Adobe Reader app for iOS and Android: Unnecessary?

Category: Techtoday

PDF and Adobe

I distinctly remember a time when my Computerworld editor muttered oaths at the idea of using PDF in publishing. It was confusing, redundant, and irrelevant when PageMaker and Word files took care of most of his needs. Fast-forward to twelve years later and we find technical documents in PDF being exchanged daily in huge companies and organizations. Consumers with tablets and smartphones, on the other hand, use PDF for reading scintillating ebooks like Fifty Shades of Grey.

There's little doubt that PDF has successfully become a standard in both the professional and consumer environment. It's easy to forget to give Adobe credit for PDF especially when Linux users can print out PDFs without installing anything else and even Microsoft Word has now adopted the format over Microsoft's own XPS format.

Freeware and open source applications can easily convert almost any format to PDF. Moreover, there are literally thousands of utilities and desktop applications that can open PDF. Linux comes preloaded with Evince or Okular while the upcoming Windows 8 may or may not come preinstalled with an app simply called Reader.

iOS and Adobe Reader

Adobe Reader has had a long, tumultuous history on the PC. Historically, it's been bloated, vulnerable to malware, slow, and unusable. For many years, users opted for free alternatives that had the same function as Adobe Reader's parent and more powerful product, Adobe Acrobat. However, if you've ever worked in a corporate environment, there's little doubt that the IT department included Adobe Reader as part of the Windows image they use for each workstation. There are, of course, good reasons for this, but the question remains, is Adobe Reader on iOS or Android worth installing?


As a consumer who primarily uses his iPad for reading ebooks, I'm fairly happy with iBooks for PDF magazines and EPUBs and a plethora of free apps for reading CBRs, CBZs, and PDFs. Bookman, Sidebooks, and CloudReaders may not be the best apps on the iStore but they're free and serve my purpose well enough. iBooks, in particular, has become my primary reading app for the numerous PDFs I've downloaded from various web sites over the years. Until that is, I once again came across a PDF that didn't open properly and left me viewing blank pages.

PDF creation

I've encountered issues with PDFs that either had missing images or rendered improperly until you opened them in Adobe Reader. To be fair, it's not Evince or Okular (in Linux)'s fault when this happens and it most certainly isn't iBooks' fault either. It's actually pretty rare to encounter a PDF that doesn't open properly in any app or utility designed to open PDFs, but it does happen. The technicalities aren't quite clear but certain PDFs that weren't created using say, Acrobat or Adobe InDesign, tend to display differently on certain utilities. Numerous historical documents that were scanned and converted to PDF in Archive.org don't work as intended not only because the PDFs are bloated and poorly compressed, but because the documentations team formatted the file using a nonstandard application and for an old Acrobat standard.

It's easy to check how the PDF was created by opening the PDF using Adobe Reader and clicking File then Properties. The Advanced section on the Description tab will indicate the PDF Producer and PDF version. In the following screenshot, the free ebook, The Story of Shanghai from Archive.org, was produced using LuraDocument PDF v2.28 and exported based on the PDF 1.5 (Acrobat 6.x) standard.


This same PDF actually failed to display properly once loaded into iBooks for my iPod Touch and iPad 2. The PDF rendered slowly, all of the photographs did not appear, and most of the pages were blank. However, the PDF worked fine in Adobe Reader X for Windows and Adobe Reader 9.4.7 in Ubuntu and openSUSE.

A Crippled Adobe Reader

Although Adobe has abandoned any plans for releasing an updated version of Adobe Reader for Linux I always install the downloadable RPM or .DEB for my Linux machines anyway because of the reason I outlined here - you might actually encounter a PDF that won't open properly. In the same way, I decided to install Adobe Reader for iOS from iTunes and will install the Adobe Reader for Android if I ever purchase an Android tablet. Ironically, the Android Adobe Reader app is actually up-to-date at 10.3.1. I wonder if the Adobe devs are aware that Android is nothing more then Linux's kissing cousin (the last version for Linux was at 9.4.7).


If you're a user who always felt Adobe Reader for Windows or Mac somewhat crippled, you will find the app for iOS even more so. Although you can add bookmarks, create annotations, fill out forms, and access table of contents if it's available, viewing options are limited and there is no way to display a list of comments/annotations - you'd have to thumb through the document to find all of them. Extracting contents, as expected, is also absent. Adobe, however, admits that the app is in development and will add features based on user feedback (the lack of ability to view a list of annotations is particularly annoying). To its credit, the Adobe Reader app on my iPad 2 was able to display offending PDFs such as The Story of Shanghai and displayed them quickly, too.


Bottom line? For most users, popular PDF viewers are more than adequate for displaying PDFs on an Android or iOS machine. However, if you intend to view old PDFs or PDFs from obscure sources (like I do), then you should have the Adobe Reader app handy.


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