Canvas wants to bring some sex appeal to the humble PDF

The humble PDF, a useful tool for getting the basic information across in a way that can be viewed by all. Canvas wants to bring some bling to the humble portable document.

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Canvas is a company that is all about democratizing the creation of process-specific applications. Canvas delivers a whole host of customizable applications for both smartphones and tablets in a way that allows businesses to replace paper-based systems with digital ones. Canvas' approach is similar to that taken by another early-stage startup, Podio, which was acquired all too soon by Citrix and has since pretty much languished in obscurity. Canvas intends to plot another course and gain real traction in this oft-promised but seldom delivered-upon area.

To date, Canvas has grown steadily and now offer 17,000+ pre-built, fully customizable apps that work on all mobile platforms and service 30+ distinct vertical markets. But lots of applications doesn't necessarily deliver huge customer uptake, and Canvas needs to keep pushing on the customer adoption angle. To this end, the company is launching another weapon in the fight to render dumb paper forms obsolete and is introducing its PDF designer, a tool that lets organizations create and customize documents directly from business application data. But whereas anyone can create a boring old static PDF form, Canvas wants to enable the humble PDF to become a "valuable publishing medium that unlocks new revenue." That's a lofty promise, so what is Canvas actually doing here?

Using PDF designer, business can:

  • Create “trash-proof” customized digital receipts that fully embrace receipts and invoices as a powerful new publishing medium for mobile payments.
  • Customize the layout, colors and fonts of the digital documents generated from data captured with Canvas mobile business apps.
  • Add content such as links, images, social media and coupons to drive loyalty and differentiate from competitors.
  • Update digital documents and outputs on the fly as needs and regulations change (i.e. a manufacturing safety team must update inspection forms regularly as their work and regulations change).

“Now an HVAC services company can not only convert its paper invoices to mobile versions, it can take the data most relevant to customers and create a trash-proof, customizable invoice with images of work done, coupons for follow-up service, or a customized layout to differentiate from competitors,” said Chris Morrisette, Chief Architect and Co-Founder of Canvas. “With Canvas PDF Designer, businesses can collect information with Canvas and mobile devices, and then easily customize the output to make it valuable inside and outside of the organization. There’s nothing else like this.”

Alongside the PDF creator tool, Canvas also announced Canvas Connect for Excel, a plug-in that allows businesses to access and analyze the data around work processes and forms captured with Canvas apps, and puts access to Canvas directly inside Microsoft Excel. In addition to its robust do-it-yourself mobile app builder and PDF Designer, Canvas also offers the first business-only mobile application store of its kind.

The idea of making a PDF contextual to the person receiving it without reducing the fidelity or cross-platform viewability of said PDF is an interesting one. The key thing for Canvas will be to ensure the process is as automated as possible. To this end it will rely on deep integrations with the source applications - accounting, job management, etc. - to make the task of getting contextual content into the PDF as easy as possible. Assuming it can do that, Canvas is onto a very interesting opportunity here.

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