AutoCAD WS: Moving Forward

Early in 2012 I was wondering where Autodesk were going with two very similar products: Design Review Mobile and AutoCAD® WS. At the time, their functionality and real-world use cases were extremely similar, so I decided to have a good look at it and write a two-part blog series on the differences between the two. This led to two things:

  1. Sandy Yu (Autodesk 360 Product Manager) contacted me and asked if I would be interested in testing Autodesk 360 mobile prior to its release. That led to the Design & Motion Blog post and an AUGI article reviewing the App.
  2. I got contacted by the @AutoCAD_WS twitter account asking if I would be interested in interviewing an AutoCAD WS product manager about the product.

So here we are. I set up an interview with one of the AutoCAD WS Product Managers, Ilai Rotbaein who works for Autodesk from Israel. Pretty cool! So let's get cracking.


(Let's just start with a big one.)

Scott: What can you tell us about your future plans? Will your team focus on expanding features or creating new ones?

Ilai: Since we launched AutoCAD WS two years ago, we've made continuous efforts to improve and expand the app’s capabilities with each release. This year you're going to see major improvements in the overall experience, making it easier, smoother and even more enjoyable to use. In addition, as you've seen in previous versions of AutoCAD WS, we are taking our users and their requests very seriously and do our best to provide them with the tools and features they are asking for. This year we'll be delivering quite a few of our users’ popular wish list items, and adding a number of new, exciting tools. Although we can't reveal anything too specific at this point, what I can say is that with this new functionality, users will be able to create, draw, markup, collaborate, and edit like never before.

Scott: What did you and your team take away from the two post series I wrote on Design & Motion?

Ilai: I think that one of the things that really stood out there for me was the confusion between the AutoCAD WS and Autodesk Design Review Mobile apps. We are aware of this matter and are working on improving it to make it as intuitive as possible for a non-CAD user via upcoming features.

Scott: Why does it appear that AutoCAD WS and Autodesk 360 are being developed separately from one another? Do you plan to integrate them in the future? That is, opening DWGs in WS from 360 and using the Autodesk sign on to log into the AutoCAD WS website?

Ilai: AutoCAD WS and Autodesk 360 share the same backend, so your AutoCAD WS account is also your Autodesk 360 account and all the files stored on your account are available in both services. We are working on integrating those two services more closely together.

Scott: Since everything is touted to go into the cloud and AutoCAD is the most likely CAD application to be first, how will AutoCAD on the cloud affect AutoCAD WS? Or do you guys see WS being AutoCAD in the cloud? It’s likely a number of AutoCAD LT customers would be satisfied with the tools available within AutoCAD WS as it stands.

Ilai: Our current focus is doing what makes sense on that specific platform and providing the best possible solution for our users. AutoCAD WS is our AutoCAD in the cloud today; in the future you might see additional delivery methods of AutoCAD that will be more suitable for the needs of certain customers. What we're seeing today is that our users are increasingly more open to the cloud and the advantages it offers. Our focus is ultimately to provide the best experience possible for AutoCAD users regardless of the platform they’re accessing it from, whether it’s web, mobile or the desktop.

(On that note I thought it was appropriate to pop in a question to ascertain Ilai's stance on the social opportunities within the cloud space.)

Scott: How do you foresee the changing nature of cloud, social, and mobile affecting the future of WS?

Ilai: Many of our mobile app users leverage AutoCAD WS for on-site reviews. With that in mind, we’re looking at taking advantage of the unique capabilities that mobile devices offer, including leveraging the device's GPS feature to allow users to track their position and add notes and markups to specific locations within a drawing. In addition we’ve also leveraged the camera that mobile devices offer, allowing users to take photos on site and add them to the drawing. Our most recent release also exemplifies how we’re leveraging the social web and associated communications to improve the design collaboration, review and approval process: Design Feed, a popular and powerful new tool in AutoCAD WS, allows users to post comments that are contextually linked to a specific location within the drawing, tag other colleagues or stakeholders to specific posts to notify them of changes or questions we have, and even add images to posts to provide more clarity or brainstorm 
ideas. We’ve also integrated AutoCAD WS with the Autodesk 360 cloud-based products, enabling users to take advantage of all the powerful features that this platform has to offer. Ultimately we feel the cloud, social, and mobile provide the best opportunities to solve some of the most difficult problems our users face.

Scott: Are there any plans to support other file types? Even those outside of Autodesk?

Ilai: AutoCAD WS is a relatively young product and there are still many things that we would like to add to it in the future. We are looking at other file formats but for now we’re focusing on DWG, DXF, DWF, PDF, PNG, JPEG, BMP, and TIFF.

(I've noticed something interesting about AutoCAD WS integration in iOS with regards to DWFs so I figured I'd sneak in a question about it.)

