How Do You Get to the Next Big Thing? Innovation and the New Technological Revolution

Emerging technologies allow users to interact with digital experiences off the screen. What does that mean for digital documents?

by Mark Grilli

posted on 01-29-2018

At the time of Acrobat’s release in the 1990s, just over two decades ago, the technology to view a document on a screen was considered revolutionary. PDFs led the first wave of digital transformation by taking documents off paper and placing them on a screen. It was, for all intents and purposes, a game-changer.

Before Adobe co-founder John Warnock and his team created the revolutionary file format, digital file sharing wasn’t easy. There wasn’t a universal way to interpret digital documents, and technology leaders weren’t on the same page. Perhaps the biggest issue was trying to share information between different machines, systems, and users.

Enter the PDF and Acrobat Reader, the first program capable of reading the new format. And while the technology didn’t take off immediately, the PDF soon became impossible to live without. Now we create, send, open, and view without blinking.

But the PDF could be in for a change. The emergence of new technologies such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and voice-based assistants are pushing our experiences beyond the screen. In a paperless world, what’s next for documents? Let’s take a look at some possibilities right around the corner.

Tapping into augmented reality

You probably wouldn’t jump to PDF documents as prime candidates for use with augmented reality. But at Adobe, we’re already working on one simple use case: scanning data from paper. If you can use a phone and its camera to extract data, you could also augment the data to offer more unique experiences.

With Document Cloud advanced research, we’re already able to auto-recognize different kinds of documents. With that capability, we can move toward providing more visual data on top of the printed data that can be viewed through the lense of augmented reality.

Think of any scenario where you need a user manual. Or maybe you’re sending someone out to a site for an inspection. You could hold your phone up over a document — maybe it’s the user manual or a work order — and bring up other visual information that will be helpful to complete the task, like instructional videos or more detailed information and history on the property you are visiting.

Using a voice home assistant to access documents

If you’ve said “Ok Google” or “Hey Siri,” you’re already accustomed to the usefulness of automated assistants. The convergence of technology and user-interaction has led to rapid-fire questions and instant answers. Consider how this tech could change how you interact with documents.

In the future, you could potentially take a document into Document Cloud and then have a voice home assistant like Alexa or Google Home navigate the content with commands like, “Search for…” or “Organize documents by…” or “Read it back to me.”

Say you’re driving to work. You could have a voice assistant read a PDF back to you in the car to get ready for a meeting. Having a voice-based assistant read your document to you provides a convenient way to digest information. The future of this technology could lead to us interacting with document bots as well. A document bot could perform tasks within a PDF and search information more quickly for a more efficient, intelligent experience.

Extracting data from documents with a simple scan

With barcode scanner apps, users can get more information on companies, find deals, and gain stronger connections to businesses and organizations. It’s only a matter of time until we start seeing advanced scanning technology used with documents — scanning a piece of paper and extracting critical content from that scanned image in the same way a barcode allows you to extract important data.

Think of the time you could save at the doctor’s office or the DMV. Instead of filling out your information on a form over and over again, advanced scanning tech could extract data once that could be used over and over again for various purposes. From pulling simple data on a form, to sensitive high volume data, advanced scanning technology could be creatively used in almost any industry to create more efficient workflows.

Stepping inside a document with virtual reality

Virtual reality (VR) is perhaps one of the most exciting new technologies available to designers today, and the gaming industry is spearheading this technology. In fact, 90 percent of innovation in VR is coming from the gaming space. Now, designers are starting to bring these innovations into the productivity space.

With this technology, instead of looking at photos and reading countless lines of data, the user could walk through a virtual PDF experience, all the while unlocking layers of data in a 360-degree immersive environment. Ideally, this technology would make it easier for people to interpret documents, allowing them to discover information as they explore. Imagine being able to search and interact with a Document Cloud assistant in a VR space. You could quickly sort, retrieve, flip through, and look at documents or images and engage with collaborators all within a VR scenario.

Continuing to create an environment for innovation

If there’s anything the history of PDFs can teach us, it’s that innovation comes from unexpected places, and that’s why we continue to foster an innovative environment at Adobe. Innovation isn’t a single team’s responsibility or entirely in the hands of advanced research technology.

At Adobe, one of the ways we harness this innovation is by having a dedicated “HACK” week. We let everyone take a week off from their day projects and find something they’re really passionate about. They build it, prototype it, and share it with the company. This exercise sparks new ideas and continually reminds us that innovation comes from everywhere. It’s not just one person’s job.

Innovation should also be design-led, often coming through understanding what customers want and need.

To truly understand customer pain points, we track and interview users to understand the broad range of challenges that they face. We categorize those challenges and then sketch out ideas for how to address the problem. Through a series of customer panels and interviews, Adobe consumes customer feedback to iterate rapidly for testing and changing products and services in order to ultimately land on what we hope is the right solution.

Sometimes we approach this through A-B testing. Take Adobe reader for example. We have more than 800 million users around the world, so we can take 0.25 percent of our install base and show a different feature and collect massive quantitative research about that feature and how it impacts the customer experience.

PDFs drove us to the digital sphere. Advancing technologies are now driving us to a new tech revolution. As we proceed, it’s important to remember that innovation comes from everywhere. We can’t let preconceived ideas stop us from reaching out for ideas in unexpected places.

To learn more about technology that is changing the way we work, live, and design, explore the other pieces in our Beyond the Screen collection.


Products: Acrobat, Document Cloud