How to view PDF and other files on your iPhone and iPod Touch

This art­icle was ori­gin­ally writ­ten in April 2009. A few new apps have appeared since then, but one, GoodRead­er is now my daily go-to PDF read­er right now. I touch on a few of the new apps here, includ­ing GoodRead­er, but you’ll be back on this page if you want to check out Stanza — a great eBook read­er.

I have to read a lot of fic­tion in the next few months. A lot of Sci­ence Fic­tion to be pre­cice, and it’s so I can cast an informed bal­lot to help select the best of the genre at this year’s World Sci­ence Fic­tion con­ven­tion (World­Con).

As a mem­ber of World­Con, a pack­et con­tain­ing this year’s nom­in­ees arrived in my inbox earli­er this week. Lots of PDF, RTF, DOC and TXT files, for many diverse cat­egor­ies includ­ing best Nov­el, Novella, etc. Not small files by any stretch.

So, to avoid cull­ing a small forest by print­ing it all out, I decided to try and read them on my iPod Touch. In the past I’ve enjoyed read­ing on my pre­vi­ous port­able device, the Palm T|X, so figured that I should give it a try on the Touch. And that got me won­der­ing, is there an iPhone or iPod Touch app to read pdfs? I’m happy to say the answer is yes, but.

The dilemma, how to get just under 200mb of data on to this little suck­er. Well, I solved it, two ways. Here’s how:

Over-the-air file shar­ing (Air Share) for PC with Files Lite:
Files Lite is, as the name sug­gests, the free ‘lite’ ver­sion of OliveToast’s Files pro­gram.

The way it works is pretty simple.

Files allows you to store and view files on your iPhone or iPod touch. You can con­nect to Files from any Mac or PC and drag and drop files straight from the Find­er or Win­dows Explorer, as you would with any oth­er shared folder. In fact any cli­ent which under­stands the Web­DAV pro­tocol can con­nect to Files.

So, basic­ally your set­ting your iPhone up as a serv­er, then copy­ing files to/from it using your desktop computer’s inter­face.

I’ve tried it, and it works quite well. But, where it really excels is in it’s abil­ity to dis­play those vari­ous file formats. I’m already part way through Little Broth­er
by Cory Doc­torow and am very com­fort­able read­ing on the iPod Touch. For the most part, Files Lite works as you expect a well-designed iPhone app to work.

Files Lite is lim­ited to stor­ing 200mb of data in your device. If you need more, then you’ll need to buy the full ver­sion at the AppStore.

Or, take a look at the next applic­a­tion, Stanza.

Stanza, the work­horse of eRead­ers for your iPhone

This just in (Apr. 27.09) Stanza was acquired by Not sure what this’ll mean for the free eBook read­er, but it’ll be inter­est­ing, for sure. Maybe Amazon’s cata­logue will now be avail­able via Stanza as well as Kindle.

Stanza is a very inter­est­ing ebook read­ing applic­a­tion. For starters, it’s not only for read­ing con­tent you already own, you can pur­chase and down­load new con­tent into your online lib­rary.

Which means that Stanza’s aware of many dif­fer­ent online pub­lish­ers (and dif­fer­ing eBook formats) of both free and paid ebooks.

To make Stanza work with your own eBook lib­rary, you’ll need to down­load and install the appro­pri­ate Stanza desktop cli­ent (Mac, PC).

Depend­ing on your con­fig­ur­a­tion (iPhone or iPod Touch) you’ll need to make sure your desktop applic­a­tion and port­able ver­sions of Stanza can ‘see’ each oth­er. Here’s an excel­lent writeup on exactly how to do that.

One draw­back for me; to trans­fer your exist­ing lib­rary, you have to move one book at a time. You can’t (at least as far as I could tell) move mul­tiple eBooks in one pass.

Read­ing on Stanza is pretty com­fort­able, and intu­it­ive; tap on the right side of the screen to turn the page, the centre to adjust your set­tings, the left to flip back a page. Drag up or down to adjust the screen bright­ness.

So, for me, Stanza is the eBook read­er of choice. It is clunky to get the con­tent into my iPod Touch, but once it’s there, the read­ing exper­i­ence is just a bit nicer.

Your mileage may vary. I’d be inter­ested in read­ing your exper­i­ences with eBook readers…or sug­gest­ing oth­ers for me to look at…I’m sure I haven’t seen them all for the iPhone yet.

