Displaying PDFs via the iPad

I used the iPad’s external screen output for the second time today (the first was trying out Chopper 2 with the TV as the screen and iPhone as controller) – this time not just as an experiment.

I have a set of revision worksheets (all PDFs that I inherited many years ago – I might have Word documents somewhere, but I’m not sure where).  Going over the questions in class, I can simply read the question out loud (but people don’t listen well enough and can’t ‘go back’ to it), or write it on the board (slow, handwriting code is problematic when you’ve got messy writing), but ideally it’s projected.

The classroom does have a projector – in previous years I’ve hooked up my aging laptop and put the PDFs up to see.  My hope was that I could use the iPad this year (since it’s meant to be replacing the laptop in most circumstances).

The first problem is that I don’t have an application that shows PDFs that will use the external screen (e.g. iBooks ignores the external display).  This is pretty annoying, and I hope it gets changed with an update in the near future. It’s not hard to imagine a business meeting where everyone has iPads and wanting to show a PDF that has been created (an advertisement, a manual, etc) to everyone at the meeting.

Basically the only application I do have that will use the external display to show a document is Keynote.  So the next step was creating a Keynote document with the same content as the PDFs.  The next problem that arises is that I can’t copy the text from the PDFs on the iPad (not in iBooks, and not in Stanza, which is the only other PDF reader I have installed).  I could see it perfectly well, but there was no way to extract the text.

I hope this changes too.  Just enabling select+copy in iBooks would be great.  It’s not hard to imagine use cases here, either: select text, copy it, and tweet a quote from a document.  (Ok, there are DRM issues with books, but just do something like leave out “select all” – even just enabling this for PDF would be ok).

I resorted to using the laptop.  I copied the PDF content to a PowerPoint (no Mac here to use OS X Keynote) document, and then (via Dropbox, since I don’t have a computer to sync with here) and opened it in (iOS) Keynote.

The final steps, which did work, were very nice.  I formatted the slides using Keynote (very simple, didn’t miss a mouse or keyboard at all), including inserting a few images via Safari.

When the time came to use the slides, the projector accepted the iPad’s output without problems (although the position and location of the cable meant that the iPad was in an awkward location – buying the Keynote Remote application and using an iPhone/iPad Touch would have improved that).

(For some reason, I couldn’t get the “laser pointer” functionality working at the time, although this has worked fine when I’ve tested before.  I didn’t really need that).

Overall, it’s a pretty good experience if you already have Keynote (or PowerPoint) material.  It’s a pretty terrible experience if you have something else (e.g. code!) that you want to display.  Thankfully, that can be addressed in software – even in third-party software.


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