With the recent announcement of the Apple Watch, I’ve been thinking about wearables. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the possible interface between wearables and PDF development. Honestly, I think the likely uses are few and limited — but still potentially important.
As I see it, there are two major limitations that limit the utility of PDF applications in wearable technology: form factor and interface. The first is simply a product of wearability. A watch screen simply isn’t all that big. The Google Glass, which displays the equivalent of a 25″ high-def screen at a distance of 8 feet, has other problems. Glass has spawned concerns about privacy (it can discreetly shoot video or snap photos), and fears that it will constitute an obvious badge of membership for “an affluent tech elite”. Indeed, the public testers of Glass, known as explorers, have already been targeted in several attacks, and have been encouraged by Google itself to avoid being “glassholes”.
My main point, though, is that wearables generally feature small screens that just aren’t that great for consuming the traditional, paginated content for which PDF is so well suited. Glass, which solves the form factor problem, may turn out to be a non-starter if too few people are willing to be seen wearing it.
The second problem is interface. In order to be wearable, devices need to be small, which leaves limited room for an interface. Even touch screens become less usable if you can barely move your finger around on them. The new Digital Crown in the Apple Watch simplifies zooming and (vertical) scrolling somewhat, but isn’t really designed to facilitate full viewing of paginated documents, let alone editing and creation.
Where I think wearables and PDF play most happily together is in the ticketing and digital pass/card spaces. If you could just display a PDF pass with a QR code from your watch, that would be a great example of PDF and wearable working together to make life easier. Really, isn’t that what it’s all about in the end?