookmarklet. This has greatly expanded the sources of the articles from which I add to Instapaper.

This app has several features other than the Read Later feature (which I just described) but it’s the only one that I use with any regularity. Its Feature (um, feature) provides some type of curated content that is supposed to be the best articles saved using Instapaper.

This is one of the foundational apps for my iPad usage. When I add new apps to my arsenal, one of the things that I check for is interoperability with Instapaper.

Feedly Feedly screen


Feedly is my RSS reader. I used to use Google Reader (and still do on my laptop), but I have used Feedly for the last six months or so on my iPad. I am a big RSS user; for the last 5+ years I have subscribed to over 100 feeds so this is a big deal for me. There are a lot of different things that I like about this app:

  • It provides a good overview screen for individual articles. (See the screen to the right.) I like the bold headline with the short teaser text and associated image. It is a good place for skimming for content.
  • It has an attractive reading screen.
  • It has an easy-to-use set of icons on the reading screen for liking, saving, sharing on email or Facebook or Twitter, or opening in Safari. These are bold, easy to interpret, and easy to click on.
  • It has two different ways of getting to articles from a specific RSS feed. With the menu in the bottom left corner, the user can click on a folder of feeds and get a list of feeds (and then the user can click on a feed link on the subsequent page), or the user can click on a specific feed and get the articles from that specific feed.

Finally, if you end up liking the Feedly app, you can also download the Feedly app for Chrome.

As I said above, I am a big time user of RSS feeds. I tried out a good number of iPad reader apps until I settled on this one. Since I have moved to it, I have stopped looking for another one. It simply does all that I need.


I read lots of PDFs for all sorts of reasons, the main ones being:

  • Information from some article I downloaded or that someone emailed me
  • Journal submission article I am writing a referee report on
  • Student homework that I am reviewing

For the first type of document, many times the standard PDF reader (in the browser or email app) works just fine. For the other two situations, I generally want a dedicated reader that supports annotations. The following two apps are the ones that I have used for quite a while for these purposes.

iAnnotate PDF iAnnotate PDF partial tools listing iAnnotate PDF email options

iAnnotate PDF

This is the app that I currently use most often for these tasks. I had been using GoodReader for quite a while but I have, for the most part, switched to this app. The main reason for the switch is the accessibility of the features. Again, as above, I have a feeling that the problem isn’t necessarily with the app itself but with my reaction to it. For some reason I have found the tools, toolbars, and features in iAnnotate to be easier to use, access, and set up for my own work style.

iAnnotate has 80+ tools that the user can place on its multiple toolbars; see the middle screen shot for the ones that the app classifies as “document” related. Basically, there’s everything here that you could possibly want, including tools for:

  • Annotating with typed notes (in different colors), with pencil annotations, or underlines, or highlights, or strikouts, etc.
  • Go to specific pages, next page, next annotation, next level of outline, next search item hit, etc.
  • Email the document, print it, add or remove pages, rotate pages, etc.

My absolute favorite feature, and the one that put it over the top for me, is iAnnotate’s document sharing tool; see the screen shot on the right (no, really, take a look at it). Picture yourself having read through a 10 page PDF, and you have added annotations on a couple of pages within the document; now you want to get these back to the author or editor or whomever. With iAnnotate you have four separate ways that you can get this information out:

You can choose to set the format as either

  • Annotated PDFs with annotations that can be viewed or edited in Preview, Adobe Reader, etc.
  • Flattened PDFs with annotations that are viewable, but not modifiable, in iPad or desktop apps. The notes are put at the end of the PDF.
Pages to include
In either format you can choose to send the whole PDF or just those pages that contain annotations! This is an awesome feature for the recipient of the document, if nothing else.

These four combinations cover most possible needs that I have — not that there aren’t other possibilities under other buttons elsewhere in the program. But this is the one that I use the most.

In short, I recommend that anyone who annotates and passes along PDFs should get iAnnotate PDF. It is a powerful and easy-to-use app.



I am not going to have as much to say about this app. Let me quote the top of their help file:

GoodReader is a file viewer with many powerful features, most of which address PDF and TXT viewing. GoodReader is a very complex application. It incorporates a lot of non-obvious features and solutions. We strongly encourage you to read this manual, otherwise, it will be hard for you to enjoy the full power of GoodReader.

That is a pretty good description of my experience with the application. There are buttons and toolbars scattered throughout the app, only some of which are obvious or visible. I was pretty lost using this app for any purpose other than simply reading a document. Once I spent some time with the manual (not something that I usually do) then I began to get a sense of its usefulness and underlying organization.

