“We see commercial components moving toward more complex PDF functions as a way for companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors as well as from open-source components,” Holmann said. “The PDF format is fairly static, so we don’t see much change in that direction. However, PDF documents are being used in new ways by businesses and consumers, which will provide new opportunities for PDF functions and products.”

PDFs across platforms
On top of the growing list of things PDFs and PDF components are asked to do, technology providers have also been forced to grapple with the evolution of the platform landscape and the move to different mediums.

Desktop application developers, Web developers, mobile developers and cloud application developers all want to integrate PDF functionality into their apps. That may mean utilizing PDF component toolkits for iOS, OS X, Windows, Windows Phone, Android and the Web, working with programming languages and frameworks from Java, .NET and C++ to ActiveX, JavaScript, C#, Objective-C and HTML. The result, according to Catherine Andersz, director of business development at PDFTron, is a frustratingly fragmented PDF toolkit market in an increasingly cross-platform world.

“We find that developers don’t want to use one toolkit on Windows and one toolkit on iOS, and another toolkit on Android,” Andersz said. “A cross-platform API allows consistent rendering and viewing. The same file that opens on iOS can open on Android and all the other platforms.

“The problem out there with some toolkits is that there are so many pre-producers out there producing so many types of PDF files, and they tend to corrupt it into files that shouldn’t even be called PDFs, really. A lot of the files are just not processable or viewable via different toolkits. We need to make sure, as much as possible, to adhere to the PDF specification to assure that we support and we create PDFs to the most compliant way possible. “

The specification Andersz referred to is the ISO 32000-1 standard and its subsets, also known as PDF 1.7. The standard, officially published by the ISO in 2008, was based on the PDF 1.7 specification Adobe released royalty-free in 2007. A new version of the standard, codenamed PDF 2.0, is under development by the ISO and is set to be published sometime in 2015 or 2016.

Amiouny sees the standard as a calming force in PDF evolution, and one that sets the technology up for stability in the long run. “The technology has evolved very quickly the last few years, especially since PDFs became an ISO standard,” he said.

“We don’t think PDFs will evolve as much as they have in the past few years. There have been some proponents for changing things in the PDF area, but we haven’t seen much action aside from working toward PDF 2.0. So we see that, fortunately for everyone, the technology has stabilized quite a lot. There may be improvement, but not so many drastic changes going forward.”

Compliance with the PDF standard is one way for PDF components and toolkits to ensure a PDF renders and optimizes correctly regardless of the files it’s dealing with, but Andersz and PDFTron CTO Ivan Nincic believe that’s only part of the puzzle when dealing with a file that may be completely broken.