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Top CAD/3D CEO’s Talk About Apple in the Industry

In our third article in our 2011 State of Apple in CAD/3D industries series, we deal with many of the bigger issues by speaking to several of the industry’s leading CAD/3D software CEOs and company presidents.

This group of distinguished leaders range from the world’s largest CAD company to influential innovators. This is the first time such a group, both in this article and the series in general, have been gathered together to share their voices on matters relating to Apple. Taken together, they conspire to give us an informed and engaging map–if not a very accurate one–of the state of affairs for Apple and its platforms in CAD and 3D.

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Their views also paint a specific picture for us about their companies–and sometimes products–how they may see things differently from others or the industry in general.

We’ll start this trek by looking at Apple’s growth, in general and in specific….to the Mac and the wave of key software CAD or 3D tools that have been released during the past decade. We were very excited to produce the key graphic of this article (see image 01 below). It was the first time we laid out a timeline image of such software releases. Superimposed over Apple’s revenue and Mac growth picture it clearly stimulates our imagination while providing a soothing sense of accomplishment.

In this article we’ll touch on the growth question which touches aspects such as what developers actually need on the tools side as well as market pressures and business opportunities. The next-generation is always important and Apple has been said to hold the zeitgeist for the young. We’ll briefly cover university changes as we head into the cloud, iOS and the Mac. This article–nor the series–would not be complete without some captured criticism. And we’ll have even more of that in the final articles of the series.

Where are the opportunities for Apple? Where is Apple trying to take the industry and how does it affect CAD and 3D markets? This is what we get into in this special feature, and as always we hope to hear from you below. We start with growth.

Gauging Growth: The Mac in CAD/3D Today

There are some pundits, bloggers and old-school journalists who still find it hard to believe this is all happening. Not only do they find the Mac’s still minority share a sign of its low importance but they struggle contemplating the popularity of Apple’s iOS devices in CAD and 3D industries as well.

01 – Apple’s Annual Revenue in billions and Mac shipments in millions at each forth quarter of the year with key software arrivals on the Mac CAD or 3D markets. Apple’s Mac shipments have essentially quadrupled from about 1 million per quarter to 4 million per quarter. The Mac market is four times larger now than ten years ago.

But things really have changed. The chart above is both revealing and subtle. Yes, Apple’s revenues have truly taken off (and largely due to iPod, iPhone and now iPad) but during this ten year period Apple has more than quadrupled Mac shipments. More importantly, it essentially did most of this growth during the years its revenue picture began to steeply rise. And it has never been steeper.

While the Mac may not yet be the dominant platform in many CAD and 3D segments, make no mistake about it, many segments have changed dramatically over the past decade. As Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk explains, “It is highly desirable by a number of our customers, particularly in some specific segments, to want to work on Macs. One are architects, two are industrial designers and a third are creative digital artists.” (more Carl Bass views here)

“It is really driven by what our customers want,” says Bass, “and they have spoken pretty loudly. They want to work on Mac.”

The rise and interest in the Mac may be best validated by Autodesk’s CEO but some critics and competition could argue that such a view is doubly optimistic and reflective of the company’s recent investment into the platform. In fact, when speaking to two of the industry’s most respected company heads with longtime investments and support of the Mac in CAD, we found more moderate, but still positive, views.

For example, Sean Flaherty, CEO of Nemetschek Vectorworks, the longtime leader in CAD on the Mac platform, didn’t directly say they see continued growth but instead answered: “We’ve been the CAD leader on the Mac for 15 years so a boost in popularity for the Macintosh definitely propels Vectorworks sales forward.” Interestingly, he remarked that Apple’s Mac popularity has aided CAD and 3D developers by improving the development tools and graphics environment.

“Toolkit developers now more commonly develop Mac versions of their technology,” says Flaherty, “so we have a greater breadth of technology to choose from for integration into Vectorworks.” Flaherty made was some saw as a brilliant decision of choosing to integrate Parasolid, arguably the world’s most advanced modeling geometry kernel, into Vectorworks several years ago. His point about toolkit developers cannot be taken lightly. Like other types of developers, the pressure on toolkit developers to support Apple’s Mac OS X platform is another sign that software developers are in need to bring their software to the Mac platform.

Other newer Mac developers may have a hard time gauging interest in the overall CAD and 3D market for the Mac. Bob McNeel of McNeel and Associates, the makers of Rhino, remarked about the verticality of his company’s application. “Since we are only in the 3D design for fabrication world, we have a pretty narrow view of the whole 3D market,” he said. “In general,” McNeel notes, “it [3D to fabrication] is growing quickly because the cost of 3D fabrication tools is dropping quickly.”

While many segments within the design markets are growing or even exploding in interests–like the “makers market” for example–there is often an assumption that if you are going to develop for any kind of “creative” market you need to support Mac too. “The Mac has always been the platform of choice for the ‘creative’ designer,” says Bob McNeel, “but it seems like the Apple brand has been much enhanced by their mobile product offerings in many of our market segments.” McNeel is referring to the use of Apple laptops often running in Boot Camp to run Rhino and other “maker” tools and 3D prototyping software. “I don’t have any idea how many also boot in OS X.” he said.

The high-level view about the growth question requires a two-fold approach. Firstly, as the chart (see image 01) above shows there has been explosive growth and interest in Apple, generating immense focus on iOS and a steady four-fold expansion of the Mac market. However, and secondly, there are clearly challenges in recognizing what segments are growing, how to identify them, and sometimes technical challenges in counting or measuring them.

Dr. Chris Yessios of AutoDesSys explains that the same application can be installed on either platform. “The ‘renewed’ popularity of the Mac has definitely affected our sales,” he said, “even though we cannot really tell who buys for the Mac and who for the PC.”

next page: Academia: The Next Generation Wants Apple

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