Syncing PDFs with the iPad
It may come as a shock to readers of Macworld.com, but the selfsame editorial organization that produces the content on this website is also responsible for producing roughly 60 magazine pages every month (along with the occasional Superguide). Though much of what’s in the magazine originates online, it’s usually updated, re-edited, compressed to fit the print format, and often reformatted to take better advantage of the medium.
As we’re putting together each issue, our design and copy departments mail out PDFs of pages in two different stages. Early on in the process, we get a “v1” PDF right after the text has been placed and the initial layouts are done. At this point, we’ve got time to spot big problems and fix them. Later, usually with less than 24 hours before the pages ship off to the printer, we’ll get a second set of PDFs—that’s the time for last-minute emergency changes. Because unlike the Web, where we can (and sometimes do) fix our mistakes after we publish, in print we only get one shot.
Since I got my iPad, I’ve been trying to find an efficient way to load these PDFs so I can read them on my bus ride home. Ideally they’d just magically sync to my iPad, but that hasn’t worked yet. So here’s what I’ve been doing.
First, I’ve set up a couple of filters in Gmail that apply a specific label to the messages which contain these PDFs. That was pretty simple: The From field is set to (Rob OR Kate), the Subject field set to (28- AND ready for), and the Has Attachment box is checked. (The From field is set to the names of our designers and the Subject field is set to the naming conventions they use in their e-mails, which have subjects such as "28-08 MacUser ready for CE.".)
I’m using GoodReader for iPad as my PDF reader. It’s got a bunch of networking features, including a file-sync feature. Among the “file servers” GoodReader lets you connect to is an email account, so I added the my Gmail account (IMAP version) to GoodReader's Connect to Servers preferences. Now when I tap on the mail server from GoodReader, it lists all my Gmail labels, including Macworld PDFs. Another tap and I can see all the messages containing attachments; a couple more taps and those PDFs are right on my iPad, ready for reading.
It works, but it’s not as automatic or as easy as I’d like. I’ve tried some other approaches, centered on GoodReader’s ability to use Dropbox. Using Mail rules to file PDFs into my Dropbox folder seemed like an idea, but saving attachments from Mail by rule requires some tricky AppleScript, and even then, it only works when my computer is on and checking mail.
Using a Gmail rule to forward a message into my Dropbox account also seemed smart, until I realized that Dropbox still doesn’t offer an email-to-Dropbox feature! The Send to Dropbox website seemed like a workaround, but it proved to be unreliable, and I’m not sure I want to pass my documents through an essentially unknown third party.
At this point, I feel like I’ve come upon the most reliable and flexible system, but not an ideal one. If anyone out there has other suggestions, I’d love to hear about it in the comments thread attached to this story.