What PDF app do you use on iPadOS?

If you use a third party PDF editor on your iPad, I have questions please!

  1. What do you use?
  2. Does it offer any native file management system? (e.g. can you import PDFs and store them in folders, or tag them)
  3. Does it offer full OCR search in the folder system (if it has one)? E.g. can you search a keyword across your library?
  4. Does it track read/unread status, and current progress? (e.g. does it know which file you were last in, and does it remember where you were in the file)
  5. Do your exported files play nicely with DT? (I.e. are the annotations “readable” by DT - I’m guessing that’s a criteria for most of us in this forum, but just checking!)

Details for those wondering why I am asking and getting ready to explain how PDFs work in DT:

My TBR PDF list is getting out of control and it’s making my database and inboxes stressful (now at almost 2000 unread items in DT :sob:). Whilst that is a personal/workflow failing, I am considering moving all unread PDFs that I actually plan/need to read to a dedicated app just for PDF reading, thus saving DT only for stuff that I’ve finished, and eliminating the psychological baggage of opening DT and seeing how behind I am with my reading.

Feel free to explain to me how you’re using DT, I was only joking above and if you’ve got a system that isn’t overwhelming you, I’d like to hear about it. Especially if your job involves a never-ending tsunami of PDFs and you mostly just end up cherry-picking what you can attend to and hoping you’ll get to the rest at some point in the next 20 years.


No, I won’t be using Readwise’s Reader for this. I’ve mentioned previously testing it for this, but turns out having unread PDFs in there causes the same stress it does in DT (plus my web reading is more interesting so I get distracted :joy:).


I use PDF Viewer from PSPDFkit (the same engine that DTTG uses) when not using DTTG. To me, the advantage of this app is a) almost same interface as DTTG, b) native file viewer c) annotations identical to those done in DTTG.

It supports its internal local file system, own specific iCloud Folder and any other installed 3rd party extension (like DTTG one). However, AFAIK it does not search across PDFs.

I don’t know if it searches tags.

Edit to say: most options are free to use.

It seems that you want a recommendation for a new tool to solve a flaw in your workflow. Perhaps you might take comfort to know that you are not alone and are not the first one on this path. Let me recommend against going further. Instead, restructure your approach with the tools that you have.

Split your DevonThink PDF database by three folders – inbox, reading, archive. Dump everything into inbox. Ignore how full it gets. Select what you want/need to read from the inbox and move it to reading. Use whatever criteria you want/need (e.g. oldest PDFs first or URGENT PDFs first or …). When done reading a PDF to a satisfactory level for a first time, move the file that you have read once to the archive folder. Only go in one direction, never backward. Also, never allow yourself to put more than three or four PDFs in the reading folder.

Now become diligent in your approach to pull as many PDFs through from inbox → reading → archive. The rules again are ignore how full your inbox is, set consistent criteria on what you pick to move from inbox to reading, set a consistent marker on what you use to designate that you have read a PDF to adequate satisfaction (in order to move it out to archive), never have more than three or four PDFs in the reading folder, and never move a PDF backwards in the workflow.

As your inbox explodes, you will discover either that you are too slow at reading PDFs (you need to improve your process to read PDFs) or that you have more PDFs arriving in any given time than any sane person could hope to read (you need to become more discriminate about what you allow to come in via your input stream). Only the first case might be solved by a new PDF reading tool.



Answering that many questions usually requires a consultation fee :wink: but I will point you in the direction of PDF Expert by Readdle. It’s very full featured and works on all the Apple platforms. It replaced my use of PDF Viewer about a year ago and I’ve never looked back.

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I agree with Gordon!

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Do either of PDF Viewer or PDF Expert allow editing in place on DTTG or does sending the PDF out to the app mean your edits are made on a new copy?


PDFExpert does, yes. I tested it this weekend and I was quite impressed with how smoothly it handled editing a file in DTTG.

PDF Viewer I didn’t test that particular work flow with so can’t comment.

