PDF Capabilities: Do Users Really Know Them All?

A few weeks ago, Vel Genov and I attended DeveloperWeek 2017 in San Francisco, CA as representatives of Datalogics.  For us as Product Managers, attending developer conferences is a great way to hear directly from users about the issues they are trying to resolve. It gives us a chance to understand the customer perspective, and to share how our products can help them. It was interesting because there was a prevailing theme that we heard consistently from the developers we spoke with: most don’t know what is truly possible with PDF, or how it can be used to help solve business problems at the company they work for!
PDFs seem to be in a place that is similar to where mobile phones were in 2006.  Everyone knew the primary features of mobile phones, and some part of the market knew how to customize ringtones or other things that smart phones were able to support. Users of PDF today see it as a format used to share information when presentation of the information is critical. This thinking, though, paints PDF into a corner, when in reality, PDF provides so much more functionality! When the iPhone launched in June of 2007, it completely changed the market for mobile phones.  Simply put, once users understood the possibilities, they demanded more from companies who manufactured mobile phones – and we all know how important cell phones are today.
Today’s users of PDF have not been as vocal about demanding new functionality from vendors of PDF creation tools, and the market seems to have settled into complacency. I believe that this is, in part, because today’s users don’t know the current set of functionality that is defined in the PDF specification. Why would they, after all? Version 1.7 of the standard is over 750 pages long, and that is just the core specification and does not include all of the other specifications that PDF builds on top of! It’s hard to expect any developer to read through that and have an ‘aha’ moment that says, wow, I can use a PDF for that.
For example, we spoke with a number of people at the conference who did not realize the various uses of forms in a PDF. A couple of people we talked to wanted to use a PDF as a means to collect information from people, extract the data in a meaningful way, and then analyze that data. With forms in a PDF, you can assign names to the fields in the form so that when you are extracting the data after someone has filled it in, you actually know what the data represents.
Another person wanted to create PDFs that are customized for each recipient. This might be highly desirable when working with insurance forms. The insurance company can send the insured a claim form that has some information about the insured from their records. The insured can simply fill in the rest of the claim information, add a digital signature and return the completed form. This isn’t limited to insurance claim forms – it could be a medical form, financial forms, or real estate forms. The application of this PDF functionality can be extensive.
I would encourage anyone asking themselves what else can PDF do – talk to us. We have a load of samples that show how you can solve business problems with PDF. You can browse our samples either on GitHub or on our site for developers!
On another note, while I was at the show, I also gave a presentation titled “Is PDF a victim of its own success?” that touched other issues in the PDF ecosystem. I’ll talk about that more at another time because I think it’s an important conversation for developers to have when considering PDF technology. Check out the presentation, and feel free to leave a comment, or contact us with any questions.

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