Skip to content or navigation

Autodesk “detects a tremor in the Force”—Emerging OnShape means one certainty: Apple Mac users win

OnShape’s big press coverage this week has required the response of market leading CAD company Autodesk to rightfully respond. But in doing so, has the response merely signaled the significance this company poses in the market? In the end it probably doesn’t matter much. And the loser in this story isn’t going to be likely either of these companies. One thing is for sure, we know exactly why Apple wins.


Not to over-stretch an enduring Star Wars reference, but Autodesk CEO’s Carl Bass has effectively uttered an analogical reference of sorts…with his riposte this week regarding major cloud-based startup—OnShape.¹

To complete the reference: An old CAD software Jedi master retreats into the dusty canyons of software vets, only to re-emerge a few years later with a very young and promising new apprentice. Meet OnShape—the “new hope,” if you will, expected to help bring order into the CAD universe.

Well, that’s probably as far as the reference really wants to go. If OnShape is a young Luke Skywalker than that would make Autodesk’s new-ish and quite innovative ‘you-know-who’ and that simply isn’t fair. In this story, nobody is the good guy and the bad guy. Autodesk may be as big as the Empire in the vast Star Wars universe, compared to many of its key CAD competitors, but in the MCAD universe Autodesk also plays in, the company has formidable and large foes. It’s just—right now—OnShape isn’t one of them.

Which begs the question. Why was it so necessary (for Bass) to acknowledge OnShape this quickly?

OnShape—a Threat to Autodesk?

Well, based on Carl Bass’ blog post on In the Fold, there were factual inaccuracies emitting from OnShape’s marketing and media attention, inaccuracies requiring quick redress. If you are a CAD user, or just curious, you can read all the details here, but I’ll summarize them in a nutshell.

OnShape is claiming to be the first, of a sorts, to do CAD fully in the cloud. In fact, the claim specifically notes “first full-cloud 3D CAD system.” But Bass retorts, and notes correctly, that AutoCAD 360 was really the first and was launched in January of 2010. The argument ends by drawing attention to Autodesk’s Fusion 360 product, one of the most innovative new cloud-based 3D CAD systems in existence.

01 - Autodesk Fusion 360 Ultimate is the most complete offering in the Fusion 360 lineup.

01 – Autodesk Fusion 360 Ultimate is the most complete offering in the Fusion 360 lineup and is the product most similar to emergent OnShape. Like OnShape, Fusion 360 is extremely modern, cloud-based, on mobile and platform agnostic.

Then Bass counters that OnShape is “confusing the web browser with the cloud.”

Finally, Bass summarizes many, if not the vast majority, of all the ways his company is already working in the cloud, with things like rendering, simulation, analytics, data storage…you name it. But none of this really matters because the point is, if OnShape really didn’t matter they wouldn’t have ended up prime time on Autodesk’s blog radar in the first place.

But they did.

And Now the Good News

The good news is both OnShape and Autodesk’s cloud initiatives and innovations are destroying the dependence on being anchored, ball and chain, to a Windows workstation—in order to create, design, or engineer…everything that technical creative professionals do to prototype the things in this world before they get built or manufactured.

As this publication has discussed several times now with Autodesk executives, a product like Autodesk Fusion 360 enables anywhere, anytime access to project files, data, models, and team collaboration. And all of it works over the web using the latest cloud and web technologies, such as WebGL.

MORE: Autodesk Talks to Architosh About Fusion 360 and The Sea Change in Product Design

By working over the web and utilizing the arsenal of open standards-based browsers, on a multitude of platforms, it means an engineer can design at work on his Windows PC and then continue work at home, for example, on his Mac in the den. It means an engineer can take her iPad to a manufacturing floor and interrogate build and design issues and stay connected to her data. With OnShape’s mobile capabilities that same engineer can even edit and design right on the iPad itself.

02 - OnShape runs on iOS devices and Android in the near future. The mobile app allows full editing. (image: screen grab of video on website, source: OnSite. All rights reserved.)

02 – OnShape runs on iOS devices and Android in the near future. The mobile app allows full editing–that is true 2/3D CAD on a mobile device. (image: screen grab of video on website, source: OnSite. All rights reserved.)

Now, disregarding the minor and major differences between rival programs OnShape and Fusion 360, their similarity, fundamentally, is what really matters in the big picture. These types of tools are going to revolutionize the engineering and design industries. Not overnight, but eventually. In the end, every competitor in the MCAD market—and a bit further the AEC market—will offer their major software tools in a format that works more or less just this way—anywhere, anytime, on any device.²

The reason why this is such good news for Apple is because for years—even in the past few years with all the 34 out of 35 quarters of Mac growth outstripping PC growth hoopla—believe or not, and despite being just a few years away from 100 million Macs installed base, nearly all engineers wanting to work on platforms different than Windows, have had very limited options.

Those days are gone…or soon will be.



1—In the famous George Lucas Star Wars film trilogies, the character Obi-Wan Kenobi, an old man and Jedi Knight, tells young Luke Skywalker, he felt a tremor in the Force, itself a type of energy field that some can feel while others cannot. His feeling the tremor is a sign that something terrible has happened or, in other words, the balance of the Universe, or powers within it, has just titled.  With three new Star Wars films coming later this year, with Episode VII – The Force Awakens, we will all, certainly, start hearing more about disturbances in the Force soon enough, inside, and outside, of the CAD market.

2—anywhere, anytime, on any device, isn’t a slogan of any one company so much as the new default standard for how software wants to work. Over time, all leading software applications will come to lead markets due to a range of factors, one of those being meeting this standard. The assumption that such a standard only applies to the new types of software for cloud and mobile, often referred to as “apps” is false. From Evernote to industry leading MCAD products, market leaders will meet this standard or risk encroachment, and loss of market share, by those that do.