Even though I mostly use iAnnotate these days, I still keep this app around because it basically is the kitchen sink of document reading functionality. I always know that I have an application that will do whatever I might need; I may not use it all the time, but I have it just in case.

Fun & exploration

I use these two applications strictly for fun and exploration. Where RSS feeds are for following writers and publications that you have previously discovered, these applications are more about finding the unexpected.

Zite Zite screen


This is my go-to reader for fun and exploration. As you can see by the screen on the right, it presents an attractive magazine or newspaper-like interface. I set up the app by telling it the general topic areas that I’m interested in — that is the list on the right side of the screen. Then, some way of the other, it goes out and finds articles on those topics. Generally, I really like their selections; however, they also have a means of improving these selections over time. When you click on an article to read it, on the right side of the screen is a Personalization section. It asks if you enjoyed reading this article, and if you would like more articles from that source or that author — this last one is a particularly good touch, I think. Further, it asks if you want to see more articles about the topics discussed in that article (and it lists several appropriate terms).

This app also has all of the expected ways to share or save an article but some other ones as well. Of course it has Twitter, Facebook, and email, but it also has Instapaper, Delicious, and Evernote (among others). It also provides convenient ways to change the type size and view the article in a Web browser.

All in all, if anyone commits even a little thought to using Zite well, he or she should be rewarded with a string of interesting, useful, or fun articles (as appropriate). BTW, there’s no reason that this app can’t be used for work purposes; given my habits, I simply have added topics that fit more into my “for fun” interests than my “for work” interests. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the app.

Flipboard Flipboard table of contents Flipboard


This is my other reader for fun and exploration. I don’t like its interface quite as well as Zite’s, but I think this has more to do with me than with the app itself. It provides a super convenient way to access top articles from lots of well-known sites from all over the Internet.

The reading on this app is what I would call “source-centric.” That is, articles are grouped by their source as opposed to by topic (as is done in Zite). Thus, if the way that you work is to think “I need to make sure that I am up-to-date with what is going on at [a list of 10+ sites],” then this is definitely the app for you. From a quick glance it appears that this app receives articles from well over one hundred high quality sources.

After downloading the app, you will want to spend a few minutes configuring the app by telling it which sources from which you would like it to get articles. From the middle screen shot here (BTW, as with most of my screen shots throughout my blog, you can click on the image to get a larger version), you can see just one page of sources that I have indicated. By clicking on one of those blocks, it brings up a screen like the right screen shot, containing the first of several pages of article teasers from that source.

This app is not as good as Zite at sharing and saving — but that is not to say that it’s not perfectly adequate for me. It provides links to share the article on Twitter, to email a link to the article, and to store it in Instapaper. If you are a big Twitter user, you will find that this app actually is quite advanced in how it interface with that world. Again, this is perfectly adequate for me.


Well, that’s it for this super-summary of my iPad reading apps. I can’t imagine that you didn’t find something in here that would serve you well in your daily work or personal life. As always, let me know with a comment or tweet if there’s something that I missed.

My favorite iPad apps for the news (part 1)

How we got our news in the olden days

I read lots of news every day, and I have a variety of needs within the news realm. In this article I will describe what I look for in a news app, how I use those apps in my daily life, and which apps I use most often.

The following news sources are relatively expensive, but they are the gold standards of daily business news. I’m a business professor, so it’s sort of a requirement to read these. This means that I have to read The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Financial Times. Each goes about its business differently, providing a different experience for its readers. Here I’ll try to give some insight into how they differ.

These are generally great apps that make it easy to read the news. There’s also nothing to throw away afterwards.


In addition to business, I also have interests in technology, real estate & automobiles but I’m not particularly interested in theater. This leads me to prefer a news app that both has the stories put into sections and allows me to re-order, or at least choose a subset of, those sections. In addition it has to be easy for me to save a story in some way; each application approaches this in a different way, but it has to be straight-forward. Because of the volume of news that I read, the app must also make it easy for me to scan the news quickly. Finally, I prefer it if the news story is available to the public because much of what I save is for either my students or my blog. It isn’t as useful for me if I can’t rely on the story’s general availability.

Work flow

I have found that my workflow is different than other people I know. As I am scanning the news, I periodically find a news article in which I am interested. My preferred method of saving an article for later reference involves mailing it to myself. I put a keyword of some type at the beginning of the subject line for the email; these keywords are things like “technews”, “201topics”, and “edtechbiz”. Notice that these are not real words; I don’t want random incoming messages to match my filters. I then have a filter defined in my email program that sorts incoming emails into the appropriate folders.

