AECBytes on iPad’s Potential in Architecture

I’m a big fan of AECBytes.  I was glad to see in her great article about Autodesk’s recent announcements that Lachmi Khemlani took the opportunity to hypothesis about the future of the iPad in the world of architecture.  Lachmi envisioned using the iPad for design review and collaboration (a vision I completely share). She writes

It is not simply the ability to view drawing files on the iPad that is exciting—it is the potential opening of the floodgates to many more such applications in the near future. Imagine an iPad version of Autodesk Design Review, which would allow models to be viewed and annotated in the same portable and intuitive manner as consumers currently interact with digital content on the iPad. Going further, we could even think of a Navisworks app, which, given the popularity of the application with designers as well as constructors, in the office as well as on site, would be a godsend for multi-disciplinary collaboration and design coordination. Other leading AEC vendors would also go ahead and develop iPad versions of their applications, if they are not doing so already.

She goes on to talk about the potential of using the iPad for content creation and envisions Google Sketch Up on a tablet. I have to admit, I think Sketch Up would be a lot of fun on an iPad but I still struggle with the idea of using the iPad for any sort of serious detailed design.  It reminds me of when Microsoft rolled out the Pen version of Windows a decade ago and everyone started predicting the death of the keyboard. In our Sci-Fi fantasies this sort of UI seems to make great sense but it practice it’s less practical. While the iPad’s screen is large and the touch screen is amazingly responsive – the screen is not quite big enough, and the touchscreen by it’s nature is relatively imprecise.  This in one of the reasons that Architactile is focusing on bubble diagrams – it’s a level of granularity that really works well with iPad’s touchscreen.

That said, I’ve been wrong before. What I do think lies ahead for detailed design is touchscreen enabled Macs which could combine keyboard, mouse and touch paradigms. If iPad is as successful in business as I think it will be, and as the price of touchscreen technology continues to fall, I also think we could potentially see super-sized versions of iPad. I can image a 20″ iPad being used in business and in the classroom. In the AEC space I can imagine a 24″ x 36″ tablet designed for full sized drawings – a scale at which touchscreen for detail design starts becoming really compelling. And that’s the thing, it’s not good enough to simply do detailed design on an iPad (or other tablet) – it has to offer significant and compelling value proposition over the current keyboard/mouse paradigm. It has to be faster, easier, and cheaper. At least today, the compact mobility of the iPad alone doesn’t yet outweigh the efficiency and elegance of desktop CAD and BIM – no matter how cool it might be. The good news is, this is just the beginning.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think there is great potential in touch based detail design tools, but I don’t think it’s the low hanging fruit for iPad.  While not squarely targeted at architects (but in the larger AEC ecosystem) I think vendors like Vela Systems, ProCore (iPhone) , and a la mode are headed in the right direction. I think Autodesk has a huge opportunity here too – like with design review tools as Lachmi suggests – I just hope they don’t get too bogged down in the allure of design tools. It’s just feels like a hammer/screwdriver thing to me.

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