Scott: In my posts I mentioned that when you open a DWF file from an email on OSx, it opens up the file with AutoCAD WS. The DWF icon shows up as valid within the App, but then the drawing fails to load. Is this a clue of what’s to come or a bug?

Ilai: Sounds like a bug to me. We still have some additional work to do in our DWF support. I would also suggest trying to open it in Autodesk 360.

Scott: When will the polyline tool in AutoCAD WS mobile ‘do what it says on the tin’ in the sense that the icon suggests you can draw an arc in place within the command, but in fact you can only draw a series of attached straight lines.

Ilai: This is a great example of one of the things you can expect this year. We listen very closely to what our users request and are working to respond as quickly as possible.

Scott: I have to say I love the new Design Feed feature. The 360 team really needs to get some of that into their mobile app and the browser-based UI as well. Will you guys cough up the code for them?

Ilai: First of all, thank you. We believe that the Design Feed is going to change the way that people collaborate on designs. We're already seeing some really interesting ways our customers are using this powerful tool in unique ways, and how it’s improving their overall collaboration experience. All comments made in Autodesk 360 and AutoCAD WS are actually synced so the gaps are not as wide as you might think. I believe that in the next few months you'll see significant improvements in the Design Feed and in Autodesk 360 in general.

(As a Vault Professional user one of my issues with all this yummy cloud-based social awesomeness is the lack of a closed-loop process to pull comments and reviews from the cloud back inside the firewall to be Vaulted. As a CAD/Design Manager I want control over this stuff.)

Scott: When will you be able to support the Design Feed within the Desktop version of AutoCAD? And since it would be a grand way of managing the review process of drawings, will there ever be a way of archiving or passing that information and status of the comments to Autodesk Vault?

Ilai: Great question. I agree that adding the Design Feed in the AutoCAD desktop would be extremely powerful. Passing the Design Feed information to Autodesk Vault is something that we're looking into. At the moment all the comments (whether they are open or resolved/archived) are synced between AutoCAD WS and Autodesk 360 so some of that solution already exists.

Scott: What’s the most impressive thing you have ever done with AutoCAD WS?

Ilai: Back when we started with AutoCAD WS, we targeted small use cases that our product could support. Today we see groups of 30+ people working for a single organization, sitting in different parts of the world, all collaborating on a single drawing at the same time.

It’s very cool to see this, and wildly exceeds what we were originally looking to accomplish with this app. Another interesting story that stands out is a college professor who contacted us and told us that he now requests all of his students to submit their homework through AutoCAD WS and he reviews them using his iPad on his couch at home. What a great use case!

(I don't know about everyone else, but I've been wondering this for a while and now I have the opportunity to get the answer from the horse's mouth.)

Scott: What does WS stand for?

Ilai: Well, that's an interesting question and the truth is that there is more than one correct answer here. The most common interpretation is Web Service but you can also look at it as White Sheet, Work Space and more. You're welcome to add your own interpretation here as well.

(How about "Wicked Stuff"? I know what the answer is going to be for the following question, but I have to ask.)

Scott: When do you anticipate supporting Windows Phone 7.5 or 8?

Ilai: That is one of the most frequent questions we're getting from users. Just like everyone else, I'm curious to see how the Windows 8 mobile devices will be adopted. Our current offering of mobile apps is limited to iOS and Android, but we are actively investigating opportunities to broaden offerings to include Windows 8 mobile versions.

Scott: It’s very impressive how far WS has come in the last two years. Do you think you will be able to achieve as much as you have already in the next two years?

Ilai: Although we've passed the 10M downloads milestone, I believe that we have only begun to scratch the surface of the potential market and capabilities this app can unlock. The cloud, the web, and the mobile worlds keep growing and adding more and more opportunities. Identifying those opportunities and providing valuable, cost-efficient solutions to customers based on those technologies is what we'll continue doing in the future. Two years ago, people were dreaming of opening a drawing using their mobile device. Today we know that this is only the first step and there are some really exciting possibilities ahead of us.

Scott: Are there any plans to start charging for the use of AutoCAD WS? Or at least for premium versions?

Ilai: While I can’t answer that question, what I can say is that if we were to deliver a premium version of AutoCAD WS, we’ll make sure it’s well worth paying for .

(For those of you who follow me on Twitter you know I'm an F1 fan and have more than likely had their twitter feeds flooded with healthy streams of arguments about Formula One and NASCAR. Since this was my first time interviewing someone, I thought I would end this interview with a rhetorical question.)

Scott: Formula One or NASCAR?

Ilai: I'm more of the basketball kind of guy; I'll leave that one to the readers and tweeters.

(I was really hoping you would settle that one for us, Ilai!)

I'd like to thank Autodesk for allowing this interview to take place and providing the amazing imagery. But most of all, I thank Ilai for taking the time to answer these questions. I think he did a great job of answering them while cleverly skirting around some of the more curly aspects Autodesk would understandably like to avoid.

Images courtesy of Autodesk®

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