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the archiPad : mobile CAD in the Post-PC era (Part 1) - ArchiMAG

the archiPad

So what does the Tablet Computer have to offer us today, and is it worth all the hype?

Can something like the
iPad really bring a new dimension to the CAD / BIM industry and the architect’s design workflow, from simple 2D drawings to complete virtual experiences?

What is the future of “untethered” design via the
Cloud and its companion, the Tablet?

In my previous
ArchiMAG article (isuue 3/2011), “iPad : the Lord of the Tablets”, I talked about how the iPad is viewed to users and business professionals today, and why it’s considered to be a separate category of computing in the “Post-PC” era with the magical user experience it provides.

Many tech enthusiasts, like myself, believe that the introduction of the first iPad was most certainly a game-changer in the technology landscape, though the release of the iPad 2 brought even more shivers down our spines, by raising the bar yet again. The update was especially important for graphic geeks and design professionals alike, with 9 times faster graphics performance and double the CPU, bringing extra power to process complex drawings and 3D environments.

"We really believe that the iPad represents an inflection point in the CAD industry….it has phenomenal portability with its very long batter life…and with Multi-touch your simply can't match what it can do with any other computing device." (Royal Farros, CEO of IMSI) - via Architosh

This type of multi-touch device can prove beneficial in many fields, but especially in the AEC industry;  from sketching & annotating drawings, to providing a more interactive user interface for viewing & editing 3D models, playing with different lighting and material options, or just navigating through CG environments. 

It’s kind of like the switch when everyone suddenly had mice.....if you kept building applications just for the keyboard, you would have been equally crazy. The same thing is true now with Multi-touch. (Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk) - via Architosh

Imagine “pinching” & “flicking” through a virtual space or actually walking on site to navigate an augmented reality environment - creating a much more “natural” experience for the architect and client - or even editing LIVE models right from the building site while directly connected with the design team back at the office via the Cloud. The possibilities are mind-blowing, but most certainly not beyond our reach!  

CAD on the PAD

While many of the apps here have been developed for Android tablets as well, this article will focus on some iPad apps that have been developed for architects, designers and other professionals in the AEC industry.

Many of us have probably used an iPad at some point as a replacement to our design portfolios, while showing off a great amount of images and drawings at a meeting or even just at the bar with friends, but there's got to be more to it than that, right?

Well, some Apps in the Store have already started to show the power of the iPad in the design process, from viewing 3D models with
iRhino 3DSightSpace 3D, or 3DVIA Mobile, drawing & photo-editing with Brushes, Adobe Eazel or Photoshop Express, 2D CAD drawing with SitePAD, FingerCAD HD, Turboviewer, or GraphPad, and even full 3D modelling with Verto Studio 3D, to name a few.

Autodesk has been stealing the show for a while on the iOS front, with Sketchbook Mobile (paint and drawing), 123D Sculpt (quick and easy 3d modelling), Autodesk Design Review (review and annotate DWF models), Buzzsaw Mobile (project document viewer), Bluestreak (real-time messaging and collaboration), Inventor Publisher Mobile Viewer (3D assembly instructions viewer) and especially Autocad WS, which has registered over 2 million users online with around 4 million drawings uploaded.

Some other major companies, however, are finally catching up and joining the front-line with some amazingly innovative apps, such as Graphisoft’s
BIMx and Abvent’s iVisit 3D.

CAD in the Cloud

CAD in the Cloud

The "
Cloud" seems to be yet another new word buzzing in our ears more and more, and large enterprises such as Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon are investing millions of dollars approaching this new technology. It’s an innovation on a similar level to jumping from basic 2D & 3D CAD to full blown Building Information Modeling (BIM), fundamentally changing how buildings are designed.

I'm not going to get into the intricate details of the Cloud, that's beyond my reach, though it's not such a difficult concept to grasp; most of us have probably used some type of this tech at some point, like Gmail, Google Docs or Dropbox. Going a step further is the concept of Chrome OS or iCloud, but even BIM Server, Graphisoft's valiant effort to efficiently develop and expand open design collaboration via the Cloud.

Essentially it has the ability - with the Tablet Computer as its companion - to reshape AEC workflows and “untether” us from the shackles of the office to design and collaborate freely from wherever we want.