The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal iPad app provides an experience superior to reading the paper version. I have definitely read the WSJ many more times and in more depth with the app than the paper version. On the iPad 3, it provides an absolutely beautifully rendered page. The sections are well-organized and appear consistently on specific days of the week (the middle screenshot below). Within sections, the article headlines are easily scannable and it’s easy to swipe from page to page.

App on iPad

Section menu

Daily editions

A distinguishing characteristic of this app is that it organizes the news in daily versions (notice the right screenshot above). This is in contrast to the NYTimes (as it is described below). This means that if you want to read an article from a couple of days ago, you need to bring up the Start Screen and then choose the “paper” from the day on which the article was published.

The New York Times

The New York Times is the first app I go to in the morning when I get up. I had never subscribed to this paper before it was on the iPad. Now it is my favorite news source I wouldn’t give it up easily.

My favorite feature is the re-orderable sections (see middle screenshot below; click on it to bring up a larger version). The NYTimes presents its news in a wide variety of sections, many of which I am interested in (to varying degrees) though some of which I am not. I am able to order the section list so that it lists my favorite sections at the top — Top News, Most E-mailed (highly recommended!), Business Day, Technology, Science, etc. — and puts less-frequented sections at the bottom. Only about 40% of the sections appear in the screenshot below.

NYTimes iPad app
App on iPad

Section menu

Integrated section

You can move from section to section by swiping up to get to the next section or down to get to the previous. Side-to-side moves between articles within a section. As with the WSJ, the slide shows that accompany the articles are simply excellent; however, I have the sense that the NYTimes carries more of these on a wider range of subjects (if only because the scope of the paper is so vast). For example, their Fashion and Real Estate slideshows are well-done and quite in-depth. The Old Gray Lady has clearly moved way beyond feeling restricted by print and accepts that digital presentation offers more options.

I really appreciate how the NYTimes organizes itself. This paper (I can’t stop calling it that; it’s like I can’t stop saying that I “dial” the phone) presents its articles within sections from newest to oldest, without any clear indication that an article appeared on a previous day other than the fact that it is furthest back within a section. Thus, if you want to find a Technology article that appeared a couple of days ago, then you should simply go to that section and swipe through the pages of that section to find the article. They are also flexible enough to put some articles within multiple sections; for example, frequently articles on Microsoft appear in both the Technology and the Business sections.

I like the fact that every month a person can access 10 articles for free. I subscribe, but I like to reference articles from this source.

Financial Times

The Financial Times is clearly my alternative news source. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t as good or thorough; it is simply the one that I go to only after I have finished reading the previous two. It is distinguished from the above two by its global focus; for example, on the screenshot below of its front page (left), you can see the Global Market Map that appears every day showing the change in a significant market benchmark in markets around the world.

The front page

Section menu

Scroll down a page

The iPad app is an HTML5 application rather than an application that you buy through Apple’s App Store. The company did a remarkable job of creating this unique app; I am surprised (I’m not sure why) at how bullet-proof it has been. You would simply never know that it is nothing more than a fancy Web page while you are using it. (To get some sense of the controversy of this technical move, read this article.)

To bring up the list of sections in this paper, you click on the name of the section at the top of the screen (just as in the WSJ). You then click on the section name you want to go to — no surprise there. FT has an organization scheme that is different still again from the previous two news sources. Similar to the WSJ, this paper is organized into editions so if you want to read an article from yesterday’s paper, you need to go to that edition.

The big difference is that each section is contained on just one page (see the right screenshot above). This can lead to lots of information being presented in one place; those who appreciate Bloomberg News would feel very comfortable on these pages. In the above screenshot I have moved to the Companies section and scrolled down the page:

  • In the upper left, the list of major news articles from the day are listed.
  • In the upper right corner is the bottom of the list of market movers from the Paris Stock Exchange.
  • At the bottom of the screenshot, a tabbed box shows 10 industries with each tab bringing up a separate list of articles related to that industry.
  • Below that box (not shown in the screenshot) are more articles in the left column, columnists in the right column, and another tabbed box at the bottom of the page containing bloggers (who, in this instance, are essentially less significant columnists as far as I can tell).

While their pages contain a lot of information, I find them to require a certain level of commitment in order to find information in the page. It tends to be easy for me to miss information that is contained within the boxes unless I take my time. The word “skim” doesn’t apply very well to FT.


I highly recommend each of these news sources. There is apparently a reason that they have the reputations that they do. However, each brings a different slant and covers a different subset of the news. Depending on what you’re interested in, one of them should be in your daily routine. I can’t tell you which one — you will have to make that choice — but each has done a great job of providing a superior experience on the iPad.

