“One problem with PDFs is that they can be huge,” said Nincic. “They can be print-quality files or very large in file size and very slow to render. So it’s essential that when you put the document on the Web, it can be efficiently viewed on any device. It goes beyond compliance. People are accustomed to the notion that if Acrobat can display a PDF, your application should too. Just implementing a PDF standard is a small part of implementing support for all the incompatible and broken PDF files out there.”
Ultimately, Andersz and Nincic believed developers should seek out a cross-platform PDF tooling solution optimized for the Web along with different mobile devices. The availability of cheap PDF solutions such as Apple’s built-in iOS PDF viewer provide developers convenient solutions, but according to Andersz, this leaves developers at the mercy of third-party support.
“We see a lot of these single-platform toolkits that build things on top and are really just wrappers for third-party and sometimes even open-source technologies,” she said. “So there’s a bit of a disconnect with customers. They see an inexpensive toolkit and wonder how that’s possible, how the technology is different. There’s a gap in understanding that some toolkits are built from the ground up and are compliant to the PDF specification in every possible way, and other toolkits are just wrappers.”
Exploring the mobile, Web and cloud frontiers
“In the cloud, PDFs are becoming more integral with the Web experience,” said Nincic. “In the past, PDFs were kind of just a binary blob that you required a browser plug-in to access and view. That’s all changing. More and more websites are offering PDF viewing and cooperation experiences as an integral part of the website itself.”
A decade ago, the PDF ecosystem was much smaller, and Adobe was the main player controlling the spec. The ecosystem revolved around Acrobat, which essentially became an ISO standard. In the years since, Apple has adopted the PDF as a format in iOS and the Mac, Google adopted the PDF for printing, and even Microsoft introduced basic rendering in Windows 8.1. Mobile, Web and cloud-based applications have made the PDF more common. Everyone is essentially using them in some way, shape or form, and on the developer side it demands a higher level of functionality.
“In the past decade, the need for higher-level PDF features has grown considerably,” said ORPALIS sales manager and COO Elodie Tellier. “Before, you could find really good PDF SDKs delivering a wide range of low-level APIs. Now the developer requires more sophisticated functionalities; for instance, fast and accurate text extraction, large PDF merging and splitting, PDF encryption and DigiSign, and fast rasterization. Developers need both low-level and high-level sets of functionalities—such as color detection—that allows [developers] to dramatically reduce the size of embedded bitmaps within PDFs and on-the-fly PDF/A composition.”
These intricate functional capabilities are what will empower developers and PDF component providers to keep up with trends in the PDF market. PDFTron’s Andersz sees more and more businesses requiring a Web and mobile PDF experience that works without hassle on the various devices an end user may have at any given time. When an enterprise switches from a desktop or native mobile application to a Web or cloud-based solution, the PDF components and toolkits facilitating that shift must be up for the challenge.
“It’s no longer possible to simply have an iOS app. You can’t depend on most users having an iPad or iPhone,” Andersz said. “Nowadays, the Android market is equally strong and might override the iOS market in some ways. There are still lots of business users on desktop, especially in government and the financial sector. The key is really to think, what will help them adopt their applications and their solutions across platforms? Yes, you can offer native SDKs for all these different platforms, but the Web is really starting to be the key that really allows you to code once and deploy to all these devices via the browser.”
What should developers look for in a good PDF component solution?
Dany Amiouny, president and CTO of Amyuni: “Developers need to learn that it’s more about the internal structure of a PDF file. Before choosing a PDF driver, developers should at least understand the basics. When comparing PDF drivers, they need to be able to understand whether the PDF is well structured and optimized or if it has issues.