Is "Open In…" destroying PDF?

In addition to Adobe Acrobat Reader and PDF Expert by Readdle, the two applications I use most on iOS for reading and commenting on PDF files, there are a bunch of other PDF viewers on iOS that support a variety of features in PDF and provide a great deal of what the desktop applications provide… and then there’s Preview… and, of course, that’s the application that owns PDF on iOS… and Preview is… limited. (I’m being kind).

Back when the screens on phones were smaller and the iPad wasn’t born yet, reading PDF files on mobile devices wasn’t much in demand. But with larger screens, customers not only want to read PDF files, they want to interact with them. In fact, I’ve found that commenting on PDF files and even filling out forms is far more intuitive in the right mobile viewer (see above) than it is on the desktop.
…but I’m a geek.
I know there are better PDF apps than Preview available and I’ve installed them on my phone and tablets.
…and I know how to get my PDF files into those apps so that I can take advantage of their powerful features; “Open In…”
For me, “Open In…” is a minor annoyance and in the rather long list of minor annoyances in my daily life, it’s one of the more minor ones.
…but I’m a geek.
At least once a week, sometimes more, customers ask me how they can interact with their PDF files on mobile devices and they always end up disappointed; there’s just no good solution available. We talk about what they want to do, we talk about the process of creating the PDF to allow for the interaction they want and then I have to give them what I call “The Disclaimer”.
You’re going to need to have them install [fill in the blank] viewer and then somehow communicate to them that they need to select “Open In…” and then select the [fill in the blank] viewer before they can work with your file.
That part of the conversation never ends well.
For Enterprise customers that can more easily deploy software to their iOS devices, half the battle is already won but most of the people I deal with need to communicate these PDF files to devices that they can’t control and to people they can’t put through training.
By the end of the discussion, the result is almost always the same. Once the team understands the situation caused by “Open In…,” the project gets scaled back, the interactive requirements get removed, and the PDF files that get distributed have only the capabilities of the lowest common denominator. Preview.
It’s sad really. iPads and other mobile devices offer a near perfect paper metaphor in a device that aligns with the the paper metaphor of PDF and the apps exist to take advantage of this fact. But many customers feel that providing a limited but consistent experience is preferable to an unpredictable one… and they’re right.
But it’s destroying PDF.
Ok – maybe “destroying” is too strong a word… but “Open In…” is making customers second guess the usefulness of PDF as an interactive document platform… and that may be bad news for PDF’s future.
How have you solved the “Open In…” problem? Have you? Haven’t you? Comment below and tell us.

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