Autodesk announced on August 31 that it has released AutoCAD 2011 for Macintosh, along with AutoCAD WS, a mobile app that will allow users to share their AutoCAD designs in the field using iPhones, iPads, and iTouches.

Autocad - 2011 for Mac
Image courtesy Autodesk

“What this does,” says Autodesk spokesman Noah Cole, “is give anyone with an iOS device or a modern Web browser the ability to view, edit, and collaborate on an AutoCAD DWG file. We imagine that people on the construction site can carry around an iPad as opposed to carrying around a roll of blueprints.” AutoCAD WS joins two other Autodesk apps, Sketchbook Pro and Fluid FX.

The move actually denotes a return to the Mac platform for Autodesk. Many Mac users were deeply disappointed in 1994, when Autodesk decided to stop releasing AutoCAD software for Apple machines. Macs were expensive and used a proprietary operating system that was incompatible with Windows-based personal computers. With Apple’s market share eroding at the time, it simply didn’t make economic sense for AutoCAD to continue to support the Mac.

But, in the ensuing decade Apple became more business-focused. Its easy-to-use interface and superior hardware design have been particularly appealing to architects, who also prefer it for running programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, which were originally developed for the Mac. And architects have embraced the iPhone in great numbers.

The Back Story

Autodesk began seriously considering the reintroduction of AutoCAD for the Mac in 2005, when Apple announced that it would switch from processors manufactured by Motorola to Intel-based processors. That switch enabled Apple to release Boot Camp, a program that allowed its computers to act as if they were running Windows.

“A lot of our customers were running AutoCAD for Windows through virtualized environments such as Boot Camp and Parallels Desktop,” says Cole, “but there was a lot of dissatisfaction. With a virtualized environment you are running two operating systems instead of one, which is not a great experience. We noticed an increase in the number of customers wanting to work on the Mac, and they were speaking in increasingly loud voices that they wanted AutoCAD to work in Mac’s native environment.”

Rob Maguire, Autodesk’s product manager for AutoCAD for Mac, says the company spent years trying to understand which parts of the Mac user interface should be brought to AutoCAD for the Mac. “The keys for multiple object selection, for example, are different on the Mac. There are hundreds of little nuances like that, which we studied so we could make sure the new software is truly native, but people can still leverage the intellectual investment they have put into AutoCAD.”

Future Plans

Cole acknowledged that AutoCAD software for other mobile device platforms, such as Google’s Android, are under consideration, and speculated that one day the company might release a version of its building information modeling software, Revit, for the Mac.  “We will be looking closely at what the demand is for not just this product but others as well.”

And what about cost? The suggested retail price is $3,995, but Cole says, “If there are Windows users out there who want to switch to the Mac, we’ll make that possible for a small fee. We don’t think the learning curve for people who have been using AutoCAD for Windows for a long time will be that great.” Autodesk will make the software available to students and educators for free through their education community.