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PDF in 2016: Broader, deeper, richer

The coming year means more PDF files, more PDF creators supporting PDF/UA and leveraging PDF/A-3. The space continues to grow, and it’s going to grow even faster with PDF 2.0.
About the author: The PDF Association staff delivers a vendor-neutral platform for PDF’s stakeholders, facilitating the development of open specifications and ISO standards for PDF technology. The staff are located in Germany, the … Read more
PDF Association staff

PDF Association staff
December 17, 2015


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The world’s portable document format continues to go from strength to strength, with more specifications, more files, more users, more implementations and more developers worldwide. Let’s review!

Interest in PDF continues to climb

Google Trends data offers a crude measurement of interest. The results are difficult to analyze for a variety of reasons, but the fact that even against all other topics, PDF continues to grow as a proportion of search terms is at least interesting. It's not easy to find other common-use technology terms with such a graph. Even iPhone and Android don't have them. (For fun, here's iPhone, Android and PDF together.)

Google Trends graph for

No-one can say for sure how many PDF documents exist in the world. At the recent 2015 PDF Technical Conference, Phil Ydens, Adobe Systems VP of Engineering, had some interesting data and back-of-the-envelope estimates to share:

  • In October, 2015, there were about 1.6 billion PDF documents on the web. About 80% included the string “2015”, implying that content is fairly current
  • 60% of non-image attachments in Outlook Exchange Enterprise are PDF documents
  • Phil conservatively guesstimated there might be 2.5 trillion PDF documents created each year (my own estimate is 4x higher)

Estimate: 2.5 trillion PDF files Phil reported cloud storage providers as saying:

  • PDF is the most popular format in their repositories; in many cases PDF is greater than 50% of files stored!
  • 17% of files in Box are PDF documents
  • 18 billion PDF documents in DropBox
  • 73 million new PDF documents saved each day in Google Drive and Mail

See Phil’s keynote address, along with the other presentations from the 2015 PDF Technical Conference.

New PDF vendors continue to emerge

Over 2015 I’ve seen at least 15 new PDF technology vendors join the marketplace. Some are using open-source software, others are meeting specialized needs in a variety of areas. There are several new end user tools allowing editing of PDF documents; one of the more difficult tasks for any interactive PDF processor. Like PDF itself, they are all over the place, servicing every part of the global economy that uses documents. All these things point to the essential health of the PDF ecosystem.

The PDF Association continues to grow

Over 2015 we’ve seen a number of new organizations join the PDF Association, from small companies such as PSPDFKit, Investintech and Snowbound Software to much larger organizations such as Hewlett-Packard, DocuSign and EMC. PDF Association TWGs and Competence Centers are growing in number and attendance; the PDF/UA Competence Center will soon post a draft of its current work-effort, a formal Best Practices Guide for Tagged PDF.

PDF Association members have played a major role in helping to improve ISO 32000-2. From feature-requests to clarifications to simple typos, the volume of comments from PDF Association members on the two Drafts issues so far has been impressive.

PDF 2.0, PDF/A-next, PDF/UA-2 and more

Although progress on PDF 2.0 is slow (as I’m reminded almost everyday), it’s going to be worth it! Not only is PDF 2.0 simply tighter, there are many powerful new features and important improvements in dozens of existing features.

Developers will have to read beyond the headlines to understand the full power of what PDF 2.0 is bringing to the PDF ecosystem. In many cases some radical new capabilities are a function of combinations of existing – and updated – features. One of my personal favorites: the intersection between tagged PDF and the new Associated Files feature introduced with PDF/A-3 in 2012.

In PDF 2.0 the new AF (and affiliated AFRelationship) key in a structure element dictionary allows a writer to associate an embedded file with a specific structure element in the document’s logical structure. Standardized relationships for such an association include: “source”, “data” and “alternative”, among others. Imagine the possibilities! This feature makes it possible for consuming software to provide access to MathML, source images, alternative content, data tables, extended descriptions and much more, without losing the context of the page.

veraPDF, PDF/raster and more

In partnership with the Open Preservation Foundation, the PDF Association helped found the veraPDF consortium, now approximately at the mid-point in development of a comprehensive PDF/A validator as funded by the European Union.

The PDF/raster project is a collaboration with the TWAIN Group to provide image file format guidelines that can be implemented across a wide range of imaging devices. The PDF Association has created a TWG in which our members are collaborating with the TWAIN Group to develop and enhance their document.

2016: Gathering for a leap

The coming year means more PDF files, more PDF creators supporting PDF/UA, more applications leveraging PDF/A-3, and of course, more competitors in the PDF technology space. That space is growing, and it’s going to grow even faster with PDF 2.0.

The industry has been waiting patiently for PDF 2.0 for… a long time. Specifically, the longest time between any two versions of the PDF specification. This time, however, it’s different. PDF 2.0 is the result of deep collaboration between developers from over a dozen countries representing widely divergent areas of interest.

The reality is that PDF 2.0 most likely won’t ship in 2016. Although an FDIS is possible at the May meeting in Ghent, Belgium, the ISO committee expects ISO 32000-2 to reach FDIS at the November 2016 meeting in Sydney, Australia, and go to publication shortly thereafter, in early 2017.

PDF 2.0 is a great opportunity for our industry to show off what makes us different - the power of flexibility and interoperability together. With new subset standards for PDF/UA, PDF/A and PDF/E due to be based on PDF 2.0, we are confident that developers and users alike will agree that PDF 2.0 will have been worth waiting for.

Your PDF Association

The PDF Association is considering several options for promoting awareness of PDF 2.0 and the opportunities it provides. We are considering several interesting options for events in 2016 to bring even more attention to our favorite file format.

As always, our members are invited to get in touch with us to discuss their thoughts about how the PDF Association can help drive the marketplace in adoption and utilization of ISO standardized PDF technology.

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