Coronavirus (COVID-19) information: All courses at all locations are available as live online classes. Limited in-person classes in some locations. Our offices remain open. Learn more.


The Future of Adobe Acrobat: Can Adobe keep PDF relevant?

  • Published on March 24, 2015
The Future of Adobe Acrobat: Can Adobe keep PDF relevant?

After moving almost 4 million of its’ creative software users to subscription-based versions of their design tools, such as Photoshop, Adobe is trying for a repeat with their Acrobat product lines. Known primarily as tools for creating and sharing PDF files, Adobe Acrobat is widely used by millions of businesses that share documents electronically. Adobe is trying to keep Acrobat and the PDF file format relevant into the future, but even their best effort may not be enough.

At one time, PDF files were considered to be the way in which documents could be shared consistently across different computers, back when Mac and Windows were the only systems in use, and long before the days of smart phones. Designed to replicate the look of printed documents, PDF worked well on desktop and mobile devices. Adobe had tools such as Acrobat for creating and editing PDF files, while Adobe reader allowed anyone to view PDF files. With the announcement of the document cloud, Adobe is trying to keep PDF and its Acrobat products relevant.

Although a long way from disappearing, PDF files have lost their relevance in today’s mobile and tablet computing environment. Users on a smart phone don’t want an exact replica of a printed document, which is what PDF and Acrobat delivers. Rather, they are looking for an experience that is optimized to the smaller screen size. Text should be reflow to fit the size of the screen, and images should be repositioned or removed.

Do we need a mobile PDF? For most users, the answer is no. Even documents that require a signature don’t need to be delivered in a PDF format. Rather, an optimized HTML 5 version is more suitable for most documents that are currently created as PDF. Documents created using different formats or devices, can be converted to a PDF format for archival use, but it no longer makes sense for most documents to be shared initially as PDF.

While PDF is not likely to disappear, it may see a rapid decline in use, much the way Adobe’s Flash file format has fallen out of favor. There are some instances when PDF will continue to make sense, such as in regulated industries and archival purposes. But for most document sharing needs, the rigidity of the PDF file format is no longer useful. Businesses are better served by documents that adapt to the device and form factor on which they are being read. Microsoft Office and Google Docs are making this transition successfully, while PDF is likely to become little more than the filing cabinet for digital documents.

About the author

Christopher Smith is president of American Graphics Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the publisher and editor of the Digital Classroom book series, which have sold more than one million copies. At American Graphics Institute, he provides strategic technology consulting to marketing professionals, publishers and to large technology companies including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and HP. An expert on web analytics and digital marketing, he delivers Google Analytics training along with workshops on digital marketing topics. He is also the author of more than 10 books on electronic publishing tools and technologies, including the Adobe Creative Cloud for Dummies. Christopher did his undergraduate studies the at the University of Minnesota, and then worked for Quark, Inc. prior to joining American Graphics Institute where he has worked for 20 years.