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Tooling around with iAnnotate

The Future Files
|Written By Ben Hanuka
Tooling around with iAnnotate

If you are looking for a mobile document review app, consider iAnnotate. It lets you review and share documents using your tablet. It makes for a simple and easy way to navigate through a document, either page by page or guided by annotations or bookmarks — either yours or someone else’s.

iAnnotate is a mobile app created in 2011 by Branchfire, based in Chicago. I have used it on my iPad since 2012. It is by far the document review app I use the most when out of the office, or even in the office when discussing a document with a client. Out of the office, I use it in court or arbitrations, mediations, and meetings.

Annotation and navigation tools

Once a document is downloaded onto your tablet and opened through iAnnotate (see “cloud connection” below on how to do that), you can annotate and navigate through a document and your folders with easy-to-use top and side menus.

After you familiarize yourself with the basics, learning the many tools available is mostly straightforward. Here are some of the basics:

  • Library and documents: Tap once on your screen and the top menu shows up. It lets you go back to the documents library where your various folders and documents are stored locally on your tablet. It also lets you switch between open documents by clicking on any open document tab.

  • Annotations and internal navigation: The right side of your screen shows annotation and internal navigation tools. The tools are sorted visually by category in separate side menus. Switching between the various side menus is a matter of simply swiping your finger across the side of the menu. You can also choose to show more than one side menu at once.

  • Additional annotation tools: Tap once on your screen and hold for a second, and an additional annotation tool appears near where you tapped the screen. It lets you customize some of your annotations and add additional bells and whistles.

These are some of the basic tools I use the most:

  • Highlighting text: there are various formats to do that, including underlining, highlighting, circling, etc.;
  • Commenting: adding comments with a placeholder anywhere in the document;
  • Bookmarks: creating bookmarks at important places in the document;
  • Search: using the search feature to search for any word in the document (if the document has been scanned, it needs to be OCR’d as part of the scanning process for this feature to work); and
  • Document rotation: rotating the document whichever way is necessary.

The features that let you view annotations and bookmarks (including pre-set bookmarks created in the original document), as well as searching using a phrase, are, in my opinion, the secret weapons of this app. These features appear on the left menu of the screen. The menu lets you choose between thumbnails, outline, annotations, search, and actions features. Here are some highlights:

  • Thumbnails: the left screen instantly becomes a scrolling view of thumbnail pictures of all pages in the document. Choose any page and the document jumps to that page;
  • Outline: the left screen unfolds an outline of all the bookmarks in the document;
  • Annotations: the left screen lists all your annotations — these include highlights or any sort of annotation made on the face of the document, as well as sticky-style comments anywhere in the document. All these comprise the annotations list. Choose any item and the document jumps to the page where the particular annotation was placed;
  • Actions: this is a submenu with its own set of goodies, some of which relate to sharing the document (see more on that below), and others like rearranging pages and deleting annotations.

For me, the outline and annotations viewing features are golden. When preparing for a legal proceeding, I get a mirror of a key brief (be it a motion record, exhibits brief, mediation brief, etc.) created in iAnnotate. Any physical yellow “sticky” I attach to the physical document or a tab reference that I make in my binder notes gets similarly created in the iAnnotate document as an annotation or bookmark.

Why the apparent duplication, you ask? Because I bring the iPad and use it as my primary tool, while the hardcopy becomes merely a backup.

Why bother if you already have the hardcopy, you ask? That is the key. The annotation and bookmark view features in iAnnotate let me search by keyword or phrase. It is one thing to use your notes. It is another thing to combine your notes with this smart tool.

Let your opposing counsel search for a document in one of the briefs, while you tap a few words and quickly identify the document reference that makes the light shine on your point.

Even without the searching tool, merely the ability to view all your annotations and bookmarks (the equivalent of your hard copy stickies and tab references) in a scrolling format along the left menu of your screen gives you an advantage, whether during a hearing, mediation, boardroom, or just by making it more efficient in a meeting with a client, lawyers, or other professionals.

Getting the document to iAnnotate

You can download a document to iAnnotate using e-mail, the web, iTunes, and in-app connections to the major cloud services: Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, WebDAV, and OneDrive (SkyDrive).

If looking to do a one-off review of a document, you can do it simply by opening the document from your e-mail. Tap and hold on the attachment to download and then choose iAnnotate from the “Open in . . .” selection menu to open the document. The document will then open in iAnnotate. It will also be saved to your iAnnotate local files folder.

However, note that using this method any annotations you make on the document may not be backed up depending on your tablet. For iPad users, iAnnotate does not support Apple’s automated iCloud backup service.

To create an effective and efficient document review “workflow,” rather than merely use it once in a while, you should consider using the in-app connection to the major cloud services. To do that, you will first need to have your relevant documents, whether for a particular file or across the board, stored in one of the leading cloud service providers.

Connecting iAnnotate to your cloud account is a simple and quick process. You essentially verify your cloud service username and password through iAnnotate. You can now open your cloud app on your tablet, choose a particular document from a folder, and open it by choosing iAnnotate from the cloud app selection menu that prompts you to choose how to open the document.

Once the document is inside the iAnnotate app and in front of you, you are in business. You can now work on it, as discussed above, and share it (see below).

Sharing your annotated document

After annotating your document, you will want to upload the new annotated version back onto the cloud file from where you downloaded it, or send it to someone else. From the top menu, click once on your document tab and choose “share” from the new menu that pops up. It lets you e-mail the document or upload it back to your cloud folder, among other options. The actions submenu on the left menu gives you some of these options as well.

Download, view, annotate, and share. Or do not share the document — just keep it for yourself for use in a legal proceeding or the boardroom.