Part II: Why Graebert is Going Mobile Now, Cloud Later
by Ralph Grabowski
ARES Touch is, in my opinion, the most advanced mobile CAD app today, and so it is interesting to look at where Graebert Gmbh wants to take it. In part II this week, let's see why Graebert went first for mobile CAD, instead of the cloud.
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ARES Touch for Android has been much longer in beta than I expected, and it still is. (See Figure 1.) Last week the company opened the beta program to anyone who clicks the Join Now button near the bottom of the https://www.graebert.com/en/arestouch Web page.
Figure 1 ARES Touch is Graebert Gmbh's app for CAD on Android tablets
The reason for the long beta: there is a lot to rethink when porting most of of a mouse-and-keyboard-oriented desktop CAD program over to a touch-only, keyboard-less tablet. No other CAD vendor has set as ambitious a target, not even Autodesk.
Why CAD Vendors Aren't Making Full-Featured CAD Apps
As described last week in upFront.eZine #867, there is insufficient money in mobile apps. Either apps suffer from few downloads or from the freemium complex. Still today it is unsurprising to see a CAD app on the Android store with the dismal download statistic of 100. (Apple does not provide download stats.) Meanwhile, smartphone and tablet users expect software to be all free. In this lose-lose environment, CAD vendors aren't inclined to spend money -- even as they feel the pressure to keep their toes in the chilly waters of online app stores.
And so here's what users (I won't call them "customers") get in return for their miserliness: a toe of a CAD program, apps that merely view drawings, or at best make rudimentary changes. To force a few more fistfuls of dollars out of users, CAD vendors cripple their free apps and tease out payments through on-going subscriptions or one-time Pro updates. How few dollars? $5-$50 in a world in which vendors traditionally enjoy charging four- and five-figure price tags for desktop software.
So, they're stuck. They have little financial incentive to go big, yet vendors daren't go home.
Oh, and that other problem -- insufficient hardware -- is an issue no longer. Mobile CPU speeds now go beyond 2GHz, operating RAM reaches 4GB, and storage is plentiful -- both on-device and on-line. In a twist of irony, the latest Android tablets are more powerful than Apple's newest MacBook latops.
Why Graebert Wants Full-Featured mobileCAD
We're excited, because mobile is churning the CAD market like the Internet before in 2000 and the DOS/Unix->Windows transition before that in 1995. Just as CAD vendors were puzzled how to react to the pressure they faced from the Internet and Windows opportunities, they are still unsure in which direction to strike at mobile:
Among tier-1 vendors, Autodesk and Dassault Systemes are convinced they must follow the cloud to wherever it leads them, thus hoping to assure their companies' futures. Siemens PLM and PTC are waiting to see the mistakes made by the others, thus hoping to avoid the cost from plunging blindly ahead.
As for second-tier (under a billion dollars a year in revenues) and third-tier (under $100 million) CAD vendors, they haven't the financial resources to make a total pivot like an Autodesk -- with one exception. Under the radar, Graebert Gmbh accumulated the second-largest base of users of .dwg editing software. Seven million people are running its desktop CAD software under brand names like ARES Commander, DraftSight, and CorelCAD.
Now the company wants to repeat the same success on portable devices. But why would Graebert emphasize mobile, instead of following Autodesk's lead to also do server-based CAD? Autodesk is chasing the cloud for these reasons:
To make some aspects of desktop and mobile software more powerful by performing certain calculations and drawing translation through remote servers
To make CAD program settings and drawing files available universally to users, like the way that Google docs and Chrome bookmarks are; the computer at which you sit down isn't supposed to matter
To rope customers into paying annually for services, instead of just once every few years for perpetual software licenses (which Autodesk is now discontinuing)
To go in a bet-the-company direction that Autodesk management hopes few competitors will dare to follow, or could afford to go with
In its vision, Autodesk suffers, however, from being USA-centric, like Apple with iPhone. Steve Jobs designed the iPhone for people like himself: people who are (a) wealthy and (b) live in the small part of the world that's well-connected. As a result, iPhone is the best selling smartphone in USA and... parts of China. Elsewhere it sells less well or even poorly, because the bulk of the world's population (a) isn't wealthy and (b) lives without reliable electricity or Internet connections.
Autodesk and Apple picked their markets. To differentiate itself, Graebert needed to break away from the crowd of view-only and edit-barely apps. It decided on the path of writing a full-featured CAD program for tablets. The aim: to put as much of the ARES CAD program from the desktop onto an Android as permitted by tablet technology. But why take on this tough job when no one else is?
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...article now continues.
First of all, Graebert has the experience of putting a lot of a CAD program onto a small form factor, as it did in years prior with portable Windows CE devices.
