u p F r o n t . e Z i n e
the business of cad
Issue #696 | June 21, 2011
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In This Issue
1. IMSI/Design Launches iApps for iTablets
- TurboViewer for iOS
- iOS Development Challenges
- Upcoming Software for Portable Devices
2. How to Use Dropbox with AutoCAD WS and TurboViewer
- How to Use iTunes with TurboViewer
3. Out of the Inbox and other regular columns
This issue sponsored by GstarCAD
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IMSI/Design Launches iApps for iTablets
IMSI/Design is keen to provide DWG apps at low-cost for PCs, but now there is a new platform in town.
"Around here, we got religion with the iPad," states Royal Farros, IMSI/Design's ceo. "If you make the mistake of thinking iPad is a PC, it will fall woefully short. I mean, there is no keyboard, no mouse, not even a basic USB slot. But if you think of it as a brand-new device -- able to do things a PC can't -- then you can see how important this device is. It's a brand new era, very much like when the world transitioned from text-based operating systems to the graphics-based ones, and innovation exploded." Mr. Farros phoned me last week to describe his company's newest software, TurboViewer for iPad, and to talk about his company's plans for future development. I can tell you about the first topic, but not the second one.
(This was going to be an exclusive interview, but then the press release for TurboView was released a week early accidentally.)
During the 66-minute phone call, he repeated his thesis several times: that most CAD companies will continue to do what they know how to do best, and so will try to port their desktop CAD software to portable devices -- which won't work well, because portable devices weren't designed for desktop applications. IMSI/Design is taking a different approach, so you won't be seeing TurboCAD or DoubleCAD running on tablets or in the cloud anytime soon.
"Once we figured out that the old stuff really doesn't work well on the new platform, we realized we had a blank slate and could design anything we wanted. So that let us build to iPad's strengths: it's crazy portable, has GPS, built-in cameras, tons of sensors, a battery life that goes all day, and can be operated with a finger or two. All this added together lets us build CAD solutions that don't exist today.
"The great thing about being a developer today is how accessible massive distribution is, and how many new business models are open to us. With millions of mobile devices sold monthly, and easy online ways to sell apps, any developer has the opportunity to make a big impact."
[Disclosure: IMSI/design loaned me an iPad2 to test the program, since it is not possible to do a Webinar that demos iOS software through Web browsers.]
TurboViewer for iOS
The first tablet application from IMSI/design is TurboViewer, the very first CAD viewer on the market to handle both 2D and 3D DWG files. Here cto Doug Cochran took over. (He's the former AutoCAD product manager at Autodesk.)
A significant problem with software running on iOS and Android "computers" is that the interfaces are so subtle that users miss out on discovering features. (For instance, there is no menu bar for one to peruse, which traditionally lists available commands logically.) In the case of TurboViewer, the help button links to online documentation.
Mr. Cochran pointed out some features that distinguish TurboViewer from competitors:
- TurboViewer displays 2D and 3D drawings in DWG and DXF formats. Currently in wireframe mode only, but the upcoming Pro version will also do hidden line and shaded modes.
- You don't have to wait for a drawing to finish loading to dismiss it; you can tap the Drawings button to cancel the load and return to the file list. (Not even current CAD applications do this.)
- A full screen preview is displayed while the drawing loads. (The trick here is that you have to open the drawing at least once in TurboViewer so that it can rasterize and save a full screen preview image.)
- You can zoom and pan the raster image during loading, something else desktop CAD applications can't do. Once the drawing opens, you see the zoomed-in view of the vector drawing.
- TurboView uses the following gestures:
Drag one finger = 3D rotate (pans 2D drawings)
Drag two fingers = pan
Two finger pinch = Zoom
Double-tap one finger = Fit drawing to screen
Double-tap two fingers = Toggle full screen view
Mr. Cochran pointed out one oddity, panning needing two fingers. He found that of all gestures, a single finger gives the most control, and so he assigned it to 3D rotation; it needs finer control than does panning.
Figure 1: TurboViewer from IMSI/Design
A Views button displays (a) named views saved with drawing files; (b) standard orthographic and isometric viewpoints; and (c) changes the background color. "I particularly like the dark gray color," Mr Cochran advised.
Clearly, the TurboViewer name comes from TurboCAD, yet I wanted to see just how "turbo" this software really is. After doing some timings, I found it loads drawings at a rate of about 1MB per 4.5 seconds, and is roughly 10x faster than AutoCAD WS. By way of comparison, on my 3.2GHz quad-core 8GB RAM/8GB ReadyBoost desktop, AutoCAD 2012 loads drawings at a rate of roughly 1MB per/second.
