Bringing AutoCAD software to Mac, iPhone and iPad might be a logical move for the company Autodesk, but it's an even bigger deal for Apple. The introduction of AutoCAD gives Apple's tablet a much-needed validation as a productivity tool as opposed to a toy for surfing the Web and playing games.
AutoCAD is a 3D design and architecture program that, for the last 18 years, has been exclusive to Microsoft's Windows platform. Now, Autodesk is going full bore with Apple support. The Mac program, to be priced at $3,995, will support multi-touch gestures from trackpads and the Magic Mouse, and iTunes-style cover flow for browsing design files.
Unless you're familiar with NURBS and DMG files, the news of AutoCAD for Mac isn't a big deal. With Apple selling a few million Macs every quarter, the potential defectors from AutoCAD's user base of 10 million are drops in the bucket.
AutoCAD Heads to iPad
The bigger announcement was Autodesk's companion AutoCAD app for iPad, which will allow users to edit, review and share their design files. This could provide a boost to iPad sales, but more importantly, it helps to beat down the perception that the iPad is a media consumption device that has little worth for productivity.
The AutoCAD iPad app won't have the full functionality of its desktop counterpart -- it is free software, after all -- but that's okay. The new wave of tablets, by design, aren't as capable of traditional computing tasks as laptops and desktops. They're most handy as complements to more powerful computers. You can do a bit of work on them, but their real strength is portability.
Autodesk gets that. The idea behind the AutoCAD iPad app, and a similar app for iPhone and iPod Touch, is that users can carry a lot of design files in a small package, which can be easily presented, reviewed or modified from the road without dragging around a Macbook or printing out a mound of pages.
I hope this is the start of a new trend, where developers of professional software create small-scale tablet versions that make their desktop counterparts more useful.