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Commentary: Apple and BIM: Should Apple Buy Gehry Technologies?

Some Say BIM is just too darn hard. Could Apple make the most powerful tool ever vastly easier to master?

In October of 2006 I was invited to attend a symposium in Washington DC put together by the Center for Building Science and Performance and the AIA (American Institute of Architects). The topic was BIM and its influence on the building envelope and design and performance. This was a very interesting event with the industry’s biggest names and stakeholders in attendance.

At the event then Gehry Technologies CEO, Malcolm Davies, PhD, made a series of interesting statements during his otherwise very good presentation. This of course made the presentation all the more memorable. In discussing the industry’s difficulty in adopting a BIM methodology, Davies said that he felt BIM tools were still too difficult to use and could be made much easier. He cited, to many people’s surprise, Apple’s iPod as an example of power and ease of use, and how the company revolutionized the digital music experience. He expressed that such a transformation needed to take place with BIM software.

That idea was tantalizing — do to BIM what Apple had done to digital music. Yet even more interesting was Davies’ comment about Gehry and Steve Jobs being friends (or the intimation that they were friends) and the intimation that there had been some discussion about what Jobs needed to do was to buy Frank Gehry’s company and revolutionize BIM.

That idea that Apple buy Gehry Technologies and revolutionize the way architects and engineers design and develop building designs was very thought provoking, on several levels. Firstly, if any company could revolutionize the user interface of what a BIM (building information modeling) tool should really look like it was Apple. Apple is the one company with the deepest talent and history of making ground-breaking user interfaces. The types of UI’s that are game changers.

Secondly, Apple already has the experience in buying very highend professional software tools and streamlining them and bringing them back to market at radically lower price points, thereby quickly establishing momentum and leadership in specific software sectors. Apple has already done this in filmsound and effects software.

Thirdly, Apple is all about forward-looking technology and BIM is perfectly avant-garde enough for Apple. Richard Kerris (former Sr. Director of Worldwide Developer Relations) , who is no longer with Apple but was very much responsible for getting Alias’ Maya on the Mac platform, once told me that Apple (meaning Steve Jobs) wasn’t interested in markets that were already established, they were interested in “the next revolution,” akin to the desktop publishing revolution that helped cement the Mac in the history of computing in the first place. If you look at the history of the company’s recent hits that isn’t entirely so but the general theory and strategy still holds.

This is why BIM, green design and eco-oriented technology tools — together as a next revolution — are perfectly suited for Apple’s touch.

However, as much as the idea of Gehry Technologies and Appletogether sounds really cool perhaps this is not the best direction Apple could take if it so desired to aggressively enter the architecture and BIM markets. Perhaps a smarter acquisition might be Nemetschek of Germany which due to several acquisitions in the past few years has rounded out nicely as a formidable software powerhouse in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) markets.

Apple’s vast $19.4 billion and growing cash assets, its increasingly enterprise worthiness, its recent PA Semi acquisition and stellar software prowess all bode well for it to enter a market that is tangent to its other professional markets (which architecture is). On top of that, Apple is already 2-3 times more popular in architecture than it is in the general computing market.

Tomorrow we’ll look more closely at Nemetschek AG and Apple.

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