I’ve been paperless for nearly three years now, thanks to my Mac, iPad, and iPhone, as well as numerous powerful third-party apps. I don’t have the stats to prove it, but I think the money I save by going paperless practically pays for my Apple devices.
My paperless setup is probably easier and more practical because I’m a freelance writer who works from home. However, with the right tools and apps, it’s possible for nearly anyone to read, write, and share documents without using paper notebooks or a printer. Fellow staff writer, Aaron Crouch, wrote a guide about going paperless that includes suggestions for scanning and signing documents, handling email, and taking notes on a smartphone.
This guide will focus on going paperless in the Apple ecosystem, but it’s not necessary to have all three pieces of Apple hardware to go paperless. Depending on your needs and workflow, going paperless with only an iPad is possible.
Writing and Managing Documents
The most challenging part of going paperless is producing, managing, and sharing documents on your Apple devices. Simple writing applications like TextEdit, which come installed with Mac OS X, the cross-platform application Simplenote (see screenshot below) or more heavy duty applications like Scrivener and Ulysses can take care of most writing projects.
To manage and share documents on all your devices, cloud services like Dropbox are the best way to go, instead of just saving your documents locally on your Mac or iOS device.
Cloud-friendly note-taking services Evernote and Springpad are useful for writing and sharing notes and longer form documents, and syncing content across all your devices. Both of these services require a Wi-Fi connection to upload and access content, but a premium upgrade to Evernote gives you offline access as well.
iOS apps like iAnnotate (see screenshot below) and Highlighter are very useful for storing, reading, and annotating PDF documents on your mobile devices. For the Mac, Preview allows you to read and annotate PDFs, as well as edit photos.
There are a wide selection of other iOS notebook apps like Notability, which I reviewed a few months ago, that are useful for note-taking and even drawing with a stylus pen. I also like to use Snipe for writing quick notes and sharing them across all my devices.
Google Drive also works well as a cloud service, allowing users to create, store, manage, and share documents using Google’s vast cloud service. If you want to stay within the Apple ecosystem, the recent iWork for iCloud update includes access to the word processing application, Pages, the spreadsheet application, Numbers, and the multimedia presentation application, Keynote. These are cross-platform applications for Mac and iOS devices, and documents can now be shared and collaborated on via an Apple iCloud account. Why print a spreadsheet or document when you can review it on your iPad, and even make changes?
If you organize and attent lots of meetings, you may also find apps like Meetings and MinuteTaker very useful. Lastly, if you’re journal keeper, cross-platform app Day One is an excellent solution. Doodler, or simply love writing on paper? Try Paper, for free.
Most documents these days are accessible in digital format, but there are occasions when you will need to scan paper receipts, contracts, brochures, etc. I use the iPhone app JotNotPro for scanning documents, and I’ve read good reviews of two other iOS apps, Scanner Pro (screenshots below) and TurboScan. Scanning to file is infinitely more useful than making a simple paper copy.
I also occasionally use the OCR apps, eHighlighter and TextGrabber, which allow users to photo snap a block of text (e.g. receipts, recipes, magazine articles) and then translate the capture into editable text. The translations are not always 100% accurate, but it can be better than copying text by typing.
Reading Online Content
Perhaps the easiest part of going paperless involves consuming web-based media content. All three Apple devices have Safari and other web browsers like Puffin and Google Chrome, make accessing articles on the web extremely easy. If you really want to switch your diet of information to a paperless one, it’s a good idea to set up a bookmarking and read later system.
For browsing and bookmarking articles on your iPad or iPhone, magazine style apps like Zite (screenshot below), Flipboard, Pulse or Reader allow users to subscribe to topical stories and website content.
Because there is so much content available on the web, you will probably need to bookmark articles using read later apps and services like Pocket (screenshot below) or Instapaper. These services include browsing extensions for Safari or Google Chrome on the Mac for quickly bookmarking articles.
Safari also has a built-in Reader feature (in the menu bar: Bookmarks > Add to Reading List) which allows for bookmarking webpages to the list that automatically get synced to the Safari browser on your other devices. I also use Diigo on my Mac and iPad for annotating and bookmarking web articles.
Books and Magazines
Going paperless with books and magazines can be a significant money saver and reduce the amount of required space to store such reading material. The iPad mini and the regular full-size iPad both work great for reading ebooks. I mostly purchase Kindle and iBooks ebooks, but there are several other iOS e-readers, such as Marvin, that include unique features like side-loading and customisable themes.
Apple’s Newsstand app, which comes installed with the iOS, Zinio, and other magazine service apps, provides access to a huge collection of magazine subscriptions. Reading digital magazines on the iPad is pretty much like reading them in the paper format, minus the stacks of back issues that never get reread (but are equally available for purchase).
Take the Paperless Leap
Going completely paperless is much easier now with Apple’s hardware devices and supporting software. Every year new apps and services come along to help refine and improve the paperless workflow process and lessen the need for writing on paper, buying paper magazines or printing documents.
Let us know what applications and services you use in your paperless setup.