Sorry for my radio silence. I read your replies and was thinking and testing things so I could give a proper response. I’ve tested quite a few apps over the last couple of days so just jotting these notes down for anyone stumbling on the thread:

  • highlights.app - beautiful interface, doesn’t remember your reading place (when using an iCloud folder, I dont know if the behaviour is different depending on source). This makes it a non-starter for me, I’m not scrolling through big reports or books each time I close them to do something else.

  • GoodReader - wild card entry as I used to use this. Asks to confirm each time you make a highlight, which is ridiculous, so nope to that!

  • PDF Viewer - Seems nice enough, but I couldn’t see how to set up local file storage? I set it to a folder in iCloud. (More on this in a minute.)

  • PDFExpert - has a lot of menu options I don’t need, but you can remove them from view which is very cool. Has in-app storage as well as storing in iCloud, etc. Seems like all the things I want to do are in the free version. The sharesheet also seemed more rigorous than other apps.

I haven’t settled on a solution yet. @DrJJWMac made a similar comment as I’d made that really this isn’t a tool issue, it’s a workflow issue.

I did wonder about setting up a separate database just for reading, but for whatever reason I’m not keen (I don’t really know why, but I don’t seem to like having lots of databases so it’s probably that). I’m holding this as a backup idea I might return to though.

So for now what I’m gradually doing is stopping use of the “mark unread” function in DT/DTTG. I know I was one of the ones who asked for it :rofl: Instead I’ve implemented the same trio of tags I use in my booklist app: high priority, medium priority, low priority (I already had “read next” and “currently working on” tags that I will continue to use). Tagging like this means I don’t see all the unread files when I’m navigating about, but also means there’s some sort of triage already taking place in my reading list. (I will probably never read the low priority stuff, but at least it’s there if I get the chance, and I can see already that some low priority stuff would probably become high priority if the situation changed.)

I have also sent some files straight to PDF Expert to read directly. I’m not sure I like this as a solution after all (putting unread PDFs in another app/iCloud), but it is a nice way to be intentional about a few PDFs I want to read next so we’ll see.

I still have a problem of PDF books and how to store/read them, I’ve not figured out that bit yet. I don’t really like them mixing with reports and papers - they’re much longer reads and deserve to be stored with other books, but since Kindle isn’t nice about PDFs and Books is terrible for this, I’ve never satisfactorily solved this problem.

Oh, I did also want to comment that I’ve never really used DT/DTTG’s inbox for its intended function (or it’s intended function as I saw it), because it very quickly grew to 100s of files and I didn’t like having that big tangled mess of unread stuff, some of which I might not get to for months (years). I try to keep my inboxes empty. All my unread files are actually in their correct groups, mixed among files I have read and all my own notes.

This seemed to me quite sensible (e.g. I know all the papers I have on wolves are in the same group/folder, regardless of whether I’ve read them yet or not), but I wonder if other folk who are using the inbox system properly are on to something.

Part of me is wondering if my database is becoming a bit of a hoarder’s paradise and I should be stricter about only filing things I’ve interacted with, but it’s just not how I work and my database is as much an antilibrary as it is a library. (I am good about deleting things I’ve saved that turn out not to be relevant.)

Thanks. I shall have to look into PDF Expert.

My annotations are mostly highlights, bookmarks / outlines for headings and some limited text.

On the Mac, when one opens the pdf from Devonthink to the PDF app, annotates away and closes the pdf, the annotations are saved in the document in Devonthink. It doesn’t create a separate copy. That’s what I am trying to replicate as reading the document is far more pleasant on the iPad than the Mac - plus more portable.

I haven’t ever felt comfortable with DTTG’s annotating. When I use the highlighter, it’s like finger painting - I get wavy colouring in rather than regular straight blocks such as one gets on the Mac with, say, Adobe Acrobat. Have I been doing something wrong?

As an aside, in some ways, I have found that Highlights offers the “best” export of annotations. It doesn’t produce a report with all the hex coding etc. just the clean text and page references.

DTT is the reason I bought an ipad. I exclusively use DTT to read pdf articles on the ipad.

For longer materials such as books and dissertations, I use Bot (Bookends).

I have PDFexpert on my ipad. But, I find no reason to use it as the pdf reader in DTT is pretty great.


