PDFs have become quite the standard over the years. Of all of Adobe’s contributions to the software world, the PDF will likely stand the test of time as the de facto sharable public document. Though originally created by Adobe, they handed control of the PDF file over to the international community back in 2007 and PDFs have only grown in their prominence since that time.
In a world with an absolute litany of document file types, the PDF becomes the sanity that allows people to share a file that can be confidently rendered across platforms, operating systems and applications. Not only are they great at representing the document creator’s original intent, they are quite good at carrying over SVG graphics, images, text and layers as well.
One place PDFs have struggled, however, is simple annotation and markup. Here’s a for instance: I have a document I need filled out and returned, so I send over or link to a PDF and you open it up but have no real way to edit it. PDFs, for all their great features, can become very difficult to edit. Unlike a Word document, for instance, PDFs are really meant to be final-form: shared as a finalized document not purposed for edits. That is part of what makes PDFs so easy to trust as a digital delivery.
So, in our example, you fumble around with some PDF editing apps or take a screen-shot and try to ink over the document. It’s a clumsy work-around and it is one that Google looks to be solving for users, at least on Chromebooks for now, according to a well-researched report by Kyle Bradshaw of 9to5Google.
Ink is a software library enabling Google applications to let their users express themselves using freehand drawing and handwriting.
This larger Ink effort looks to be a WebAssembly project, leveraging all the power Chrome is now capable of right in the browser without need of 3rd party plugins or extra software. We’ve talked about these emerging technologies before, so head over and read more if you are interested in the amazing things we expect to start seeing in the future. All that said, with Ink leveraging WebAssembly, I’d fully expect this entire experience to be smooth and fast.
It seems from the commit in that last paragraph that Google is only using a part of the Ink library for this PDF annotation effort, and that will allow users to simply click a pen icon on the current PDF viewer to allow drawing right on the page. No need to save or screenshot anything: you can just draw right on the page.
A quick save and email later, you’ll have your annotated PDF sent back to wherever it came from and be on with your day. It does appear you’ll be able to draw with a pen, one of your digits, or the mouse.
When can we expect this new feature to roll out? That much is unclear for the time being. Personally, while this feature will be really great when needed, I’m way more interested in what Google is planning with Ink. One would hope this effort gets dropped into the woefully bad pen experience in Google Keep so that, out of the box, Chromebooks have a great, quick and easy inking solution.
I could also see this paying dividends for the entire Google Docs ecosystem as well. Details are a bit sparse and tough to find right now, but you can rest assured this is now firmly on our radar and we’ll be reporting any and everything we find regarding Google Ink.