More about Reading PDFs on Mobile Devices
A little background
In a recent post, we discussed the major problem that most people experience when reading PDFs on mobile devices – the fact that the text does not reflow (as it does with e-books). To read a PDF on mobile, most of us typically zoom the content, which causes text to be truncated at the right margin. And this results in the exasperating need to scroll horizontally on each and every line. The following example shows a PDF with truncated text.
Reading PDFs on mobile devices with Adobe Reader X
Adobe has attempted to address the reflowable text issue on mobile devices with the release of the free Adobe Reader X for Android and Nokia mobile devices (only). This version of Adobe Reader is notable for its ability to reflow text for any PDF, even PDFs that are not created with “tagged” information. This feature makes PDF documents much more usable in a mobile setting. The following example shows the same pdf (as the first example) but with reflowable text.
To implement this functionality in Adobe Reader X, you need to select Reflow Text from the View Mode menu (whereas with some e-book readers this happens automatically). The Reflow Text feature, however, has its limitations, particularly when it confronts highly formatted information such as tables. Typically, pages with tables are not “reflowed” – what’s more, the display changes, fitting the text to the screen in small type. If you want to read what’s in the table, you’ll have to access the View Mode menu, select “Fit to Screen” and zoom so the text is legible. Then you can move to the next page and change the View Mode menu back to Reflow Text to continue easy reading.
It should be noted that e-books can have similar problems with reflowing highly formatted information.
Reading PDFs on other PDF readers
In addition to the free Adobe Reader X, there are other free or nearly free PDF readers such as ezPDF Reader, GoodReader, and Quickoffice, that can also reflow PDF text. Some of these come with interesting features, such as:
- GoodReader’s auto scroll ability, which moves the text along automatically, eliminates the need for finger movement, and
- Kobo Reading Life 4.4, which lets you create your own bookshelves, provides quick links to Facebook and Twitter.
Reading PDFs on e-book readers
Not surprisingly, you can read PDFs using some e-book reader software. For example, some e-book readers such as Aldiko or iBook can also display PDFs. This is more notable for being possible rather than for being the norm since e-book readers are typically used for straight-flowing text (i.e., actual books) rather than intricately formatted corporate documents.
Reading corporate PDF documents on mobile devices
The essence of the issue is that there are trillions of corporate documents in PDF format that people need to read, and with the advent of mobile content management systems, this number will increase exponentially. The bottom line is that legibility is an issue, even with the reflowable text readers. Many corporate PDFs are difficult to read because they contain highly formatted or tabular information. As discussed earlier, this is a stumbling block for PDF readers with or without reflowable text and for e-book readers as well. One solution is to reformat content so that it is completely legible on the mobile platform. For example, tabular information can be restructured instead of being slammed into a PDF that is illegible on a mobile device. However, it is highly unlikely that any organization will go to this extreme for the millions of documents that exist in PDF format. A more likely solution is that PDF readers and e-book readers will be improved to the point where they can handle this information, without the need for reformatting content.
Fortunately there is a feature war among mobile software publishers, with consumers coming out ahead. If you don’t like a feature or something doesn’t quite work, relax, there may very well be a software update in the morning.
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