Secondly, Graebert is located in Europe yet has strong ties to India and the Middle East for business and personal reasons. The company understands that the bulk of the world's population lives in areas that lack reliable electricity and Internet connections. This means that today mobile is more important than the cloud. (Not that it is ignoring server-based CAD, Recall that the company showed Xenon first in upFront.eZine #855.)
Thirdly, Graebert makes most of its sales from OEM products. As well, the company sees that it is important for desktop and mobile software have similar workflows -- notwithstanding UI differences.
Furthermore, Graebert went with Android because it is designed for everyone in the world, and so is available in the broadest range of prices, sizes, and capabilities -- as opposed to the iPad, which Steve Jobs designed for his First World audience.
Here is how Graebert explains it:
"In North America and Europe, Graebert sees that users have one or more computers, even more than one OS (Mac and/or Windows and/or Linux), plus one or more smartphones, plus one or more tablets. They also tend to use larger screens and purchase premium products. This market is a target for Graebert's cross-device offer, in which customers pay for one license and then use the software on tablets, smartphones, and other PCs.
"In Asia and Africa, people tend to buy one computing-communications device to suit all their needs. Typically, they want a phablet [phone with a 6" screen or larger] to be a laptop, phone, camera, and tablet. These markets are showing a very strong interest for Graebert's ARES Touch app that performs most CAD functions on a small device."
Surya Sarda, who heads Graebert sales in India, describes the world's second largest mobile market to us:
"More than 50% of the Indian population is below the age of 25. The preferred device of this generation is the smartphone or phablet, with a laptop or tablet used only as a backup for tasks that cannot be done on phones. Until recently, India was the second largest telecomm market in the world and has by now probably overtaken China as the largest telecomm one. South Korea is still the most mobile savvy market in Asia.
"LTE [high-speed cellular data] is available only in a few cities in India, and so the next big push is to make it available throughout the country. Until that happens, cloud computing with phones and phablets as client devices doesn't make sense."
Ergo, you need software that runs fully on a phablet, not through a remote server or with a desktop computer. Which is the market Graebert is addressing.
Ericsson is one of the largest manufacturers of cellular data switches, and twice a year updates a report on worldwide mobile use. Their definition of "mobile" is any device that connects to the cellular system, rather than through WiFi. So, when reading their reports, keep in mind that they have a financial interest in exploding data use around the world. Nevertheless...
"India, China, and Japan are among the fastest growing markets in terms of mobile subscriptions. India alone represents currently 25% of the new subscribers.
"Mobile data consumption will be multiplied in the next five years by 12x on tablets, by 10x on smartphones. This is mostly due to video consumption, but it shows that people will spend more and more time on these devices compared to computers and even TVs. By 2020, a third of mobile users will have LTE [fourth generation data access through cellular] connectivity, which shows a strong potential for mobile and cloud professional apps."
Graebert's head of marketing and sales Cedric Desbordes tells me, "I feel this is showing a change of paradigm, especially in emerging markets and Asia, where mobile will become the first and preferred device compared to the desktop. Professionals will likely continue using computers at work, but smartphones and tablets will reach 6.5 billion units by 2020 -- roughly the same as the world population. As a result CAD on mobile becomes a must-have, if you are a seller of CAD software."
In the next issue, part III:Rethinking How mobileCAD Works
And One More Thing...
Origin focuses on dimensional metrology, and now has its Equator Authoring programs for PCDMIS and Calypso available as a stand-alones or as add-ons to CheckMate for Solidworks.
Now, I am no expert on metrology [science of measurement], and so I'd rather quote them: "This software reads in a typical PCDMIS program including the golden part measurement data and outputs an Equator/Modus-compliant DMIS program and a CALibration file. All that is left to do is master the golden part and run your production parts." http://www.originintl.com
Even More News
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These are some of the articles that appeared on WorldCAD Access during the last week:
7 Ways to Cram More Apps onto Your Android Tablet
How much tablet can you get for $200?
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Interesting variance on those 360 downloads: 90,000 [Android comments] to only 450 [iOS comments]. I would have thought thousands of architects on Mac mobile systems would have downloaded it. Heck, I'm more the engineering type and I have it on my iPad. Of course, here we go again with AutoCAD 360 vs. Autodesk 360, or is it A360?? Aaaaarrrrrrrgggggghhhhhhh!!!! - P. R.
Always look forward to your articles, especially on CAD. I was wondering if you’d care to look into doing a piece on Kubotek’s Keycreator. Judging from the videos on the website, it seems to offer quite a bit for the price. Might be a good alternative for those looking to jump to 3D without a having to deal with a questionable business model. - Tim Neumann, project engineer Addison Fabricators