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More Relevant Than Ever—Autodesk Totally Committed to AutoCAD and The Mac

Autodesk has just released its most Mac-centric version of AutoCAD ever. And the company continues deep investment in its most famous product.


This week Autodesk released its 2017 versions of AutoCAD for the Mac. Without missing a beat, the company again delivered ever more Apple-centric personality traits in its flagship product line designed to run on Apple’s very latest Mac operating system. Moreover, the company says it continues to make deep investments in AutoCAD—and its version for Mac.

MORE: Autodesk Announces New AutoCAD 2017 for Mac and AutoCAD LT for Mac

This is all good news for AutoCAD fans. However, Autodesk’s forward-facing technology plans seem to point in directions that can make one wonder how AutoCAD fits in. Isn’t the future of CAD not in DWG? And isn’t Apple seemingly moving away from its pro customers?

2 – 5 Million Times a Day

Indeed, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass told a financial analyst recently that they “have a firm belief that engineering software is going to move to the cloud.” It is true that this newest release of AutoCAD 2017 for Mac is the first version that only works through cloud-based subscription licensing; however, the idea that the lingua franca of the CAD world—the DWG file format—must die a slow death to the cloud is nonsense.

“[The] DWG file format is opened between 2 and 5 million times a day,” says Marcus O’Brien, senior product line manager, Autodesk. “It is absolutely as relevant, if not more relevant than it ever was.”

Autodesk has many competitors in DWG CAD who would happily second O’Brien’s statement. Bricsys, Dassault, Graebert, Corel—they all play in the DWG sandbox. And they all have ambitious plans.

More Alphas or Betas Than Ever Before

While Autodesk has both big and small competitors nipping at their heels, the company isn’t sitting idle. “Our competitors are always going to say they are doing things we’re not doing,” says O’Brien. “But we are continually investing in this space…and when you get your hands on AutoCAD 2017 for Mac this Monday, you will see that investment.”

Autodesk told Architosh that this version of AutoCAD for the Mac had more alphas and beta versions than any prior release. “The reason we did that is that we wanted to incorporate as much customer feedback as is possible,” says O’Brien.

01 - AutoCAD 2017 for Mac's new user interface features streamlined customization of the tool palettes and much more.

01 – Autodesk’s new AutoCAD 2017 for Mac and AutoCAD LT 2017 for Mac feature an updted user interface (UI) with deep customization capabilities.

The new AutoCAD 2017 for Mac and its LT little sister product feature broad new Mac-centric user-interface improvements. Full-screen app mode makes good use of dockable palettes and Apple’s Mac App framework for multiple sized icons. Here’s how it works: the user can fully customize tool icons, group them per taste, and size them up or down based on which they use most. And AutoCAD 2017 for Mac supports macOS Sierra’s Split-Screen mode so it can run multiple sessions of itself.

“Now you can do side-by-side comparisons running two separate AutoCAD sessions,” says Autodesk product manager, Rajeshree Dembla. “That makes it much more productive—even on a MacBook Pro.”

MacBook Pro Use High for AutoCAD

Autodesk has long been telling us how the Mac version of AutoCAD is made especially for Apple’s users. Many veteran CAD journalists and pundits have a hard time imagining workflows that don’t reflect the Baby Boomer generation, desktop-bound CAD reality. But those days are truly fading.

The tech press is awash in 2016 in stories about Apple seemingly taking its eye off the ball when it comes to Mac. Alas, the reality on the ground is quite different, and Autodesk’s many customers love the Mac. “The MacBook Pro is a very popular device,” says O’Brien. “I think it is a device that has been optimized for running programs like AutoCAD.”

O’Brian noted that at AU 2016 this year the company heard from its customers that they want to make its Mac products even more Mac-like. In AutoCAD 2017 for Mac Autodesk may have gone as far as one can go. Support for macOS Sierra’s key new UI/UX features (like Split Screen mode) being a prime example.

02 - AutoCAD 2017 for Mac and the LT version feature a robust start-up palette.

02 – AutoCAD 2017 for Mac and the LT version feature a robust start-up palette.

“A lot of our customers actually take their MacBook Pros out to the field,” adds O’Brien. “It’s absolutely important that we get the maximum use of the area of the screens on their MacBook Pros. One of the reasons we put the tools on the left-hand side is it helps to maximize the screen as well.”

And speaking of screen real estate. This release—and kind of surprisingly—didn’t capture use of the new Touch Bar in the new MacBook Pro. We imagine this was about timing; the new MacBook Pro is very new.

Getting Back to Assumptions

Apple may seem to be forgetting its pro users, but its new Touch Bar portends to next phase pro products. AutoCAD may represent a past era in CAD, yet with nearly 5 million files opened a day globally, its DWG file format is very much here to stay.

What we see in AutoCAD 2017 for Mac is a unique pairing—a kind of odd couple representing the veteran and the rookie. The rookie’s generation “thinks different” but it’s par for their course. The veteran has undeniable value, represented in sheer numbers. Where these two go together next will be interesting to watch. Japan and the Touch Bar could be two possibilities.


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