This is part 1 of my review of iPad news sources. In part 2 I will look at a series of apps that won’t lighten your digital wallet to such an extent.

My favorite iPad apps for writing

iPad 3

I use my iPad quite frequently for writing (for example: right now). I am a highly dedicated user of the Logitech keyboard (as discussed in a previous article). I create text files in all different forms: plain text, HTML, CSS, LaTeX, and word processing. I also program in Python, PHP, and JavaScript (and lots of others, but that’s another story entirely), but I’ll mostly be writing in this post about text file creation outside of pure programming.


What I absolutely require out of a writing app that I am going to use most of the time is an ability to easily store, access, and work with files that are not stored on the iPad. It is much too easy to have an iPad stolen (which I have had happen, though it was returned — that’s another story again) or to lose it (which is much more likely with me), so I don’t like having anything of any value (and, really, what file that you create isn’t of some value?) locked up on the iPad. My favorite way of providing this off-machine (cloud) storage is with Dropbox. The University of Michigan recently came to an agreement with Box, a company that provides a service similar to this. (Here is a comparison of Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and others as of April 2012.) For now, since I recently made a commitment to putting files on Dropbox, I’m mostly looking for Dropbox integration, but you might have a different such requirement. I simply emphasize here that you should store your files in the same way — off of the iPad and into the cloud.

Another requirement that I’m looking for is the ability to work on or offline with files. I am almost always online so it’s really the main focus but I recently took 4 cross-country flights and it definitely was something of a necessity to be able to create files while not connected to the Internet. After re-connecting, I also want the ability to change the file from storage on the iPad to storage in the cloud.

As a piece of context, I have been a loyal user of BBEdit for at least 15 years. I use it for all of the same things, and in all of the same ways, that I am requiring of my iPad writing app.I expect it to be less feature-laden but equally adept and creating text in different languages and for different purposes.


textastic iPad app

The Textastic app has definitely become my favorite general text creation app. Look at all of the features it has:

  • Save files remotely to Dropbox, (s)ftp, and WebDAV.
  • Work directly with files stored locally on the iPad.
  • Code syntax highlighting for just about every language that I have ever heard of. Further, it is compatible with TextMate so that you can add your own syntax definition file if you so desire.
  • Has settings for font, font size, screen and text colors, line number display, tab width (and visibility), word wrap, auto correction, auto capitalization, code completion.
  • Integration with TextExpander.
  • Preview HTML as it would look in a browser.
  • Find and replace within the file.
  • File properties shows the number of lines, characters, and words.
  • Send file as an email attachment.

This app does all that I need and more. It starts up quickly, makes it easy to write, and saves files to all the places that I want them saved. I use it often and heavily.


PlainText iPad app

Until about 3 months ago, I would have heartily endorsed the PlainText app. It is a very stripped-down app that simply works. If you are looking for a text-editing app that integrates with Dropbox, then this app deserves serious consideration. I used it for over a year and was very happy with it. However, I have recently discovered Textastic and it just fits my needs a little better. I have not uninstalled PlainText because I am so comfortable with it. If you find that Textastic just seems like too much for you, then I definitely recommend that you give PlainText a try.


Pages iPad app

When I’m in the mood to create a more common word processing file (like that produced by Microsoft Word or Apple Pages on the Macintosh), then I head over to the Pages app. It provides a perfectly usable facsimile of the Mac Pages application on the more limited computing environment of the iPad. If I were so inclined to create such files more often, I would feel very comfortable working in this environment. Now that it provides near seamless integration with iCloud (Apple’s file storage service), it is much improved.


Notability iPad app

Notability is an extremely competent multimedia file creation application. Its primary distinguishing feature is that it enables synchronized audio recordings while you are typing into the file (as you might while taking notes during a class). Later, when you are reviewing your file, you can then click on any part of the file and hear what was being said while that part of the file was being created. This is very useful for any student.

It has many features above-and-beyond an application such as Pages or Word:

  • Create formatted text such as in Pages (different fonts, font colors, bullet lists, etc.).
  • Allows the user to freehand draw — with all the associated editing capabilities — within the document.
  • Insert photos with captions and text that automatically flows around the photo.
  • Full annotation ability with any PDF file.
  • Import RTF and PDF files.
  • Save/export files to RTF or PDF.
  • Save files in Dropbox, Box, iCloud, or WebDAV.
  • Email files as attachments.

When I am in a lecture, this is the file that I use and that I recommend anyone to use. Having the ability to listen to the words spoken in the lecture with little fuss is a feature that is easy to get used to.