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Unlocking Layers of Information: How Virtual Reality Could Bring PDFs to Life

Unlocking Layers of Information: How Virtual Reality Could Bring PDFs to Life

What it would be like for us to go beyond just reading a PDF on-screen, and actually step inside the document and take a look around?

Featured in Document Cloud

As technology advances, the way we experience the world around us is constantly changing. Our leisure and work activities are radically different than the ones our parents experienced. These changes encompass possibilities for innovation, not only in the marketing and creative sectors, but also for how we all share information in the workplace.

Since the 1990s, PDF files have made it easy to share information online, while ensuring important details can’t be altered without leaving an electronic footprint. PDFs are used everywhere, from legal contracts to travel brochures to the creative approvals process in business. But even something as tried and true as a PDF can be improved by enhancing the experience it delivers.

Adobe researchers are imagining what it would be like for us to go beyond just reading a PDF on-screen, and actually step inside the document and take a look around. By incorporating a virtual reality component into the file itself, people could explore content in PDFs in the same way they approach objects in the world around them — creating a more immersive process that enhances our experience as a whole.

Applying technology to explore new ideas — with business impact.

Adobe Research principal scientist Walter Chang and Research intern Laurel Warrell set out on a journey to create a more immersive document experience with VR. They developed an experimental interface that would let people enter into the pictures embedded directly in a PDF document.

Together, they wanted to help people do more than just read text. “I thought it would be cool to take advantage of the visual experiences that VR offers,” Laurel says. “In this case, we wanted users to feel like they are stepping ‘inside’ a document.”

Each image within the PDF contains a doorway that links to the next image, creating a document that’s more of a journey than a wall of text.

“PDF represents both a legacy and a contemporary technology that’s used for much of the world’s content,” Walter says. “In contrast, VR is an emerging technology that enables new interactive experiences. By combining the two, these technologies can be used to create content experiences for our customers that are much more immersive and memorable.”

Ideally, this technology would make it easier for people to interpret documents, allowing them to discover information as they explore. Because they aren’t forced to read annotations in any particular order, every experience will be unique to the way each person explores their environment.

“When your content becomes something that is now alive and inviting you to explore it, to more fully experience it, and to discover different aspects of it in your own way, then PDF content, enabled by VR, will lead to a much more profound experience for the user,” Walter says.

Reimagining our world — from the creative to the highly functional.

A consumer VR device with 360-degree content could actually transform the way people interact with information, which is otherwise locked away in a digital document. Instead of looking at photos, or reading text on a computer screen, a VR PDF would be immersive, unlocking layers of valuable information as you walk through its experience — providing access to new experiences, creating connections with information and cultures, and enabling advancements in industries across the board.

With VR, people could visit the wonders of the world and explore different cultures without the expense of traveling there. Source: Adobe Stock / Mikhail Markovskiy

From an educational angle, a VR PDF could bring subjects alive. In classrooms, textbooks could take on a whole new dynamic. Students would have a more hands-on opportunity to engage with information. For example, they could visit the wonders of the world without the expense of having to travel there, allowing students to explore different cultures — perhaps growing empathy, and fostering deeper connections to the world.

VR components added to the PDF could be highly functional in business, creating opportunities for HR, sales, marketing, and even the C-suite. Forward-thinking companies could optimize recruitment and the training process by developing immersive instructional videos and onboarding information for new hires. Plant managers might offer how-to videos or educational assets to connect customers to products. Within international corporations, stakeholders and key business leaders could interact through PDFs that help them understand context, despite long distances and cultural differences.

For consumers, VR could turn a lifeless travel brochure into something extraordinary, offering a glimpse into new places and cultures. Everyone from health care practitioners to engineers would have the tools to collaborate and design better, safer machines, among other advancements. Adding immersive experiences to the document purpose and format, will bring about a future of increased access to experiences, more connections between people and cultures, and more ways to collaborate on advancing technology and other ideas.

Improving access to VR design will bring better user experiences to life.

According to Stephen DiVerdi, senior research scientist at Adobe, VR has historically only been available to those with the budget or research aspirations and the technical know-how to put together a system that actually worked. Further, VR work was academic and scientific in nature. What has been missing is the artistic angle, or design component — the compelling user experience.

“We are just starting to see VR situations where very artistic and creative experiences are developing in this really technical space,” Stephen says.

Already, we’re seeing artistic and creative experiences merging with technical capabilities. We see it with the introduction of VR films at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals, and we’re likely to see more in the merger of VR with software design and interface. As more people from artistic design communities become involved in VR production, the user experience will take a more prominent role.

“In the same way we saw iPads move from consumption devices to productive work devices, I think that there will, one day, be those who only work in VR because the experience is so strong,” Stephen says. “It’s super exciting, and I can’t wait until I live in that space.”

The idea of merging two technologies like VR and PDFs is an indicator of a much larger industry movement — the push for better user experiences. As technology continues to progress, new opportunities to enhance the way people work, learn, and interact with existing tools will be able to increase efficiency and enhance expression, creating a truly compelling experience for everyone.

Read more about the future of immersive experiences in our Beyond the Screen collection.

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