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Special Feature: The State of the Union on Mac CAD

Architosh delivers an update on the state of progress on Mac CAD industries, citing facts, figures, industry player views, and notes on the latest developments in new software products for the industry.

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It’s that time of the year, time for Architosh to review the state of all things Macintosh CAD and 3D for professionals and students. In this article we will focus just on the CAD part.

We have much good news to share on this front, as Apple in general continues to grow its dominance across several technology sectors and continues to widen its appeal with its Mac OS X computers.

The Mac’s Global Picture

Before we dig into the details a quick summary is in order. Everyone in the tech world already knows Apple continues to grow its base of customers, mostly at the head of its popular iOS devices (iPhone and iPad). But what about its Mac product line?

01 - Should Apple consider making one of these an iMac Pro? Architosh has collected data that strongly suggest that the iMacs keep getting so powerful that they suite a large class of pro users who previously used pro towers.

01 – the iMac is a tremendously popular computer and one gaining in use in CAD industries.

In Apple’s fourth fiscal quarter of 2014 the company posted a record 5.5 million Mac units shipped for the final quarter, with over 18 million Macs shipped for the year. In fact, for the final quarter, Apple shipped more Macs and iOS devices than all other Windows computers combined worldwide. The global Windows PC market is suppose to be tremendous—the very backbone of the IT industry. And it is. But Apple is now beating that industry and with killer profit margins that none of its Windows PC rivals possess.

MORE: It’s official: Apple sells more computers than all Windows PCs combined

In short, Apple itself, in terms of units of computing devices, is as big as the Windows universe but with far better profit margins—profit margins that fuel Apple’s incredible research and development efforts.

The Mac in the CAD World: Fantastic Upside

There used to be an argument against the Mac in the CAD world due to the Mac’s total installed base being considered too small. It didn’t matter how hot Apple was or how cool and powerful its latest Mac Pro workstations were, the criticism was always the same. It went like this:

Developing complex CAD software takes years of effort and substantial costs. In order to justify the expense of porting or writing CAD tools from scratch we need a sizable addressable market to sell into to recoup our development expenses. Who and in what number can buy our CAD product if we port them to the Mac?

It is a very fair line of thinking. Few companies have had the guts to just jump in to Mac OS X-land with an established PC CAD product without doing extensive research first. There have been some, like @Last Software with its popular SketchUp, but they are the rare exception.

How Number One CAD Giant Autodesk Sees It

It turns out that the world’s largest CAD developer, software giant Autodesk, has determined an approach to gauging the Mac CAD market based on acquired data related to percentages. Micah Dickerson, product manager for Autodesk AutoCAD for Mac, told Architosh in a recent story that estimates they utilize are “for the CAD market on Mac [to] range anywhere from 1 to 3 percent of total Mac users.”

01 - Apple Mac installed base reaches 80 million midway through 2014, well on its way to 100 million Macs worldwide. (source: image courtesy APPL Investors.net. Source Apple, Inc. All rights reserved).

02 – Apple Mac installed base reaches 80 million midway through 2014, well on its way to 100 million Macs worldwide. (source: image courtesy APPL Investors.net. Source Apple, Inc. All rights reserved).

Micah continues, as he discusses the story and progress of AutoCAD on Mac saying, “we’ve seen significant growth.” This statement is more understandable once someone puts the numbers together. Take a look at the chart above. (image 01).

Ten years ago in 2004 the Mac installed base was touted at 20 million users. At that time, 1 percent of the installed base was 200,000 users. But here at Architosh we know that between all the five leading CAD vendors on the Mac, back in 2004, there were more than 200,000 users on Mac. Now that the Mac has gained in popularity we feel that the estimate of 1-3 percent is not only fair but likely closer to the upper mid-range between 1-3 percent.

The Mac CAD Market Today

From the chart above one can see that the installed Mac base grew by 20 million from mid year 2011 through mid year 2014. That’s three years and 6.7 million new Mac users per year.

On a per year basis (6,700,000 x 0.1 = 67,000 ; x 0.2 = 134,000 ; x 0.3 = 201,000 users) the Mac’s addressable CAD market grows by as little as 67,000 new potential users to as much as 200,000. At Apple’s current rate the company will have an installed base of 100 million Mac users in just 2.5 years or perhaps in time for WWDC 2017.  And by that time Apple may have 3 million Mac CAD users worldwide, or at the very least somewhere north of 1.5 million. Either way, both of those numbers warrant the attention of major CAD developers going forward, and we are seeing it.

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With an annual growth rate of up to 200,000 new users, it’s easy to understand why Autodesk re-entered the Mac CAD market several years ago. Even if half of all Autodesk AutoCAD on Mac users were formally running it on Windows, reducing the true per-seat upside of the Mac market’s growth, the risk of losing customers to rivals by not supporting the Mac natively becomes an increasing risk to CAD market leaders. Autodesk, in both its market wisdom and the fact that its own employees are increasingly preferring Macs, has moved aggressively over the past several years to support the Mac market with its many design tools.

In the wake of those decisions several years ago, a whole slew of Autodesk rivals have followed suit, many of them with sizable market power and technical know-how. Meanwhile, the Mac CAD market’s stalwart developers continue to grow, partially aided by a burgeoning Mac installed base and growing preferences in the overall computer industry for all-things-Apple.

2015: The Year Mechanical CAD Goes Mac

After discussing the CAD market with many of the industry’s leading CAD companies over the past year, this author feels rather confident stating that 2015 will be the year the MCAD market starts to really pay some attention to the Mac.

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The horizon looks like this for MCAD on the Mac. Shortly we will see Germany’s Graebert release a specific MCAD product for Mac that focuses on factory floors and equipment placed on them. More importantly, we will continue to see strong growth with “mechanical parts” and industrial design on Mac with such tools like solidThinking’s Inspire and Evolve, plus Autodesk Fusion 360. But the big news coming, hopefully in 2015, will be OnShape’s new cloud-based and platform agnostic OnShape, from the veterans behind MCAD leader SolidWorks.

OnShape’s webpage simply states, “The World Has Changed.” The company is aiming to bring industrial strength MCAD to the new world of computing dictated by “applying cloud, web and mobile technologies to CAD.” If the OnShape folks are as successful as they are setting out to be, all their rivals will surely follow. In a few years we may see cloud-based, platform agnostic tools from MCAD leaders like SolidWorks and Parametric Technology Corporation. Autodesk, for its part, is already moving in that direction. The future of Inventor is being modeled in the avant garde product Fusion 360.

Today the most powerful MCAD product on the Mac is likely Siemens PLM’s NX 9. However, computer-aided engineering powerhouse Altair Engineering has its popular HyperWorks suite on Mac OS X natively as well.

next page: AEC Growth and Future of Mac CAD Hardware

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Reader Comments

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