iBooks, PDF files and iTunes sync

In a recent thought-provocative post titled “Where does Tim Cook store his PDF files” I argued that if you live in the Apple world and don’t rely on 3rd party software, it’s very difficult to have a unified solution to store and sync PDF files.

I concluded that post with the hope that OS X Mavericks and iBooks would solve the problem. In this post I’ll discuss where we stand.

OS X Mavericks solution

Right now you can store PDF files in the iCloud space of:

  1. Preview.app
  2. iBooks

iBooks is very elegant and finally users can store books in PDF in a separate application from iTunes.

The confusion of this system is that:

  • PDF files stored in iBooks still open in Preview.app
  • In order to sync those PDF files with an iOS device you still need to use iTunes.

Confusing eh?


My take on all this is twofold. Firstly, Preview.app remains the default open-all-files application in OS X. It would have been overkill to duplicate Preview features in iBooks. In this way iBooks can remain a streamlined application to only store and organize iBooks and PDF files.

Secondly, synchronisation remains an open discussion. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Contacts and calendar sync with an iOS device through iTunes no longer exist in iTunes 11.12. This makes me think that Apple now sees iCloud adoption high enough to consider it as the only point of sync.
  2. AirDrop between OS X and iOS is not enabled.


We can look at the two previous considerations in two different opposite ways.

During the presentation of iCloud Steve Jobs said that Apple was demoting the Mac to a normal device. The centre, the truth if you will, of all documents is iCloud. iCloud sync is robust enough to allow Apple to introduce iCloud sync in iBooks also for PDF files in the near future. The days of iTunes sync are definitely counted now.

The alternative solution would be to have AirDrop extended to allow document transfers between OS X and iOS. The question is if Apple sees this solution worth the effort. If this is Apple’s preferred solution we might have to wait another year for the release of iOS 8 and OS X 10.10 (?).

In the meantime I’ll continue storing my PDF books in iBooks and sync through iTunes.

6 thoughts on “iBooks, PDF files and iTunes sync

  1. Storing PDFs in the cloud only starts facing the issue. Without a way to organize them, this solution is not as elegant as dropbox. iCloud wide and syncing of tags between all devices should be high on Apple’s list if they want to promote cloud storage as a definite solution. Until then dropbox and evernote are mainstays for me!

      1. For sometime I thought a service like dropbox was in Apple’s future plans. Not really it seems. Tagging should appear on next version of iOS and that’s about the only way we can expect Apple to improve their online organisation features. They’re clearly not interested in offering a clean storage solution. iCloud for docs, iTunes Match for multimedia is as fas as they will go.. However that is less than ideal for most people, so I expect dropbox to become my main cloud storage space down the road and maybe transfer active documents I work on to iCloud, temporarily.

        1. Absolutely true. Apple made no secret that they were not interested in a classic “hard drive in the cloud” type of solution. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and somehow in the back of my head I’ve got this idea that a folder/subfolder structure means something only to geeks like us.

          For example, I’ve been trying to remember of how my brain used to process information before being exposed to computers. Something tells me that instead of thinking in terms of a hierarchical structure like a filesystem, I used to think in terms of “location” and “tools” (e.g. I put that drawing that I made with that crayon in that box). This way of thinking is similar to the iCloud/sandboxing combo (e.g. I created that marvellous budget using Numbers and I stored it just inside Numbers iCloud space).

          All this long introduction to say that I believe Apple wants to move away to the “standard” way of thinking of a filesytem-based data organization to something which is maybe more intuitive to the less computer literate.

          As I said, I’m still elaborating this way of thinking and I still need to formalize it in order to put properly into words… Not sure if what I said makes sense at all, it’s late anyway here :-)


          1. The thing with this tool-location philosophy is basically that it intentionally ignores that a typical project requires more than a few different types of documents, like maybe a pages document, a couple of text notes, some images, maybe some other reference pdf documents or web pages and all that should be conveniently grouped in the same folder, so you know where to store/retrieve any related material. With Apple’s way, my biggest fear is that I would forget where is everything, even if I used 3 or 4 applications. My typical work document comprises of about 20 objects of that kind (images, pdfs, text notes). I would expect Apple to resurrect Microsoft’s idea of a Binder (back in 2000, if you remember) and make it better. Maybe like a Preview on steroids, where using tags you will be able to quick-view all relevant material and edit each one on its respective application. Tags by itself is a half-baked answer to real productivity concerns.

            PS: even later here ;)

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