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Anthony Frausto-Robledo (afrausto@architosh.com)
7 May 2003
 

Editorial: All Things Considered - The CAD Market Was Really Apple's To Lose...But It Doesn't Have To Be Permanent

It makes no sense to me -- when you think about it -- that the company famous for its graphical user interface (GUI) leadership isn't the market leader in the CAD and technical visualization markets. When Apple introduced the Mac OS in 1984, its graphics technology was light-years ahead of what Microsoft had, and within a couple years at most Apple clearly was solidifying its lead with all forms of graphics professionals: from publishing pros to logo design artists. When it came to graphics and design on the computer, Apple was it, period.

Foregone Conclusion

It should have been a foregone conclusion then that when it came time for architects, landscape architects, and interior designers to choose a computer system that they chose wisely and go with the Mac OS. And for the most part many did do exactly that. By the early 90's many of the best architectural firms in the US and abroad were solidly behind the Macintosh platform.

However, Apple has made its share of mistakes in the past in not recognizing just how tangential CAD technology was to the other graphics markets Apple today lumps under the heading "Pro" (note: not too long ago graphics, web design and publishing were lumped under the term "Creative"). And as a result of some of those mistakes -- and some things that were beyond their control -- they have given back much market share in fields like mechanical engineering and design, architecture, civil and structural engineering, interior and urban planning -- and many other CAD-related professions. No wonder sites like this one had to come into existence. Apple essentially walked away from the CAD world.

A Misunderstanding

It certainly was a misunderstanding. And Apple didn't realize it. Even today many Mac CAD users will tell you that Apple simply doesn't understand they exist. And many still will tell you that they think Apple doesn't understand their needs and just how much they love using Macs in the process of being creative technical professionals. Perhaps a real tale is in order.

Many years ago (at least three and a half) I spent part of an afternoon at the architectural offices of ADD Inc., in Cambridge, Massachusetts, talking to Jill Rothenberg, CTO. Jill initially wasn't really sure why I had come to see her, and frankly I wasn't sure either. ADD Inc. was this growing and shining light in the Boston architectural scene and Barry Isakson, AIA, had suggested I contact Jill and see what ADD Inc. was doing. As it turns out ADD Inc. was one of the most technologically advanced architectural practices in the US (and still is) and they were almost all Macintosh. Let me repeat this for you: probably the single most technology savvy architectural firm in the United States (and a growing one at that!) was an all Mac shop!

On that summer day I saw about 15 new Power Mac G3 towers roll in the door. The office was filled with fantastic computer imagery produced on Macs they already had. And Jill said more G3s were on the way. And a staff of about five, dedicated to IT leadership in architecture, where humming away on various activities, including custom development of FileMaker Pro databases and Web sites exclusively for their practice. What I saw was in essence American leadership in the field of architecture and at the heart of it all was the Macintosh platform.

A Year Later

I wasn't really sure if I was interested in a career at ADD Inc, that day, but when I left I knew I was interested -- more than ever -- in practicing architecture the way I wanted to: using tools I loved to use. It was clear to me that day that ADD Inc. loved using the Macintosh. So imagine how surprised I was when I called about a year later to hear Jill tell me the firm was moving away from the Mac. I was stunned! When I asked why the sudden change of heart she explained that they liked the Mac (preferred the Mac) but that Bentley (the makers of Microstation) was no longer going to support the CAD product on Macintosh. She told me that unfortunately the firm had to pick between an OS platform and a CAD platform. Guess which one lost?

When I challenged her on this matter I asked why Apple hadn't done more to help the situation. She explained that Apple had failed to listen to their needs and that when it came to growing large firms like theirs (now in multiple offices) they needed enterprise level industry solutions and that Apple just wasn't there. But what did that mean? What was really the problem besides the lack of Microstation support?

A Four Year Answer

Early the next year I launched the Architosh website in earnest, to get behind the issues that had come to push Apple out at ADD Inc. At the time there were thousands of Mac-based architects around the world asking difficult questions about their computer platform of choice. They were beginning to think Apple had forgotten them and so too the many Mac software companies they had relied on for years. In the late 90's Intuit stopped making a vital financial application that many design pros -- not trained as financial jocks -- relied on to ease the burden of getting paid and running a business. And there were other troubling defections as well, and even more large firms going the other way (largely because of Bentley's decision to not update their Mac versions of Microstation). It would get worse before it would get better.

Architosh came along at just the time when it looked most bleak! At first it was just a few of us (readers and me that is) clinging to each other through this thing we called the Web. But suddenly and surely it grew and grew...and just kept growing. Our articles from the past attest to who was there early to make the site more than just a press release listing house and a tally of apps. I want readers to know that those who were there in the early years are those whose hearts were and still are most passionate about this creative platform we call Macintosh.

This Train is About To Move

After four years there may be some good news coming. As mentioned in a few different stories on the Net, Apple is awaking to the fact that the small business market is not made up of people in small business. Architects are not in small business, they are in architecture. Contractors are not in small business either, they are in construction. And the same goes for just about every other small business professional. Small business is made up of vertical industries, like real estate, like accounting, like interior design, like law, like medicine. Vertical industries respond the best to vertical messages, with few exceptions.

Most of you will agree that Apple can't ask PC-based architects to switch platforms to the Mac just because a kid can stuff a bunch of tunes on his iPod and say something funny like, "it makes me feel powerful." While that ad certainly can be affective (and funny and charming) for the consumer it frankly smacks of the kind of adolescent tonality the Mac has always been too famous for...and why the Mac has always treaded uphill in every single business market it ever busted into -- with the possible exception of desktop publishing.

It' a Matter of Diminished Capacity

What Apple needs in order to succeed again in any vertical industry is very straightforward and simple. They need to demonstrate that to not be on the Macintosh is to operate in a diminished capacity as a professional. Whether a professional architect, lawyer, interior designer or engineer, they must make these people feel that not being on the Mac is putting them at a disadvantage professionally. That's harder to do than it sounds, of course. But there is a clear way in which to establish the criteria for a marketing strategy based on the concept of "diminished professional capacity". It's really a matter of psychology. The hard work is knowing when to ask for help, and that may be Apple's biggest problem. ----ANTHONY FRAUSTO, Founder and Editor

For thoughts and feedback you can reach me at afrausto@architosh.com


 

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