Working with Two PDFs Simultaneously

Note: This post was published before Apple made it possible, in iPadOS 13, to open two windows of the same app side by side.

MCB’s friend, Issa from Qatar, asked about how one could view and annotate two PDF files side by side on an iPad Pro.

Well, I would first like to touch on the value of PDFs, especially on an iPad. PDF handling constitute an essential element of a paperless approach. You save tree leaves, and also get to carry with you loads of electronic documents, reports, and other types of files. The iPad is an especially powerful tool for handling PDFs as it is considerably lighter than laptops, and offers a full-day battery life. The device could natively read and annotate PDFs, and there are many great applications on the App Store for additional useful features. My most used apps in this regard are GoodNotes, Good Reader, MS OneNote, DevonThink, and Papers.

Ok, now to Issa’s question on a split view handling of two PDFs. One built-in app that can natively support split view is Safari. You could split the screen to view two different websites by tapping and holding the header of one tab and dragging it to the top right/left corner of the screen. You could then even have multiple tabs on each side of the screen.

PDF splitting, however, is not natively built-in. A good solution I found was to use two trusted PDF apps side by side. If you plan to view one PDF on one side and annotate another one on the other side, you could use Good Reader (left side below) and GoodNotes (right side below).

If the objective, however, is to annotate two PDFs at the same time, then you could do that by using two PDF annotating apps; like GoodNotes (right side below) and MS OneNote (left side below). I have used this approach in assessing student presentations or seminars (the Rubric printed as a PDF), as well as for other uses.

As for using the same one app to view and annotate both PDF files, try Easy Annotate. I have experimented with the free version (extra features require in-app purchase). It’s good in that you could have two PDFs side by side, and you are free to set the splitter line almost anywhere you want.

The disadvantage here, though, is that the annotation experience is not nearly as good as what you get using GoodNotes or MS OneNote. In other words, if the annotations you need are basic, then Easy Annotate app could work OK. If you are planning to do some clear note taking on the PDFs, however, then you should probably use the other apps mentioned above.

In any case, I suggest that you initially experiment with the solution(s) you prefer from the above. If you’re going to use this in an important context (like grading students, or in a meeting), I recommend that you initially get printouts of the documents with you, just in case you couldn’t make it work smoothly. After about two or three rounds, you would be comfortable enough using only the iPad.

The general premise here is that using the iPad is, naturally, a different experience than using a PC or a Mac. Experimentations are important to get you settled on solutions that works best for you. Easy solutions are easier to learn obviously, but more powerful ones require a bit of patience.

And, of course, you could also always ask for assistance by sending a request through the contact page of the Mobile Computer Blog 🙂

Happy computing!



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