iPhone Apps for the AEC Market

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Industry News

iPhone Apps for the AEC Market
by Susan Smith

The market is a-changin' - a month or so ago, the news was all abuzz with news of Apple's iPad, a tablet PC that was supposed to take the world by storm. The jury is still out on how popular or useful the iPad will be, as some people embraced it with the same verve they embraced their iPhone. Others called it just a bigger iPhone, one that couldn't be put in their pockets and was unable to take photos.

But the iPhone still remains enormously popular with both professional users and consumers alike. Based upon this popularity, Informative Graphics Corporation (IGC), a viewing, collaboration and redaction technology company, announced that its Net-It Enterprise 7.0 automated document publishing platform will convert oversized CAD drawings -- including AutoCAD, MicroStation, and SolidWorks formats -- images and office documents to Microsoft Deep Zoom images.

Image of the full folder of a multi-sheet AutoCAD DWF drawing

Another new iPhone application aimed at constructors that was just announced recently is NoteVault, providing voice-based mobile reporting solutions for the construction industry, available in the Apple iTunes store. The iPhone application has more capabilities than of its existing core voice note and photo reporting service which is available on any make or model of mobile phone.

IGC Net-It Enterprise Silverlight and Deep Zoom capability

Created by Microsoft Labs, Deep Zoom is a way to do collection of high resolution images in thumbnails and allowing the user to zoom seamlessly in to see details. The images can be accessed through Silverlight, Seadragon AJAX and the Seadragon iPhone App.

Director of marketing Christine Musil said there are a number of ways Net-It Enterprise can output to the Silverlight viewer. With Deep Zoom the user will use the slider at the bottom of the page and grab and pan the thumbnails of pages to bring the pages into view. It operates like a touch screen on an iPhone. A CAD drawing is a perfect image of a CAD drawing. The user then views this through their Silverlight viewer.

One single document in the folder

IGC has taken the Silverlight viewer and created an open format “skinning” it to look the way they want it to look. “We've added the page controls that we wanted to the bottom, the zoom control we wanted at the bottom, the logo on the right,” said Musil. “But otherwise it's just the Silverlight viewer with a little more of our functionality around it. So this is what Net-It Enterprise in its next version is going to be able to do.” Musil is hoping for a Q2 or Q3 release date.

Net-It can also publish a multi-page document in a single column, and wrap it after four pages in a row. There is additional functionality that will be in the next release of Net-It such as term highlighting, markup review and the ability to embed video.

At this time there is no plan to be able to use this offline. Mobile phones use a lot of memory to view internet pages, so it would be helpful to be able to take those pages offline.

Musil said the files are “reasonably small,” and equivalent to most web pages, and streaming, so bandwidth is not much of a problem.

In order to have this functionality on the iPhone, users must download the Microsoft Seadragon iPhone app, and for those without iPhones, the Seadragon AJAX viewer is used on Blackberries, Palms and Androids. The non-iPhone viewers lack the nice Silverlight interface, and presents only a series of raster layers.

Zoom view of one DWF drawing sheet

“Deep Zoom is all about how these are all stitched together,” said Musil. “So you're really only viewing one shot at a time it doesn't have to bring the whole thing down to your phone. The processing is happening back on our server.”

In contrast the image for alternative phones with Seadragon AJAX viewer come up very dark and fuzzy, and in order to see details it's necessary to keep zooming in.

“Your iPhone and your own computer or netbook give you the best experience because you have the benefit of Silverlight,” Musil said.

“We think mobile technology is becoming extremely important to how people work and no one else offers the ability to view a CAD drawing on an iPhone or other phone,” said Musil. “The smartphone technology itself needs to catch up a bit.” The next Droid should have a Flash viewer.

Musil said IGC also has a Flash viewer, which is really light and run by a server on the back end. At this time, no phones support the kind of Flash that it takes to support the greater touch capability it has at this moment.

Another zoom view of CAD drawing sheet

IGC hopes to use this Silverlight and Deep Zoom technology for other mobile phones, but they are waiting to see what happens with mobile phone technology. iPhone has worked hard on providing the best presentation to users for web browsing “That's why they are the farthest along and Microsoft actually went ahead and made SeaDragon apps just for that phone,” Musil said.

Another factor in the race to catch up with Apple is to see what happens to the bigger mobile devices, such as netbooks and tablets.

“Does everyone really want to see their drawings on a phone or are they going to start using their wireless card so they can go anywhere with their netbook anyway?” Musil suggested. “We're going to wait and see where technology falls, is it going to be Flash or is it going to be Seadragon and Silverlight? We're going to cover both.”

Viewing applications for the iPhone offers users the ability to check numbers and measurements, view a CAD file while talking to subs, and discuss data seen on the small screen, without having to boot up a computer. It is also a fairly inexpensive piece of hardware compared to an iPad, netbook or ruggedized computer, but with obvious, limited functionality.

Musil sees a use case for the mobile phone in facility management where it's important to be able to zoom in right where you're standing and check specs. The application can also be used on larger computers such as a netbook, ruggedized or tablet. It gives users the ability to be sure they have the most recent view of a drawing, and therefore, lessens their margin for error.

IGC has vertical independent customers across the board, including legacy customers from manufacturing, and construction. Old construction software ASPs such as e-Builder, Primavera, Constructware, use Brava, and industries include oil and gas, banking, finance, insurance, life sciences, government, around the world.

The Microsoft Seadragon iPhone App is free and can be downloaded from the iTunes App Store. Net-It Enterprise is scalable server software that can process many different types of file formats and create PDF, secure CSF, TIFF, DWF, JPG/PNG thumbnails and now Deep Zoom output. In addition, Net-It Enterprise can burn-in annotations, stamps and watermarks and it can be integrated to any collaboration portal or data management solution.

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