Is it time for a new PDF revolution?

February 8, 2023
Darrell Swain
December 11, 2019
Imagine being able to combine the benefits of interactivity with the benefits of a document. Say hello to microapps.

At Tiled, we are filling the experience gaps that exist from the use of static content with a new communication standard that combines the benefits of interactivity with the benefits of a document. We call that standard a microapp, and we believe it’s the beginning of a massive innovation wave that mirrors the introduction of the PDF 30 years ago. Building on the history of digital documents and modern web technology, we are on a mission to empower creatives to communicate their best ideas through powerful and intuitive tools. Simply, it’s time for a new standard, and let us explain why.

The PDF Revolution

In August 1990, Adobe cofounder Dr. John Warnock started the paper-to-digital revolution by writing a six-page whitepaper called “The Camelot project.” In this document, Warnock highlighted a fundamental problem with the ability to communicate visual material between different computer applications and systems.

“What industries badly need is a universal way to communicate documents across a wide variety of machine configurations, operating systems and communication networks. These documents should be viewable on any display and should be printable on any modern printers. If this problem can be solved, then the fundamental way people work will change.”

To solve this problem, Warnock defined a vision for the Camelot project:

“Our vision for Camelot is to provide a collection of utilities, applications, and system software so that a corporation can effectively capture documents from any application, send electronic versions of these documents anywhere, and view and print these documents on any machines.”

The “Camelot project” represents the inflection point in the evolution of document-based communications. Warnock peeled off a small group at Adobe and went to work on the development of a new communication standard, the PDF [Portable Document File]. Since that time, the PDF has become the de facto method for distributing content. We now see PDF viewers, as predicted by Warnock, embedded in email clients, operating systems, and more. The ubiquitous PDF, with an estimated 2.5 billion created each day, truly has changed our lives.

Is PDF the pinnacle of document-based communications?

30 years ago, “print” was the norm, the Internet was in a nascent stage, the mouse was the primary way of interacting with a system, and the form factor of devices was pretty much uniform. At that time, a document was defined as a sequential collection of words, images, and graphics printed on paper.

Today’s challenges are different. The myriad of device types, the emphasis on interactive experiences, modern security requirements, and data intelligence considerations are challenging the traditional definition of a document. The problem we face now is concerned with our ability to communicate interactive material between different computer applications and systems.

Organizations have long known the power of interactive content to create engaging experiences and gain a deeper understanding of their audiences. Using technologies like mobile apps, web apps, and micro-sites, organizations are creating dynamic, branded, and engaging user-centric experiences that represent incredibly powerful vessels for ideas. But, building this type of experience is often complicated, time-consuming, and expensive — not to mention the inability to preserve these experiences. The result: organizations tend to prioritize efficiency and simplicity over quality and intensity, and rely on traditional documents, usually PDFs, to carry powerful ideas.

Challenging the status quo

The overwhelming majority of creative content used within organizations is informational. We think that the ubiquitous usage of PDF to distribute informational content is a symptom of organizations settling for a good enough solution. The lack of alternatives to easily create and share more engaging content pushes creatives to compromise and rely on antiquated tools to deliver their best ideas.

As a result, most informational content is created in static formats and fails to engage its audience. When ideas are transferred using ordinary means, it becomes easy to tune out and disengage. Tiled, and specifically, microapps, were created to solve that problem. Interactive content is proven to be much more efficient in getting the user to what they want to read or understand.

Creatives need more than another tool, they need a new approach.

Filling the experience gap

We call the gap between what users want and what organizations actually provide them the experience gap. Using this definition helps us uncover many different experience gaps expanding across organizations, industries, and personas. From the employee who consumes onboarding, training, or corporate content to the customer who encounters many digital touchpoints through their journey, the opportunities for delivering a better experience and fulfilling the needs of the user are endless.

This doesn’t mean it is time to throw out all static content in the enterprise. It is crucial to identify the opportunities for delivering an interactive experience when the context, the idea, and the story justify it.

To help identify the opportunities for delivering better experiences, we defined a model to describe the relationship between the level of dedication or commitment required to provide an experience (Realization score) and its level of awesomeness (Experience score).

The Experience score reflects the interactivity, the customization, the richness and the visual of the experience.

The Realization score reflects the time, the cost, and the expertise needed to build the experience.

In this model, we describe the correlation between the wow factor and how easy (or difficult) it is to create this experience.

The first group of experiences widely adopted by organizations is called “static experiences”. From an email to a Powerpoint presentation, these experiences are relatively easy to deliver but fail short to engage the end-user.

The second group, acclaimed by end-users, is called “core experiences.” From a microsite to a native application, these experiences are delightful but require a significant level of commitment to be built.

The last group is where the opportunity lies. Where organizations can enhance their static content strategy with interactive and eventually fill the experience gap.

The solution: Microapps

We are introducing a new communication standard that is built around interactivity. We call it the microapp, and we think it is the next macro thing.

As we develop and shape the future of interactive content, we are following these principles:

  1. It needs to be incredibly easy to create — no code and no new design tool.
  2. It should perform like one would expect a coded website or app to perform.
  3. It should adopt (and in some cases extend) core features from the concept of a document.

Let us explain why we think microapps embrace these principles:

1 — Ease of creation

Microapps are easy to create without sacrificing rich interactivity. There is no coding required to build or distribute a microapp. Creation is design-tool agnostic, so it fits within your current workflows. Creators are not constrained by templates. The structure of a microapp unleashes creatives to build just about any desired experience. Just like a PDF, a designer can instantly go from design to production-ready with ease.

2 — Behavior and performance

For a new communication standard to take hold, organizations and their people must trust their communication with this new standard. The expectations for the user experience are incredibly high. Like a PDF or fully-coded app, microapps are reliable, consistent, and available online and offline.

3 — “Documentization”

The power of interactive experiences to elicit engagement will be unlocked by encapsulating them into discrete, self-contained documents, or “documentizing” them. Documents are universally accessible by nearly every system, without modification or integration requirements. They can be modified, shared, downloaded, secured, and preserved and don’t need to be represented as files on a hard drive (ex: Google Docs). Documents focus attention on just what they are trying to convey. “Documentizing” interactive experiences will leverage existing technology, systems, and user psychology to unleash a combination of benefits that websites and applications will never be able to provide.


Following these principles will lead us to reshape the landscape of digital experiences. Tomorrow, microapps will be the most delightful experiences anyone can easily create.

Our mission

“To celebrate the uniqueness of us all, to find understanding, and to connect. That is the purpose of Tiled.”

Technology to enable better communication of ideas is incredibly important to us. At Tiled, our vision is to empower creatives to communicate their best ideas through powerful and intuitive tools.

In 1990, Adobe launched the paper-to-digital revolution

30 years later, Tiled is starting the static-to-interactive revolution.

Visit to learn more.

Darrell Swain
CEO at Tiled
Darrell Swain’s passion for innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship inspired him to launch Tiled in 2016 with some founding partners. As CEO, he oversees every aspect of the company's strategy and success. Darrell has a history of successful startups. As co-founder of Lucid Chart, he led its growth from beta to hundreds of thousands of active users, securing the financing and developing the product along the way. His vision of Tiled has pushed our product and our company to new heights and new successes.