For what it’s worth, the Kindle Scribe does a decent job with PDFs. The larger screen helps a lot.

And for me, on iPad, Books works well for the one very important aspect you mentioned – it syncs and saves reading position. I agree this is critical and I wish more apps would support it. (Liquid Text does too, but it’s otherwise on a foreign and somewhat hostile planet otherwise.)

The questions remain … What is meant by “keep my inboxes empty”? What is meant by “correct” group? Why are you mixing unread with read (and notes)? These are addressed in your processing steps.

Determine what you want your end goal to be. Work the puzzle backwards to design a better process to get from where you are to where you want to be. In the meantime, are you familiar with the GTD processing method? Not that it is the only way but that it may offer some added insights.

How to organize tasks and manage your time with the Getting Things Done system.


I use PDFExpert to read PDFs. I use PDFExpert to mark up on PDFs that require me to review them and return them (i.e. in a role as a document editor). I like the approach for the UI in PDFExpert better than than the UI in DTTG. I like especially also that I can structure the annotation toolbar in PDFExpert to have exactly and only the tools that I need as a document editor, that I can structure those tools to be in what for me is an intuitive layout, and that I can recognize the tools by color and shape almost immediately (compared to the near mono-color toolbar icons in DTTG).

But, the tools in DTTG are the same in Bookends/iPadOS (BoT), and I use BoT exclusively for reading and annotating on my bibliography PDF data sets. So, it is not because I dislike the tools in DTTG that I do not annotate PDFs in DTTG. It is that DTTG (and DT) are less ingrained in my overall workflow to manage PDFs.

Highlights is a well-respected app.

In summary, in my role as a PDF editor, PDFExpert/iPadOS remains the absolute easiest app to use, not only because I like the UI best but also because of its easier approach to manage downloading/uploading documents from various storage locations (e.g. local, iCloud, Google, Dropbox). In my role as a bibliography manager, BoT remains the easiest to use, primarily because I can stay within the eco-system of one app (BoT and Bookends/macOS) to collect, upload, read, annotate, and sync back PDF bibliography documents.



Be careful with PDFs in Books. They’re not automatically backed up to your iCloud account and if the app resets and you’ve not backed up its contents, you’ll lose your content with no way to restore.

In the last year this has happened to two friends after they did iOS updates (with the second person Apple Support helpfully pointed out that they do warn you to back up your device before you install an iOS update :roll_eyes:)

(To be fair Kindle also don’t guarantee they will save your PDFs from doom.)

Kindle Scribe flattens the annotations, as it uses it internal format when sending via email, and when you get back your “PDF” it is converted back to PDF… with all annotations flattened and in BW.

@MsLogica, I’ve experienced the same issue with Global Inbox and my long-term reading of books in opposition of scraps and short papers, and my solution is quite easy: books (currently reading and ready to be read) are stored in a folder in Global Inbox called, well, guess it, “Reading” (“Leyendo” in Spanish). Other folder for magazines, guess it one more time, “Magazines Reading” (“Leyendo revistas”).

Then I try to go to Zero Inbox (but not “Zero Inbox Folders”). I accumulate pending short term stuff in Inbox, then the other in the sub-folders. This way I save having same long term reading PDF in a lot of folders in different places and having to remember I read this book in this folder and this other book in this other folder. My handicap of putting all into DTTG, is I only can read them in iThings and aThings, not in AndroideThings nor wThings… that to be honest, is not an issue.

My two cents.

I use DT and GoodReader. They are both great. Edit: No subscription costs means that they are better for students.

Thanks @happycatmachine.

Wehn you close the pdf, do the edits you have made in Goodreader appear in the pdf in Goodreader too? Or do you have to save it as a new (copy) file?

They do. When opening in GoodReader from Devonthink I am sure to keep the document in place. When I’m done in GoodReader I close the file and when I return to DevThink the annotations are there to be used in any way, from deleting to linking to them it just works.

I don’t know if GoodReader offers OCR. They do have a sub for some features but in the many years (at least since 2011) I’ve used it I’ve never been at a loss for a feature.