iPad PDF documents: How to read, transfer, and save

iPad PDF FAQ: How do I transfer a PDF file onto my iPad, iPhone, or iPod? (Or, "How can I read a PDF on my iPhone, iPad, or iPod?)

Since the iPod, iPhone, and iPad all use the Apple iOS operating system, the process of getting a PDF file onto these devices is identical (or nearly identical) for each device. In this article I'll generally refer to the iPad, as it's actually hard to read most PDF documents on an iPhone of iPod.)

There are several ways to get a PDF file onto an iPad, but in general, the plan is to (a) get the PDF to your device, (b) open the PDF in the iBooks app, and (c) read it from there. Let's look at the different ways to get a PDF onto your iPad, iPhone, or iPod.

iPhone/iPad PDF Option #1 - Mail the PDF to yourself

Assuming you have the PDF on your computer, one of the easiest ways to get the PDF onto an iPad is to mail the PDF file to yourself. Then, check the mail from your iPad, select your email message, and tap the PDF attachment to open it. Once the PDF is open, tap the "Open in iBooks" button at the top of the screen. The iBooks app will open, place the PDF on your bookshelf, and you'll be able to read it from there.

iPad PDF Option#2 - Download the PDF from a website

If you see a link for a PDF online that you want to read, just tap that URL, and the PDF should open properly on your iPad. Again, once you're viewing the PDF, just tap the "Open in iBooks" button to copy the PDF document onto your iBooks bookshelf.

iPhone/iPad PDF Option #3 - Copy the PDF from your computer using iTunes

I keep wanting it to be really easy to get a PDF document from my computer onto my iPhone, but I find the current approach surprisingly cumbersome, and also hidden. I guess if you keep thinking "iTunes is the gateway to my iPhone/iPad/iPod", you'll eventually find this trick.

This last "iPad PDF" approach goes something like this:

  1. Open iTunes on your computer.
  2. Drag your PDF file from wherever it is into your iTunes Book library. (This is the "Books" section under "LIBRARY".)
  3. Sync your iPhone/iPad/iPod with iTunes. Make sure the "Sync Books" checkbox in the iTunes Books tab is selected before syncing. (Or, if you prefer to perform your sync process manually, check the PDF to sync it.)
  4. Press the Sync button when ready.

To me, this is a much more cumbersome process than mailing the PDF file to myself. I hope one day Apple will make things like the iBooks bookshelf more transparent, so you can see your iPhone filesystem from your computer, and just drag and drop the PDF from your computer to an iBooks folder on your iPhone or iPad, but until then, just keep thinking of iTunes as the interface to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod.

(One obvious thing here: "iTunes" needs to be renamed. Since it's the interface to your iPhone, iPad, and iPod, and is now responsible for all sorts of media -- music, videos, and now books -- it needs to be called iGateway, iMedia, or some other name.)

iPhone, iPad, iPod and PDF - summary

I hope these iPhone/iPad PDF tips have been helpful. As mentioned, because the iPad, iPod, and iPhone all use the same iOS operating system, the same iPad PDF reading techniques will work on the iPod and iPhone. If I find any new ways to get PDF files onto these devices and read them there, I'll be glad to share them. For now, these approaches, and using iBooks as a PDF reader, seem to be the way to go.

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There’s just one person behind this website; if this article was helpful (or interesting), I’d appreciate it if you’d share it. Thanks, Al.


I love my iPad but some things just haven't been incorporated to make life easy.

I wanted to get a pdf file from my computer onto Pages in my iPad. Should be easy since this is one of the formats Pages uses. Not true using iTunes. Pdf files don't import only export.

Here is the work around I use. (you have to have Stanza on your computer)

1.Open the file in Stanza on the computer.
2.Export as .doc (Microsoft Word) to somewhere on your computer (desktop for example)
3.Add the file to the Pages app in iTunes
4.Open Pages on iPad (iPad connected to computer, of course)
5.Import the file.

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