Computer Aided Design (CAD) software has always been at the leading edge of computer hardware, and for good reason. CAD is a demanding application, and seemingly there’s never quite enough memory, processing power, screen real-estate or storage available. CAD: Punishing graphics hardware since 1964. As the compactness and mobility of high performing hardware improves, certain preconceptions about CAD accessibility and portability are being challenged. Laptop machines are now commonly used where previously only a desk-devouring workstation would suffice. But now, believe it or not, one company is attempting to bring full-fledged CAD into the tablet space. Will your next CAD workstation be a beefy tablet? A CADblet? The very concept just seems impractical, perhaps even ridiculous, or is it?
As Desktop Engineering reports, the first company jumping into the Android CAD abyss is Graebert offering Radon. What’s the strategy here? The article quotes Graebert founder and CEO, Wilfried Grabert:
“By 2015, tablets will outsell PCs by a significant margin — as such, the importance of making the full ARES CAD experience available on mobile devices became a top development priority. By 2017, there will be touch devices (smartphones + tablets) shipped for each PC and we fully intend to be the go-to solution for handheld devices long before then.” Graebert doesn’t think the tablet version CAD program will replace the desktop version, but “it’ll be a natural extension of the desktop version.”
But we’ve heard this sad tale many times before and hence; declaring the death of the PC has become a semi-annual ritual in Instagram-friendly circles. The continued rise of mobile platform sales and the fall of corresponding PC sales is often cited as smoking-gun evidence that the desktop has finally kicked the bucket. As I’ve discussed before, not every PC really lives, and we’re witnessing the extinction of the mainstream PC perhaps, but not the PC altogether. Even Graebert’s strategy admits this point. Aye.
While many consider tablet CAD unthinkable, others point out that similar attitudes plagued prior generations of CAD technology. Remember when it was thought impractical that a Windows PC could possibly replace a Unix workstation, or before that when it was heresy to think a desktop computer was capable of running CAD at all? Those barriers fell long ago, and seem rather quaint by today’s standards. Bothered with a command line for anything lately?
Then there’s the question of interface. Tablets are mostly a touch and accelerometer driven interface – such control is likely too imprecise for serious CAD work unless some innovative technology arises that provides finer control. Yet there’s absolutely no practical reason tablets could not also use the keyboards, mice and other peripherals commonly used to drive modern CAD. A more important question would be will incoming engineers even care about such peripherals in a few years, being acclimated to operating touch interfaces from birth. What then?
With the introduction of devices like the Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, the lines between a small laptop and a tablet have become relatively arbitrary. Barriers of storage, processing power, and operating systems are falling away. Some might argue with that level of advancement in portable power and full up Windows, will a mobile-OS CAD variant be viable or necessary at all?
Regardless of the technological advance of devices like the Surface Pro 3, tablets and ultrabooks have little hope of matching the kind of colossal hardware available in the desktop space. The desktop doesn’t stand still after all, and available graphics power continues to rise to levels previously unimaginable. While tablets are impressing buyers with 2160×1440 resolution (even my phone sports 1920×1080) on a single screen, PC is now at the edge of affordable 4K display technology across multiple screens. My first exposure to a multiple display setup was in the CAD world, and that was over a decade ago. My 3-screen 5120×1200 desktop is seemingly rather pathetic compared to 4K configurations that provide a juicy 11520×2160. So many pixels… Now, where was I?
So perhaps the CADblet question is ultimately one about graphics performance and information density. Sure you could run CAD on a tablet, but when absolutely insane display technology is available, why bother? It would seem that the desktop is secure in providing the best experience for CAD, but perhaps will the need rise for “mainstream” access to full CAD features at a hardware price point lower than a full-up desktop rig?
Selling CAD on a mobile OS will no doubt be difficult, software price points just don’t fit the cheap-as-free mobile paradigm where people actually paying for stuff is downright weird. Perhaps even illegal in Utah. CAD is an outsider in an overstocked universe of free apps underwritten by a variety of advertising revenue models, content with making money off your contacts, location, or DNA.
So then perhaps the solution for mainstream access lies in streaming technologies to lightweight desktops and laptops or even game consoles. After all we’ve witnessed the attempt to make CAD available on Steam, Valve’s PC Gaming service. I’ve also suggested in that past that game consoles, like the Xbox One or Playstation 4 could very well be the affordable CAD platforms of the future with the right balance of affordability and raw graphics performance.
So, are you eager to covet your own CADblet, or is it just nonsense?