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Academia: The Next Generation Wants Apple
When it comes to the Mac in CAD and 3D markets and its relationship to academia, perhaps no better person to talk to is Dr. Chris Yessios, founder and creator of the 3D stalwart application, formZ. formZ was born in academia, more than 20 years ago. And Yessios, as a professor at Ohio State University for many years, understands the academic environment’s influence on adoption.
“From what we know, the Mac has always been popular with individual academic users…this is faculty and students that buy computers for themselves,” Yessios remarks. “However, when academic units buy computers for their labs they have favored PCs because they have been significantly cheaper.” Yessios further remarks that universities, however, have been on a trend to maintain fewer and fewer labs and they expect students to have personal computers. This trend thus favors Macs, putting the costs and decisions in the hands of students themselves.
If the cost of a computer is the student’s burden then it tilts the field in the direction of Apple as long as the software choices are there. solidThinking, Inc., and its parent company Altair, both said affirmative remarks about the Mac in the CAD space, noting that because solidThinking is truly cross-platform adoption of their industrial design application is rising in colleges. James Scapa, CEO of Altair, remarked: “We always said that if anyone ever put a great UI [user interface] on top of Unix they could win this space.” “That’s what Apple did so let’s see how it plays out now.” Scapa’s comments reflects on the history of Unix in research and academia, a connection with very strong ties.
But it may be Autodesk, the giant player in the market, with its very strong presence in colleges around the world, who may have the best feel for college computing environments. “You know the Mac has always been the dominant device on college campuses,” says Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk. “I think as you move forward I think the change is that people now have an expectation of also their iPhones and iPads being very capable computing devices and doing more and more stuff there.”
The Cloud: Apple, the Mac and iOS
And when Bass speaks about iPhones and iPad’s doing more and more stuff…the way that work gets accomplished is often with the assistance of the cloud. As we noted in our second article, “The iPad: How the CAD/3D industry is being changed,” the cloud and the iPad are partners in a changing computational paradigm. But how does this affect CAD and 3D? We asked some of our CEOs.
James Scapa, CEO of Altair, reminded us that Altair has been doing cloud computing for years. “Altair has, for years, been a leader in grid computing technology which is a key enabler of cloud computing, since it provides the underlying scheduling, load balancing, provisioning and data management.”
Scapa too sees the iPad as a natural partner for the cloud. “The iPad provides a natural means for users to orchestrate and access all of their work,” says Scapa, “from wherever they are.” He further notes that in the world of engineering the “iPad provides a great opportunity for engineers to stay connected to their projects.” In Scapa’s view engineering has many benefits when the iPad gets paired up with access to remote data and web services.
“There is no doubt we will see many engineering specific apps emerge for iPad,” says Scapa. “from simple special purpose calculators to project query and reporting tools. The iPad is sort of a gateway product from Apple which can draw new users into the Apple community and further the adoption of OS X.”
The iPad becomes ‘gateway’ to OS X because in essence it is a truly effective computing device when paired with the cloud. This is the same view Carl Bass shared in his interview with us. For Autodesk, the cloud plus iPad conjures up new types of workflows. Autodesk’s project Neon, a network cloud-based rendering service, is one example.
Sean Flaherty, CEO of Nemetschek Vectorworks, said that he sees the cloud as an important part of the future of the CAD industry but that many people first think of the cloud in the wrong way. “I think they are often thinking of application virtualization,” he says, “such as running Vectorworks through a web connection. This certainly has a place–we are seeing this particularly in the government sector–but [it] isn’t a disruptive technology that will fundamentally change the way people work.”
Flaherty doesn’t see the cloud as meaning the end of desktop applications as we know them today. “I do think people will be moving towards a mix of applications and services that use the cloud to keep everything working together,” he notes.
This of course brings up Apple’s iCloud service that is scheduled for fall of 2011. Apple’s iCloud presents a particular type of cloud computing paradigm. Flaherty notes that the first wave of cloud applications work in concert with your desktop applications–similarly to how a web service like network rendering may work. Your rendering app would be able to upload render tasks and these would be handled on web application servers.
Apple’s iCloud is somewhat different. “Apple with iCloud is now promoting your iCloud account as your “master” account over all your desktop and mobile identities,” says Flaherty. And this works in conjunction with the iPad. “The iPad is creating a new class of authoring apps,” says Flaherty, “that do lightweight edits to heavyweight data, instead of the traditional viewer versus editor split.”
Flaherty is not alone in seeing iCloud offering a fresh approach. Viktor Varkonyi, CEO of BIM leader Graphisoft, noted that Apple’s iCloud does offer a fresh approach to cloud utilization. “Putting key parts of the business logic into the cloud–as offered by the iCloud API–combined with thick clients,” says Varkonyi, “can produce hybrid solutions that combine the best of both worlds, easily beating monolithic systems in both performance and quality of user experience.”
next page: Apple in CAD/3D: Opportunities and Room for Improvement