June 27, 2011
Free TurboViewer for iPad is Not Just Another Viewer
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News Free TurboViewer for iPad is Not Just Another Viewer By Susan Smith

IMSI/Design, the developer of TurboCAD, announced the debut of TurboViewer, a free app that allows fast viewing of native 3D DWG files on iPad and iPhone. At first, it may seem that TurboViewer is “just another viewer,” but on closer inspection, that is not really the case.

A little history: a few years ago the company was turned into IMSI/Design as a result of a leveraged buyout. At the time the founders were not just focused on their TurboCAD users, but also wanted to provide an AutoCAD LT low-cost alternative, which was DoubleCAD. Now they have built an entirely new platform for mobile.

“When we started looking at a lot of the mobile devices we just realized it was a very different world and since we were really looking at the new hardware platforms we got very excited,” said Royal Farros, CEO of IMSI/Design. “Because of the amazing portability, battery life, and Multi-Touch display of iPad, an architect, designer, or engineer can spend all day viewing even the largest 3D plans right on-site... even view plans while walking around a building site. That simply can’t be done with existing PC technology.”

“Once these mobile devices came out, a lot of people treated them as yet another machine that you put software on. With the iPad we said this is a brand new device and it will require brand new software to run on it,” said Farros. “It’s not just the interface, the portability, the huge battery life, it’s GPS, built in camera, but you start adding these things up.” Although TurboViewer is the first app IMSI/Design is introducing along these lines, the developers look at it as the first of what they are dubbing an “all new software platform.”

“TurboViewer is full of little things that we think added together makes for a much richer user experience,” said Bob Mayer, COO, who founded IMSI in 1983. “If you were loading a really large file and everyone has loaded the wrong large file, and with every app you have to sit and wait for it to load, in our app you can actually cancel midstream.”

When an object is loaded in TurboViewer, you are at the part of the drawing you want to examine, so you can do real navigation. Mayer said they considered whether they wanted to just port existing products on to these new platforms, or try to wedge them into these mobile platforms. “We realized we had to start from scratch,” he said. “A lot of what we were able to do was because we started at the beginning. So when you actually open a file, it will autosense whether you have opened a 2D file or a 3D file. If you’re in a 3D file it will change the gesture slightly to optimize its usage. One of the things that’s kind of difficult with a lot of gesture interfaces is the way a lot of people will orbit a 3D drawing. What we’ve done is we allow you to orbit with one finger, so it gives you really fine control.”
More Features A view menu allows you to quickly navigate to predefined views. A 3D model can be viewed as an isometric of north, south, east and west of that with some predefined icons. If you click the views button you’ll see predefined views as well as saved views. “ In AutoCAD drawings you have multiple saved views of areas that you want to show to a client for example, you can save those view in AutoCAD DWG format or a CAD app and when it’s open in our app you can simply select those views that are predefined by the architect. We have the ability to do background color changes, as there are six different background colors,” said Mayer.

The main point of TurboViewer, said Farros, is its performance, and noted that on the 3G iPhone I had is was going to be a bit slower than on a 4G, or on an iPad, but I didn’t notice that it was slow at all. For orbiting, zooming in and panning a drawing you can use standard iPhone commands such as pinch to zoom in and out, do a single finger navigation to orbit around a drawing. If you have files that are on the web, select those from your web browser and download those.

Drop Box is a free app that allows you store and share your drawing files between your iPhone and your desktop as well. The easiest way to add drawings to the TurboViewer is to add a drawing attachment to your email and send it to your iPhone and when you click it, if you have AutoCAD WS or some other drawing app, you can hold and specify what app you want to open it in. If you have TurboViewer it will ask if you want to open it in that program, and you’ll pick it and it will load it in there.

Unlike a Windows desktop app where you actually define the file association, TurboViewer is sort of automated on the iPad or iPhone so once you have installed the viewer it informs that association and does it automatically. Once you have emailed yourself this file it will place it automatically in the folder called “inbox,” and that’s where all your attachments will be saved.

In the future IMSI/Design is looking at supporting Android and their tablet and phone devices, and will cover all the top tablet devices.
With one of the examples in the free TurboViewer - Hotel 3D drawing – if you put a finger in the middle of the drawing it will do rotation and 3D orbiting, if you pinch in you can make it bigger or smaller, if you use a single finger double you can zoom extent to show the whole building. You can maximize the screen, and bring the toolbar back. The Info button will tell you about TurboViewer and TurboViewer Pro and other products, as well as give you information on how to open files and that it is wiki-oriented.

The way that works is that since mobile devices don’t have file operating systems a viewer does not have a file OS but are connected to the web, so there is variety in the way you can get files in. Both email and Drop Box are useful for getting files into the Viewer.

Mayer said that they questioned whether it was a good idea to have the first product they came out with for the new mobile platform is a viewer, when there are so many viewers for PCs on the market already. “The reason is that everything we want to do going forward is going to require a wicked fast 2D and 3D viewer that you can hold in the palm of your hand.”

Where a lot of this technology is coming from according to Farros and Mayer,  is Doug Cochran, the driver of TurboApp strategy, who also developed the industry group based on AutoCAD, the Executive Roundtable, and ran AutoCAD products like TruView at Autodesk for about six years.

There are now 5-10 million mobile devices sold every quarter.  The hope of IMSI/Design is that the development platform created for TurboViewer will spawn other apps, and that third parties will make some great apps.

“It’s not just a viewer, it’s the base of things to come,” said Mayer.  Taking advantage of what the iPad or iPhone offer such as battery life, make it possible for people to use those devices all day long rather than for the five to six hour limitation imposed by even a notebook computer. Also, the products that IMSI/Design has already developed and marketed – TurboCAD and DoubleCAD, have great interoperability and some of that interoperability code can be reused in the mobile world. Free TurboViewer features include:

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