Fundamentally, I see the iPad as a cloud device. Without an internet connection it is a useful device, but connected to the Web it is a dramatically new way of computing. (Sean Flaherty, CEO Nemetschek Vectoworks) - via Architosh

iPad App Showcase

BIMx : ArchiCAD BIM Explorer on iPAD

BIMx icon

One of the highest ranking pages on the blog is an old post from Feb 2010, posing the question if we’ll ever see a version of ArchiCAD on iPad, or even more plausibly something similar to Virtual Building Explorer, to provide real-time 3D navigation and enhanced understanding of ArchiCAD models. Well, I’m sure we’re all excited by what is probably one of the most anticipated architectural apps for iOS, Graphisoft’s BIMx! BIMx - Graphisoft SE

Like its
VBE predecessor, it’s basically a 3D model viewer in an interactive environment with intuitive game-like navigation, but with a few tricks up its sleeve. It allows anyone to view and explore BIM models (exported from ArchiCAD 15 +) without having the actual modeling software. Features I really like are the insanely simple Joystick navigation, fly mode, pinching in and out (like when viewing images on iPad) to “zoom” into the model - effectively quickly transporting to that point - and “Gravity-mode” that keeps you on the ground, making it much more realistic in a “first-person shooter”-like way.

BIMx Artwork

What has also impressed me is Graphisoft’s innovative approach to using the Cloud with it’s Facebook-enabled BIMx community (www.gsbimx.com), where samples can be downloaded and user-created BIMx models can be uploaded, downloaded, “Liked” & shared, creating an evolving buzz through the community. The recent Facebook BIMx competitions have been a lot of fun, where I even got a “Design Wizard” T-shirt for being one of the first to find and send a screenshot of a hidden letter in the BIMx Maze Level 1! For users smart and daring enough to create and upload their 3D BIMx models, they could even end up winning an iPad 2.

BIMx - Graphisoft SE

iVisit 3D : Design Visualization Panorama Exploration


Abvent’s companion app to its highly successful standalone rendering software “Artlantis”, iVisit 3D iVisit 3D - Abvent R&D is more a design visualization tool, rather than a navigation app for 3D models. It’s a tool focused towards architects and designers mostly, as after creating them using Artlantis Studio 4, you can export the model with specific rendered panoramas. Available in two versions, Lite and Pro, the former is completely free, but limits the ability to view one panoramic model per day.

iVisit3D screenshots

As with most iPad viewer apps, iVisit 3D allows sample models to be downloaded directly from within the app, letting you get stuck in quickly to explore some panoramas in full rendered glory. One of my favorite features is definitely the option to physically move the iPad to rotate through the panoramas.

iVisit 3D
iVisit 3D - Abvent R&D

Autocad WS : Cloud CAD drawing
AutoCAD WS logo

As mentioned previously, Autodesk is a big player taking advantage of the benefits of the Cloud. AutoCAD WS on iOS AutoCAD WS - Autodesk Inc. began its first steps as Autodesk Lab’s experimental online CAD environment “Project Butterfly”, which set the task to address the issues of working CAD in a browser, back in 2010. It started small by creating, viewing & sharing drawings on the web, advancing to now being able to sync between computers, the web and mobile devices.

I won’t go into too much detail about the app, that’s for another future mega-article, though some of the best features are the ability to open DWG and DXF files, add text notes and revision clouds, accurately drawing shapes and measuring distances, and especially offline access to your files. Definitely worth a try!

Autocad WS
AutoCAD WS - Autodesk Inc.

SightSpace 3D : Augmented Reality Sketchup
SightSpace 3D logo

Augmented Reality is one of the newest innovations in tech; it’s essentially the superimposition of graphics, audio and other sense enhancements through a display onto the real world, thus “enhancing” our reality.

One of the more impressive apps to hit the App Store this year is SightSpace 3D SightSpace 3D - Limitless Computing, a great app for architects and urban planners allowing you not only to view your SketchUp models on iPad, but also to see them directly superimposed on the real world through the iPad 2 camera in real time! Just point the iPad to face the proposed site and see the 3D model come to life directly on the land, while adapting to your motion around the real-world site.

SightSpace Screenchot 1 SightSpace Screenchot 1

"Existing environments, like landscapes and trees, can be easily incorporated into the view, in real time. SightSpace 3D can also be utilized by interior designers to view furniture, art, flooring, and other components long before building begins." - Dr. Errin T. Weller (President of Limitless Computing Inc.)

SightSpace 3D
SightSpace 3D - Limitless Computing

These are just a few of the many Apps I’ll be covering in detail in the next series of posts, so stay tuned for more!

Don’t miss Part 2 of the article > “the Shape of Things to Come”, describing some great concepts of future products and technologies, hints on what's waiting just over the horizon, and some of my favorite rumors and concepts of the future of CAD and 3D technology.

Check out the full article on my Portfolio site

the archiPad : mobile CAD in the Post-PC era” was published in issue 4/2011 of ArchiMAG magazine

Apollo Spiliotis


Apollo Spiliotis is a Part II Architectural Assistant (Junior Architect), founder of archiCADmonkey, part-time web designer and Mac / tech geek extraodinaire. Check him out on Linkedin at

For more information about archiCADmonkey visit the blog
About page or swing by the Facebook page www.facebook.com/archicadmonkey





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