iPhone and iPad Mac

The Beginner’s Guide To Going Paperless With A Mac, iPad and iPhone

Bakari Chavanu 14-12-2013

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 The Future Is Here - Your Guide to Having a Paperless Life Today Paperless – a term that is used quite often now days. But what does it mean? And to what extent does it apply? Certainly we all still use paper to some degree despite the advancements... Read More 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 A Closer Look At The TextEdit Word Processing Program [Mac] Read More , which come installed with Mac OS X, the cross-platform application Simplenote Move Over TextEdit, Simplenote Is Now Available For the Mac If you just want to open a writing tool and get started writing without a lot of distracting bells and whistles, Simplenote may be just what you're looking for. Read More (see screenshot below) or more heavy duty applications like Scrivener Your Guide To Scrivener Read More and Ulysses Ulysses III: A Clean Stylish Text Editor for Writing and Managing Documents When it comes to writing on a Mac you're no longer limited to Microsoft Word or Apple Pages. Programs like Ulysses III make writing more manageable, providing only the most essential tools you need. Read More can take care of most writing projects.

The Beginner's Guide To Going Paperless With A Mac, iPad and iPhone simplenote

To manage and share documents on all your devices, cloud services like Dropbox What Is Dropbox? The Unofficial Dropbox User Guide What is Dropbox and how do you use it? Our Dropbox user guide will explain everything you need to know to get started. Read More  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 How To Share Notebooks In Evernote & Springpad Springpad and Evernote are awesome file cabinets for storing and managing articles, recipes, products, and text clippings we want to save for later review. But an additional way to maximize these powerful notebooks is to... Read More 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 iAnnotate: The Best iPad App for Annotating PDFs and Word Documents When it comes to annotating and reviewing PDF documents on the iPad, iAnnotate PDF ($9.99) is my go-to solution. If there's an option to download a .MOBI or .EPUB ebook or .PDF version of a... Read More (see screenshot below) and Highlighter are very useful for storing, reading, and annotating PDF documents on your mobile devices. For the Mac, Preview 10 Tips You Need to Know About Mac Preview Read More allows you to read and annotate PDFs, as well as edit photos.

IAnnotate 3

There are a wide selection of other iOS notebook apps like Notability Go Back to School Paperless With Notability for iPad & iPhone With mobile apps like Notability, it's a lot easier to go paperless when it comes to recording lectures and taking notes, annotating documents and keeping your digital files organized. I've reviewed several writing apps in... Read More , 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 Capture Your Quick Notes, Ideas, and Photos With Snipe for iOS & OS X Shortly after I started using Snipe, it got moved to my iPhone and iPad home pages, and to the dock on both of my Macs. Let me show you why. Read More for writing quick notes and sharing them across all my devices.


Snipe mac

Google Drive 7 Really Simple Tips To Manage Your Files And Folders On Google Drive There’s a lot you can do with 15GB of free storage. Ultimately, managing it well means knowing how to handle the files and folders you will keep on Google Drive. These tips help. Read More 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?

ICloud iwork

If you organize and attent lots of meetings, you may also find apps like Meetings and MinuteTaker MinuteTaker and Meetings Help You Produce Professional iPad Minute Reports In my free online MakeUseOf Online Meeting Guide where I provided some tips for planning and holding meetings over the Web, I referenced a few minute taking apps as well. While very few of us... Read More  very useful. Lastly, if you’re journal keeper, cross-platform app Day One Power Up Your Journal Writing With These Day One Tips Journal or diary writing is a great way to exercise and improve your writing skills, document what is going on in your life, and to stay in tune with your thoughts and feelings. Read More  is an excellent solution. Doodler, or simply love writing on paper? Try Paper, for free.


Scanning Documents

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 TurboScan - Or Why Your Next Scanner Will Cost $1.99 [iPhone] I had a scanner once. It took up an enormous amount of my childhood desk space circa 1998, connected via parallel port and the quality-to-speed ratio was poor to say the least. It was the... Read More . Scanning to file is infinitely more useful than making a simple paper copy.

Scanner Pro

I also occasionally use the OCR apps, eHighlighter Read, Study & Highlight With Diigo and eHighlighter The best way to study and review text is to highlight and annotate what you read, and two of the most useful tools for doing this are the online and iPad app, Diigo, and the... Read More 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 The Easy Guide to Google Chrome This Chrome user guide shows everything you need to know about the Google Chrome browser. It covers the basics of using Google Chrome that is important for any beginner. Read More , 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 Reeder - A Classy RSS Feed Reader [iPad] RSS feed readers are still the best way to access and manage your favorite website article updates and topical interests. And while I recommend Google Reader as the best baseline RSS feed manager, attractively designed... Read More  allow users to subscribe to topical stories and website content.

Ziteapp 511

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 5 Better Alternatives to Pocket That Bookmark Anything for Later Pocket has long held the crown of being the internet's best digital bookmarking service. But is it time to scrap it and search for better read-it-later bookmarking alternatives? Read More (screenshot below) or Instapaper Instapaper Could Be The Best Read Later App For The iPad One of the classic reading apps for the iPad and iPhone is Instapaper, which still shines above all others for its unique tilt scrolling and page flipping features. This well-designed app is supported by dozens... Read More . 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 Use Diigo To Help Write Your Next College Essay or Term Paper Read More and iPad Read, Study & Highlight With Diigo and eHighlighter The best way to study and review text is to highlight and annotate what you read, and two of the most useful tools for doing this are the online and iPad app, Diigo, and the... Read More 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 iBooks Vs. Kindle - Which Is Better? [iPad] A while ago I wrote a post about places to find free books for the iPad. In that post, I compared the iPad to designated eReaders and expressed the opinion that it’s not a worthy... Read More ebooks, but there are several other iOS e-readers, such as Marvin Marvin E-Reader for iOS is Better Than Kindle & iBooks If you want to see how much better Kindle and iBooks could be check out Marvin, an e-reader for iOS that doesn't sell e-books but makes reading them a better experience. Read More , that include unique features like side-loading and customisable themes.


Apple’s Newsstand app, which comes installed with the iOS, Zinio Zinio - Read Your Favorite Magazines On Your iPad (or PC) Read More , and other magazine service apps 4 Apps To Read Magazines On Your iPad I know, MakeUseOf provides you with more than enough quality reading material, but what if you're after something other than fantastic technology tutorials and app reviews? I think we all have those moments of thinking... Read More , 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.

Related topics: Note-Taking Apps, Reading, Save Money.

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  1. Anonymous
    August 10, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    Hi Bakari, for storing, reading and annotating PDF documents, may I also suggest Easy Annotate. You've covered it fully before ;)

    • Bakari Chavanu
      August 12, 2015 at 12:13 am

      Thanks, Feek, for letting us know. I think I have seen that app since writing this article. I will check it out again.

  2. David
    January 5, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    Thanks for your useful info. Sadly, there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who use Apple products, and those who cannot afford them, and therefore use every possible opportunity to speak negatively about them. I was a die-hard Microsoft fan until I bought my first MacbookPro Retina. There simply isn't a comparison. To the remaining 'die hard' MS fans.... Buy an Apple device... use it... you will be converted. Imagine this... 2 years without a single BSOD error.... not a single failure, either software or hardware related.... I love my Apple devices.... I won't be buying anything else for the foreseeable future...

  3. Rusty
    January 13, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Fun article, thanks. I use a Win 8 laptop, iPad Air, iPhone 4S and and iCloud account to manage things. iWorks apps have really helped. I also use Adobe's free reader for PDFs. One thing that makes it all work is gMail. I can produce work on my laptop and then email to my iCloud account. From there I use my iPad for everything.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      January 14, 2014 at 5:26 pm

      Rusty, you definitely sound like a dedicated paperless user. I think one of the reasons I use two iOS devices is that I no longer like using paper, and both devices help me to do so.

  4. Anonymous
    January 13, 2014 at 6:42 pm


    Thank you for the great suggestions, I've used some of these (Evernote, Dropbox and Pocket) and are happy with them, the rest are new to me and I will give them a try!

    • Bakari Chavanu
      January 14, 2014 at 5:24 pm

      Thanks for the feedback. Good to hear you find the suggestions for useful.

  5. ngockonvang
    December 23, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Davin, Apple just happens to be my niche. I’m not an Android or Windows users, so I wouldn’t be able to make recommendations for those platforms. I’m nothing against Android or Windows.

  6. Kimball Carter
    December 20, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Great article. Do you know of an application for taking images on your Laptop - let's say a newspaper clipping - that can do an OCR conversion? I'm thing of things like obituaries found in an online newspaper search.


    • Bakari Chavanu
      December 21, 2013 at 1:22 am

      Hi Kimball, thanks for your feedback. I don't personally know of any OCR applications for the Mac, but I did a quick search and found this this article.. Perhaps I'll research some more and write an article on the topic.

  7. Martin
    December 16, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    thanks but rather than a simple listing of all possibly useful apps, it would have been better to describe how you can get by with using 3 or less. I can't imagine that people use 15 apps and although they are synced across devices you spend your days searching for that note you took last week but you can't remember in which app you took the note! Most app databases are not indexed (properly)...

    • Bakari Chavanu
      December 17, 2013 at 3:13 am

      Martin, thanks for your feedback. What I've found about going paperless is that each user's needs and workflow are different. So I'm not sure if I could recommend just three apps that would just right for every user. Can you share the challenges or questions you have about going paperless with the hardware you use?

  8. David
    December 15, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    David Sparks has an e - book (available as a download or in IBooks) about going paperless. Highly recommended. He too uses a Mac, but the concepts and some of the tools are cross platform. Cam Scanner on Android works well to scan/ocr from your phone. The best thing I did for myself was to buy a document scanner- Fujitsu ix500.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      December 15, 2013 at 7:41 pm

      Great recommendation, David. I've heard him talk about his book on before on his Mac Power User show. He's very knowledgable.

  9. Manuth C
    December 15, 2013 at 12:46 am

    Where is OneNote? They sync with everything, not just Apple things

    • Bakari Chavanu
      December 15, 2013 at 4:03 am

      Does OneNote work on the iOS or Mac platform? I thought it's for Windows. I need to read up on it. Thanks for your feedback.

    • Manuth C
      December 15, 2013 at 5:15 am

      I did use it on my iPad mini (when I had it)

  10. Anonymous
    December 14, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    go back to school

  11. Davin Peterson
    December 14, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    What about Android or Windows? Why does it to have be Apple?

    • Scout D
      December 14, 2013 at 8:12 pm

      Because Apple fans are so fervent that they want every conversation about computers to be about them.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      December 15, 2013 at 4:01 am

      Davin, Apple just happens to be my niche. I'm not an Android or Windows users, so I wouldn't be able to make recommendations for those platforms. I'm nothing against Android or Windows. I just write about what I know best. But thanks for your feedback.