Papers App Puts Your Medical Library in your Pocket [App Review]


A recurring problem for physicians and scientists is how to handle literature one rapidly amasses in the process of writing or patient care. The ease of finding literature on PubMed, Google Scholar or other archives has not been matched by an effective method of archiving and annotating the collected references and PDFs.

That is, until the arrival of Papers.

The Mac OS X application of Papers, by Mekentosj, won an Apple design award when it debuted in 2007. It was written by a dynamic duo of Dutch molecular biologists who also happened to be highly talented Mac OS X programmers. Like most great businesses, the founders themselves faced the problem they would eventually solve with their application. Papers took its model from Apple’s own iTunes and iPhoto applications. These bedrock Mac applications demonstrate how clear thinking and a disciplined, tightly integrated approach create durable solutions other platforms had yet to even define.

In Mac OS X, Papers displays your personal library in a single multi-column screen, much like iTunes. It integrates tightly with online archives (e.g. Pubmed), automatically downloads PDFs if available and allows for easy annotation and ratings of your library item. Its approach is very different from citation managers such as Sente and EndNote. I find it an indispensable tool.

But the authors were not content to solve your desktop problem. They wanted to bring the goodness of Papers to your pocket with an application for the iPhone and iPod Touch ($9.99). They have succeeded with this transition. This app has the ability to synchronizes wireless with your desktop Papers application(if you have Mac OS X, cannot sync with PC), although it works as a stand-alone application as well. From the desktop, you have the option to select which static and smart collections you want to synchronize, after which it will “autofill” PDFs from your library up to a maximum of 1000 papers.

What I liked about this app:
  • ability to look up a paper in the middle of a conversation (so cool)
  • remarkably light footprint on the phone even with hundreds of PDFs in the library (for example, 710 papers on my phone takes up 620 Mb)
  • with last upgrade, a search box is available for rapid search of your library
  • ability to perform a PubMed search while away from your computer and not lose the fruits of your research
  • very nice built-in PDF viewer
  • ability to email a paper and its PDF without leaving the application
  • free manual backup of your library (without PDFs) to a cloud service, useful if you do not sync to the desktop version.
What I didn’t like:
  • search function only looks at the titles of the papers
  • synchronizing libraries was perplexingly slow, although newest desktop version seems to have improved this
What I’d like to see in future updates:
  • more powerful search capabilities, at least including the abstract text
  • ability to select and email multiple references

Papers for the iPhone is a must-have for any clinician who frequently searches medical literature, whether for academic or patient care purposes. Once you find an article and discover it’s useful, chances are you’ll need it again sometime in the future. Now, with this powerful iPhone app, you’ll never have to look further than your pocket.



-Dr. Wodajo is our newest contributor to the iMedical Apps Team and we feel privileged to have him on board. He brings an extensive clinical background to the reviews.


Felasfa Wodajo, MD

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5 Responses to Papers App Puts Your Medical Library in your Pocket [App Review]

  1. Anil September 17, 2009 at 6:37 pm #

    Any similar alternatives for PC?

  2. MedAppReview September 17, 2009 at 11:17 pm #

    Hey Anil-

    You could try using evernote. They have a pretty nice app for the iPhone as well. Some of my colleagues like using that application on their iPhone to keep track of their papers, and also their patients.

    I’ll also contact the developers of this app and see if they have any plans of making a windows version of this app and get back to you on that.

  3. Michael December 14, 2009 at 4:35 am #

    I’ve been using papers for my laptop and iphone for awhile now and it’s amazing. I used to keep huge file cabinets of all the papers I needed for reference or that I might want to pass along to students. I then used PDFs as technology advanced but this was still hard to find and never with me when I needed it. Papers (recommended to me by a medical student) has been amazing. Now when I want to recommend a paper, I just email it right then or if a paper is mentioned in a lecture just look it up and download it to my “library” right then and there. A great concept and execution.

    Dislaimer: no conflict of interest

  4. iltifat December 14, 2009 at 9:00 pm #


    I’ve heard your sentiment echoed by other clinicians as well. I just wish they had a PC compatible version! Although the stand-alone app is pretty sufficient as well.

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