The launch of the iPad has brought a lot of focus back to the tablet or I guess we need to call it a slate. Nevermind that tablets have been commercially available for over a decade; however commercial success has always seemed to elude it. Lack of killer apps, increased expense compared to regular laptops certainly contributed but perhaps it was the change in the UI (User Interface) zeitgeist that provided a bigger hurdle. Apple introduced the world, in a largely commercially way, to the multi-touch interface with the iphone making many comfortable with the concept and its app store was a huge success with many programs priced around a $1 made it the equivalent of an impulse purchase at the Walgreen’s check out line. With the release of the ipad Apple has upped the ante, not just because of the user interface but with a mobile platform that is relying mostly on the web to deliver applications/data/multi-media/snacks/beverages much like the ‘thin-client’ devices promised to us in the nascent days of the interweb. So the question is does the iPad have the power/features/connectivity to matter in the A/E/C Industry, and if so who needs it as an always on, apple form factor in the field?
Processing power and GB of RAM, BIM tools are hogs so any true BIM authoring software would have to run remotely and accessed through the iPad or similar slate, and then the bottleneck becomes the latency in the broadband connection, in this case, most likely the 3G connection unless you have public wifi on your job site. And that would bring us back to something like Project Twitch from Autodesk which allows you remote control their products through an internet connection, since I don’t have an ipad I can’t vouch yet for how that would work but having your project stored remotely and using the ipad to drive through it that starts to get interesting.
goBIM which was released for the iphone, yes you read that right is running on the ipad. It is a BIM viewer that has an exporter API that will let you translate Revit and Rhino models into its own format. Why’s it’s own format? Visit the site for the FAQ and explanation but it seems as it matures the developer wants it to be an xml format.
One company focused on bringing BIM to field, an aptly calling it FieldBIM, Vela Systems blogged about the ipad, and beyond reiterating iPad specs and blogosphere pronouncements ends with a ‘we’ll have to wait and see.’ One of their prerequisites though was a field case which is already available at HardCandy. Additionally, they have partnered with Motion Computing to provide ruggedized tablets for the FieldBIM. However, what we all just really want is to unlock data that is stuck in file rooms or servers and be able to interact with it in a meaningful way which seems to be Apple’s sweet spot.
Counterbalancing Apple’s offering is the new HP Slate, which is essentially a slate wearing Windows 7 clothing and I am not sure how compelling an argument that is going to be as we’ve had a tablet edition of XP for a long time, is a multi-touch version going to sway a lot of people? Comes down to the applications and how they are served? If they are running remotely, who does the best job with the interface because the slate/pad whathaveyou is just the conduit. Which brings us to what might be the real game changer and that is the Google Chrome OS, open source/operating system, which doesn’t care what device you use and will just deliver it, this web centric open model seems more in line with our egalitarian nature and should increase adoption. But what keeps nagging at me is Apple’s tremendous execution and if their closed ecosystem produces field tools for the laymen then they got something going on, maybe break the functionality into bits, collision bits, scheduling bits, so the app provides not just the CM with a tool but workers who can use an app designed for their function, punch list, update, done. And that has been the beauty off the app store, essentially singularly focused bits that are easy to understand and implement. So if we have the true BIM up in a cloud and all these specific apps interfacing with it, that would be the equivalent of the web with user generated content (UGC) driving the system, and not the bloatware cloud we’ve been living under. It will be in the execution, otherwise you might be seeing people treating them more like Daniel Tosh did.