Under the hood, TurboViewer does not simply read DWG or DXF files (based on Open Design's APIs), but also converts the DWG/DXF file to OpenGL on-the-fly, optimizing for memory usage and speed.
The software is free from Apple's App Store, but runs a thin strip of advertising along the bottom.
iOS Development Challenges
Last year, another CAD developer told me in confidence that he cannot publicly make negative comments about the Mac development process for fear of being cut off by Apple. In particular, he was ticked off at how hard it was to get his CAD software working with the AMD and nVidia graphics boards hardwired into all of Apple's portable computers. "Apple does not provide sufficient information about the device drivers, and so we can't get the display speed CAD needs, as compared with Windows."
When it comes to writing software for iPhone/iTouch and iPad, there are other challenges. iPad2 has only 512MB RAM (iPad1 had only 256MB), although this number is based on speculation, because Apple does not publish the figure. This missing spec is crucial to CAD apps, which prefer to keep as much of the opened drawing RAM as possible, for fastest speed.
iOS devices have no user-accessible file system, so CAD users and developers need to employ workarounds. Mr. Cochran said an easy way to get drawings onto an iPad is to email them to yourself. (TurboViewer has a folder named Inbox just for accessing emailed drawings.) Other methods include FTP, synching through iTunes, and accessing cloud storage services, such as DropBox and SugarSync.
And iOS does not support Flash, the Adobe software used for most online CAD systems, such as AutoCAD WS, making it more difficult to port these to iOS than to Android systems.
Upcoming Software for Portable Devices
Here is the part where I have to be coy over what I can say about IMSI/Design's plans for future software for tablets and cell phones.
"Why just a viewer, since there are tons of viewers on the PC side?" Mr. Farros asked, and then he answered himself: "A viewer is the just the first step, the base of everything going forward."
A DWG viewer becomes a proof-of-concept, for every CAD product needs the basic ability to read and view drawing files. For IMSI/Design, the next step is TurboViewer Pro. It will handle more of the chores expected of viewers, such as 3D hidden line and shaded modes, layers, and 30+ file formats.
After this, expect an app a month from IMSI/Design, both new ones and existing ones ported to Android. Or as Mr Farros put it, "We'll have an 'announcement of merit' once a month."
Mr Cochran, a former architect for almost two decades, enthused: "We're going to be able to build solutions [on mobile devices] I've wanted to do for ten years." http://imsidesign.com/turboviewer
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How to Use Dropbox with AutoCAD WS and TurboViewer
Getting DWG files onto iOS devices can be hassle, because (a) the folder structure is sandboxed, making it difficult for users to access; and (b) they lack memory card slots. Work-arounds include emailing files, using FTP, WebDAV, synching through iTunes, and accessing cloud storage services, such as DropBox. (For Android devices, all you have to do, is drag files between computer and Android device.)
DropBox is one of the better services, for it works with nearly every device, is free for the first 2GB (you earn another 0.25GB for each customer who installs DropBox through your account), and is supported by both AutoCAD WS and TurboViewer. Here is how to use these two viewers with DropBox on an iPad:
1. Open a DropBox account, and then install the software on your desktop computer and on iPad.
2. Add DWG files to a DropBox folder on your desktop computer.
3. Almost immediately, the file appears in DropBox on iPad. Tap the file name.
4. Notice that the DropBox app complains, "Unable to view file." Tap the Open In button in the upper right corner of the app.
5. A dialog box appears, allowing you to choose which app should open the file. In my case, this is AutoCAD WS or TurboViewer. See figure 2.
Figure 2: Selecting a view app in Dropbox on iPad.
6. Choose one of the programs, and then the DWG file opens.
I noticed that the 3D sample file that I used in this tutorial opened immediately in 3D in TurboViewer, but took 15 seconds to open in AutoCAD WS, and then only in plan view, for WS does not support 3D (yet).
How to Use iTunes with TurboViewer
by Doug Cochran
You can transfer drawing files via iTunes between your computer and iPad. The iOS device becomes a USB storage device, but I find it cumbersome to add and remove files this way, because iOS really does not have a good file system. Nevertheless, here is how to this:
1. Attach the USB cable between iPad/iPhone and a USB port on the Mac or Windows computer.
2. Start iTunes.
3. In iTunes, select iPad or iPhone from the Devices list (the blue column on the left).
4. Near the top of iTunes, choose Apps (next to Summary and Info).
5. Scroll down to the Apps section, and then choose TurboViewer. See figure 3.
Figure 3: Selecting drawings to sync in iTunes.
