The last few years in CAD have been invigorating, haven’t they? Most recently, there’s been a scramble to get direct modeling functionality out in front of both CAD Specialists and many other roles to expand the use of 3D. And before that there was an ongoing effort by many to improve the usability of CAD software which mostly came in the form of where icons are at or how small dialog boxes can be.

However, as progressive as those changes seem, they pale in comparison to the radical changes occurring in hardware and software in other industries. Let’s take a look.

The Name of the Game for Gaming: Specialization

Years ago, the gaming industry pretty much lived on the Personal Computer (PC). But if you’ve read up on the gaming industry recently, the number of games sold for the PC compared to games sold to consoles is quite small. Why? Many realized that specialization in a couple areas could make a huge difference. First off, graphical processors could be specifically tuned to gaming environments. And has it paid off. The graphical performance of games on consoles are quite amazing. Second, they realized that there is small need for a generic overall OS. The cycles used by a burdensome OS could be more readily used for graphical or gaming specific processing. And lastly, games, with their need for unusual interfaces, turned to specialized interfaces in the form of controllers. Out went the need for a keyboard and mouse.

So how is this related to CAD? I think it’s fair to say that CAD is just as specialized an application as any game… if not more so. Also I think CAD is just as graphically intense if not more so because of the increased fidelity of the models that are involved. So from a hardware, OS and interface perspective, why couldn’t CAD benefit from some of these changes?

The Trend for the Next Generation User Interface?

Now obviously the last sentence from the previous paragraph would be a pretty bit departure from where we are today. And many might scoff at the potential to build out new hardware and the like for CAD. But what about some of the recent changes with respect to the iPad and the XBOX Kinnect?

I don’t think there’s any need for me to explain the functionality of the iPad. The multi-touch capabilities are pretty well documented. However, there are some truly innovative ways in which multi-touch is being used in concert with accelerometers and the compass. Have you every heard of the Starwalk app for the iPad? Here’s a youtube video that shows you how it works.

Skip forward to the 50 second mark to cut to the chase. Basically all the user is doing is turning in a circle while standing up. The screen for this iPad app rotates automatically to match. It does this alongside the multi-touch capabilities to zoom in, highlight different constellations and guide users to find different objects in the sky. Seems like we might be able to walk around a design in a CAD application in the same way, no?

As advanced as the iPad may seem, Microsoft may well have outdone themselves with the Kinnect. For a quick view on what exactly it is, watch the following video.

Basically this technology removes the need to touch any type of controller at all. It is a gesture and voice based means of commanding the computer. I can actually personally attest to it. Our 4 and 6 year olds picked it up in an hour. Furthermore, it’s not part of some closed system that can’t be accessed by developers. Microsoft opened up the SDK for the XBOX kinnect in January. Around the same time, some folks over at MIT mocked up an interface similar to what was seen in the movie Minority Report. See below for the video.

The Lasting Takeaway from this Year’s CES? The Fall of Wintel

To this point, it’s pretty easy to dismiss many of the points in this blog post. These things might seem like ‘pie in the sky’ thoughts as they apply to CAD. But there are some serious trends in the same vein as the points in the post that are concerning for the CAD industry. James Allworth over at the Harvard Business Review wrote a post titled The Fall of Wintel the Rise of Armdroid that had some great points built on top of a blog post written by Horace Dediu titled The Most Exciting CES Ever. Here’s the points that are most relevant.

This year’s show, Dediu argues, marks the end of the PC-era: it’s finally being disrupted. The basic concept of disruption is that a low-end offering (in this case, tablets) emerges to displace existing solution (PCs). The reason this takes place is that the current solution has improved to such an extent that it provides more performance than a majority of users able to usefully employ.

This means that the iPad and its many clones were not really the main story of the show. The main story — which almost nobody covered — was that this year’s CES marks the beginning of the end for Microsoft and Intel.

This transition has been a long time coming in the PC industry. Ironically enough, both of these two big players have seen the writing on the wall for almost a decade. But as is so often the case, incumbents find it immensely hard to disrupt themselves.

There are many more points along the way. It is a good read and worth your time. But basically, many tech developers are going with ARM for specialized processors over Intel. And many are going with Droid (from Google) over Windows. Both Dediu and Allworth means that spells disruption for the PC market. And this isn’t just for consumer electronics. While not Droid or ARM, the an article by USA Today cites that iPads are increasingly being used in business.

Conclusion and Questions

I know I’ve rambled back and forth here across a lot of references and content. But I guess my point is this. In general, CAD has pursued the same tenets of usability it has for the last decade. Other technology areas are leveraging hardware specialization (gaming, ARM, etc.) as well as user interfaces (multi-touch, Kinnect, controllers, etc.). And there is a building trend towards PC disruption. When and how will CAD applications adapt? At some point soon, I think some company will dive into this churning sea of technology change and come to the surface with something utter different. And that could spell some true disruption.

That’s it from my end. What do you think? Which of these technologies have real potential for CAD? Do you think the Armdroid movement has legs or will it peter out? Sound off and let me know your thoughts.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.