Update Sept. 30, 2009: The nat­ive applic­a­tion for iPhone and iPod Touch was released yes­ter­day, and you can view (online and off) many of the file types men­tioned above. I ‘touch’ on it a bit more here, but if you’d rather jump right in, check it out over at Drop­box.

Top photo courtesy David Sifry
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26 Replies to “How to view PDF and other files on your iPhone and iPod Touch”

  1. Hi Dami­an, thanks for that.

    Do try out Stanza — I find that between the two of them you get the best options for read­ing PDFs. If one doesn‘t dis­play a PDF prop­erly or nicely format­ted, the oth­er usus­ally will.

  2. Is there a way to do this “over the cable?” When trav­el­ling I usu­ally have 3G access on my iPhone. I have docs to go so I can read and modi­fy any file I receive but work­ing on a large doc on the iPhone is cum­ber­some. I want to trans­fer the file to my lap top “over the cable” as there isn’t a wire­less net­work avail­able, then edit it, then trans­fer it back for email­ing on to the next per­son. If there was a wire­less net­work I’d just do everything on my PC. When teth­er­ing for the iPhone is avail­able without jail break­ing my prob­lem wil be solved but who knows when if ever that will hap­pen.

  3. tried files lite and drop­box. nice, although it would be per­fect if i didn’t have to reach page 376 by flip­ping one page at a time. that’s pretty much a deal break­er for me.

    1. True, unfor­tu­nately PDF sup­port for long doc­u­ments on the iPhone is a bit lack­ing — it seems there’s some sort of polit­ic­al issue between Adobe and Apple re: iPhone Flash integ­ra­tion. Anoth­er app you can try is Stanza (, a free eBook read­er. It will address your con­cern about jump­ing to a spe­cif­ic page, but therea are some format­ting issues:

  4. Hi Ant­o­nios,

    You need to run Stanza on your desktop com­puter. Then load the ePub you just made. Then look under the Tools menu and ensure that Enable Shar­ing is checked.

    Now go run Stanza on you iPhone/iTouch.
    On the bot­tom­line menu, select Get Books. Then, select Shared on the Top but­ton bar — your shared book should appear in the Com­puters Shar­ing Books sec­tion.

  5. Hi, you have no idea how happy I’m to see I’m not the only one try­ing to do this, my situ­ation is the following,I have a book (med­ic­al book to be exact) its in PDF, my ques­tion is how can I read it on my itouch? I have tried email­ing it to myself but its too heavy and my simple yahoo account doesn’t upload it, I’m los­ing hope, my main pur­pose in buy­ing the itouch was to be able to read docs, and pdfs on it.…

  6. Hey Brad,

    Just thought I’d stop by to let you know how I appre­ci­ate people like you who respond to each and every com­ment and really try to help them out. 🙂 Really nice of you. 🙂

  7. GoodRead­er and Stanza are great. but i dis­covered a fast PDF read­er in FAST PDF. Its fast but i still think good read­er takes the cake.

    But ser­i­ously guys, how often do you read on your iPhone

    Fast PDF »

    GoodRead­er »

  8. Hi Kyith, thanks for the com­ments and links — it’s appre­ci­ated.

    And actu­ally, I *used* to read quite a lot on my iPod touch. But recently I picked up a ded­ic­ated eRead­er (the Kobo).

    The lar­ger form-factor does make a dif­fer­ence.

  9. Apple’s iBooks read­er sup­ports pdfs. If you drop a pdf into your itunes lib­rary you can have it sync to your iPhone/iPad/iPod. Unfor­tu­nately set­ting up sync did not seem very intu­it­ive. I have not used drop­box, but it may be it is easi­er to setup.

  10. Thanks Steve! Sadly I’ve not updated this post yet, but your com­ment updates it nicely.

    Do try Drop­box, if not for the read­er func­tion just for the abil­ity to have access to your docs on mul­tiple plat­forms.

  11. To read pdf I installed the Amazon kindle app ver­sion 1.2 on my jail­broken iphone 3g. First, I con­nec­ted with putty and searched for *mazon* to loc­ate the kindle app dir­ect­ory. Then I con­nec­ted with win­scp (using win­dows xp) and put pdf files that I con­vert with this free soft­ware “auto kindle ebook con­vert­er” in this dir­ect­ory:

    Start the kindle app after you have copied the .mobi files (that are con­ver­ted from the pdf’s) to the men­tioned dir­ect­ory…

    Happy read­ings!!!

  12. hey i was just won­der­ing if files lite still exists on apps as i can’t find it any­where?

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