6. In the list of drawing files, choose an action:
- Add selects drawings from your computer, which will be added to iPad/iPhone.
- Save To chooses the folder on your computer, and then saves the selected file from iPad/iPhone.
DraftSight is a no-cost*, easy-to-use 2D CAD product that generally takes a few minutes to download and runs on multiple operating systems, including Microsoft Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, the Mac, and Linux.
Out of the Inbox
GfxSpeakRSN (Randall Newton) tweets, "Creo Sketch 1.0 is free. Sketch 2.0 will also be on Mac. Looks like somebody is aiming at Alias"
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These were the news item that was posted during the last week at our WorldCAD Access blog <worldcadaccess.typepad.com>:
- With last week's SE4 launch event, Solid Edge came out from under the NX shadow (by Roopinder Tara)
- With Creo, PTC's Heppelmann Made a Gutsy Move (by Roopinder Tara)
- Tablet vs. Tablet: 7" Android ($80) vs 10" iOS ($500)
Letters to the Editor
"Do I understand this correctly: Caltrans is slated to move to Civil3d from Microstation and the associated design software? if this is truly the case, this will set the transportation-design industry on-its ear, as Caltrans sets the standards for so many agencies, nationwide."
- Name withheld by request
"I must congratulate Bentley on their MDOT win over Autodesk. Rumor from MDOT is that Autodesk fell flat selling to MDOT with bubbled presentation. I experienced the same attitude when trying to upgrade CAiCE being first told that Autodesk has no such software! Once that was resolved, I was told my two licenses of CAiCE did not exist and therefore cannot be upgraded. After expressing to MDOT my experience with Autodesk, I like to believe my voice was finally heard."
"Your jab about Carl Bass, while funny, was not quite fair. Autodesk competed and lost Michigan. In California, Caltrans threw out Bentley without even evaluating the product because of a technicality in the proposal response. Normally, this would not be an issue except only two companies were competing! To make it worse, this all happened after Caltrans staff initially reviewed only the technical aspects Civil 3D and InRoads, and then selected InRoads as the winner. A few months later they told Bentley that they want to re-evaluate the products with costs included.
"If I were Bentley, I would be ticked off, too. They spent thousands of dollars preparing and demonstrating their product in response to an technical evaluation and win, and then have it thrown out and told to do it all over in a formalized year-and-a-half-long process. I'm sure they were more than ticked off. They go on to spend hundreds of thousands more, bending over backwards to meet their demands of the new RFP process, only to have Caltrans send them home on a technicality and chose the only remaining product, which lost in the previous evaluation.
"Personally, I don't think a letter was enough. This is a privately-held company, which is family run and I'm sure they took it personally, because everything about this process stunk like a skunk. Bottom line, this was not about technology; it was purely politics, and Michigan's few hundred seats dosn't even come close to the thousands of seats used by Caltrans."
"Per my experience, this "Customer's pov is that Creo apps should interop with non-PTC software" hasn't been backed up by purchase orders at all. Until customers start writing their pov [piont of view] into purchase orders, CAD vendors will correctly assume it is not important to the customer, and the data exchange professionals will be moving to work on proprietary formats. We want to get paid, etc. like everybody else, you know.
"(From the dept. of better late than never:) Congratulations on your son's marriage. Somehow I missed the news."
- Name withheld by request
"Thanks for the candid review of Creo. What does "Creo" mean anyways, and what language is it? Don't you get sick and tired of the marketing people shoving their opinions down your throat? That's what I got out of your article anyway.
The editor replies: "From the Latin for the word, create."
Chris responds: "Now I know a Latin word. Thanks! Hmm, well, keep up the good reporting and technical commentary."
"As part of the Revit Technology Conference in Australia last month, for a bit of fun we organised a Revit Top Cat contest. (A play on words of AUGI's Top-Daug contest for AutoCAD, which runs at AU each year. And also because the show is known as 'RTC', hence Revit Top Cat.) Here's a brief summary of the overall results:
http://the-knowledgesmart-blog.blogspot.com/2011/06/revit-top-cat.html. In summary, structural engineers posted the only maximums, MEP rules the day, and in the Revit Battle of the Sexes, the girls came out on top!"
- Rory Vance
"Keep up the good work. I enjoy your articles!"
- Daryl Collins
"...our data is the computer."
- Robert Cringely
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Entire contents copyright 2011 by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved worldwide. Letters sent to the editor are subject to publication. Article reprint fee: $250 and up. All trademarks belong to their respective holders. "upFront.eZine," "The Business of CAD," and "WorldCAD Access" are trademarks of upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. Letters to the editor may be edited for clarity and brevity. Translations and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd.