Camelot2: The Next Big Thing for Interactive PDF?

If you’ve ever created a PDF for on-screen use, you’ve probably been frustrated by the limits of including interactivity. Animations, for example, are nearly impossible to add… videos are clunky and usually require Adobe Flash to be installed before they’ll play… even something as simple as a slideshow is incredibly hard.

To be honest, until very recently, I assumed that Adobe had simply left Interactive PDF to die a slow, post-Flash death. But in fact, it turns out that there may be light on the horizon for our favorite file format… and PDF may soon become far more exciting than many of us have dared to dream.

In the past few weeks, rumors of a new version of PDF have surfaced — specifically, a secret project code-named “Camelot2.” (Trivia buffs will recall that the very first version of PDF, in the early 1990s, was code-named Camelot by Adobe’s John Warnock and Chuck Geschke.)

New PDF Days?

I first heard about Camelot2 from a notice at the PDF Association, where they claim it is:

“easily the most exciting (and radical!) development in PDF technology for years … ‘Camelot2’ is all about the core principles of marrying core PDF capabilities to the flexibility of web technologies … [it will] marry the reliability and robustness of PDF with the fluidity and elegance of HTML; the best possible user experience for each type of device and use case.”

Several PDF developers who appear to be working with Adobe on this new technology (including iText and DataLogic) have also announced they will soon be discussing how the file format could be used for mobile publishing. (Publishing PDF to mobile devices, such as phones, has also long been an ordeal, because fixed layout PDFs usually require too much pinching, zooming, and panning.)

HTML + PDF = ?!

The idea of “marrying” PDF and HTML has my head spinning with possibilities! Years ago, I pitched an idea to Adobe, insisting they should “put a web browser inside Adobe Reader” — is that what Camelot2 will be? Can you imagine a PDF document that contains HTML that could be rendered, like a web page inside your PDF?

The talk of “mobile” makes me take my thinking even farther: For example, what if a PDF itself could somehow be made to change and reflow, just like responsive HTML, to fit your device?!

Obviously, we have far too little data from these leaks, but the fact that the PDFA is using words like “exciting” and “radical” is certainly enough to make me hungry to learn more.

Is This PDF 3.0?

It’s important to remember that:

  • Camelot2 is not the same as PDF 2.0, which has been in the works for decade or so. PDF 2.0 is probably of interest to someone, but whenever I start to read the specs (including improvements to digital signatures and encryption), I start to snooze. So perhaps Camelot2 could be considered PDF 3.0? Honestly, I have no idea, and only time will tell.
  • PDF is not owned or managed solely by Adobe. It was originally, but today it is an international standard, called ISO 32000. So even though most of us blame Adobe for PDF’s current limitations (as I did above) and look to Adobe for fixes, the truth is that changing PDF is hard partly because it requires a getting a very large committee of stakeholders to agree.

So here we stand, potentially at a major evolutionary step for one of the world’s most important file formats. I look forward to hearing more from Adobe and the other major players in the global PDF community about what this mysterious project will mean for us all.

I remember when Chuck and John began discussing PDF in the ’90s… I was shocked that they described it not as a way to describe a page, but rather as a container, designed to hold whatever the page required. Today, the pages we create require interactivity — the kind that only HTML can reliably reproduce. I must admit that the idea that PDF might soon become a container for that HTML makes me a little giddy.

Believe me, this is a topic that we will be discussing at PePcon: The Print + ePublishing Conference during CreativePro Week this May, and I hope for a long time.

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