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Camelot2: The Next Big Thing for Interactive PDF?

[A version of this article was originally published on LinkedIn.]

If you’ve ever used InDesign to create a PDF for on-screen use, you’ve probably been frustrated by the limits of including interactivity:

  • InDesign’s animation features don’t currently work in interactive PDF
  • Video and audio is clunky and still require Adobe Flash to be installed for them to play
  • Slideshows (or any kind of Multiple State Objects/MSO) aren’t supported

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?

Camelot2 PDF rumors

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.”

On another page, the PDFA wrote that this new format “would 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 further: 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 a 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.

What’s Next?

Can Adobe InDesign be retrofitted to handle this kind of new interactive PDF? If so, which features will and will not be supported? There is much to be seen in the coming months, I’m sure.

One thing is for certain, though: It will be a fertile subject of discussion at The InDesign Conference and PePcon: The Print + ePublishing Conference, May 22–26 in Atlanta. Join us and be part of that discussion! Early bird registration discount period ends Friday, March 31!

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at Lynda.com are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at 63p.com.
David Blatner

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5 Comments on “Camelot2: The Next Big Thing for Interactive PDF?

  1. Thanks for the note. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of it — in my lifetime, at least. On PDF as container: I hadn’t thought about that for a long time; no hint of it that I can see in Warnock’s paper, The Camelot Project’.

  2. Interesting piece David, thank you for your insight into the future of pdf. There does seem to be a journey towards an authoring platform that covers all forms of digital output with html5 as the common factor in all of them. The webpage or html5 page does still seem to be most universal output format, does that not seem to be the best direction to go in for digital documents. Most of my work is in print and Indesign is my tool of choice, there is a hint of authoring possibilities using ID to come, with Publish Online and FXL epub plus the great tools to make interactivity, MSOs and animations; there just needs to be the next step as I don’t feel either of these offer complete solutions yet. Both are tantalisingly close, I really can’t wait for the next level of both formats.Is it possible these could well see the need for a new version of PDF almost irrelevant?

    • Ultimately, it is the combination of the format and the reader that is critical.

      For a future version of EPUB to be the answer instead of PDF, the file format would have to mature (for example, reflowable is currently too simple and fixed layout is too static), but the reader must become ubiquitous. Sure, most Mac and iOS users can handle EPUB, but it’s far harder to find people with high-quality EPUB readers on Windows and Android. I know the IDPF (now part of W3C) is very keen on making EPUB a strong contender, but we’re not there yet.

      PDF has been a foundational standard for so many years… but unfortunately Adobe’s Reader app (once on an extremely high percentage of devices) has seen decreased use, partly due to embedded PDF viewers in the browses or OS. So, for PDF to really take a quantum leap will also require a great deal of buy-in from a wide variety of reader developers.

  3. After having designed and worked with interactive PDFs actually only a few times, its shocking how inflexible and outdated they seem when trying to use them on mobile devices. PDF definitely deserves better so hopefully they do make some changes like this soon.

  4. This post is very exciting. First InDesign publish online and then Ajar in5 (Jason Putney) really deliver for beginners like me. A PDF export with similar rich features will be great.

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