In the old days, developers only had to make apps for the iPhone and the Mac. The situation is trickier these days with multiple versions of software and devices, including the new iPad Pro.
Apple, known for keeping its products simple and elegant, may be getting away from the simple part, at least when it comes to developers.
It wasn’t so long ago that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs liked to point out Google’s Android “fragmentation” problem, with developers forced to make multiple versions of their apps to support the varying Android devices. It turns out Apple may have a fragmentation problem of its own, thanks to a product lineup that’s a lot more complicated these days.
Along with three iPhone screen sizes and features specific to each generation of its iconic smartphone, Apple now offers different size tablets, a smartwatch with its own software, a streaming-media player that supports apps, and nearly a dozen Macintosh computer models. Starting this week, the Cupertino, California-based company adds a third tablet size with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which offers an optional stylus and a detachable keyboard. The lineup is a big change from the days of Jobs when Apple offered a much more streamlined group of devices and stuck with a standard iPhone screen size for the first five generations of the smartphone.
The new multitude of products — as well as the four different software systems running them: iOS for iPhones and iPads, Mac OS X for desktop and laptop computers, tvOS for Apple TV and watchOS for the Apple Watch — forces developers to pick and choose which apps to create first. The iPhone, which makes up about two-thirds of Apple’s sales, captures the most developer attention. But the increasing fragmentation of products and platforms means you may not find your favorite app on the new iPad Pro or the Apple Watch, or at least not a version of the app that can fully take advantage of the gadget’s unique capabilities.
If it sounds familiar, it’s a problem Google has dealt with since the early days of Android. Device makers released phones and tablets in myriad screen sizes, and developers weren’t sure which version of the operating system to build apps for. That led to early growing pains for products such as Android-powered tablets. Fragmentation continues to be an issue. Only a quarter of Android devices run the year-old release of the software called Lollipop. But Google has worked to mitigate the issue by pushing for apps that work well across the various versions of Android.
This is a dilemma that Apple is just starting to face. As CNET’s Scott Stein noted in his iPad Pro review, “At launch, very few apps are currently optimized to take advantage of the iPad Pro’s full potential.” The Apple Watch faces the same issue. Of the 13,000 Apple Watch apps available at the end of October, only 10 percent use watchOS 2, which lets apps run directly on the smartwatch instead of working as limited, iPhone-app extensions. The low percentage persists even though developers have had access to the newer smartwatch software since June.
Apple declined to say how many iPad Pro apps will initially be available for the device. The company has 850,000 tablet apps available in its App Store today.
Apple has “just had so many great things come out at once or over the past couple months that we have to prioritize what will hit the majority of our user base and nail those cases,” said Jamie Hull, vice president of mobile product at note-taking app Evernote.
Evernote delayed making an updated Apple Watch app based on watchOS 2 in favor of building an iPad Pro app and adding support for the new stylus called Apple Pencil for the first day they hit consumers’ hands. The iPad Pro is priced starting at $799, while the Apple Pencil costs $99 and Apple’s Smart Keyboard retails for $169. The products went on sale Wednesday on Apple’s websiteand will hit shelves at Apple stores, authorized retailers and some wireless carriers in more than 40 countries later this week.
Evernote has no plans right now to create a new Apple Watch app, Hull said. “Our watch users are very, very active,” she said. “But it’s just a small population today.”
Apple has tried to shore up the number of apps available for its new products by giving developers early access to its devices. It has also released software long before devices launch to give developers time to tinker. For instance, Apple gave developers access to watchOS in November 2014, five months before the smartwatch hit the market. For the iPad Pro, software companies including Adobe Systems, Autodesk and Microsoft got time to play with the tablet before it became available to the broader market.
For startups with limited resources or less access to Apple’s newest devices, though, it’s far more complicated to develop for Apple products than it was just a few years ago. And not many developers have the knowledge to take advantage of every new aspect of every new Apple product, like the 3D Touch feature on the iPhone 6S, said Orta Therox, head of mobile development for startup Artsy, which helps people buy and sell fine art.
“You can’t do it alone at a level of quality that people accept with these apps,” Therox said.
Appetizer Mobile, a development company that makes apps for customers like Lady Gaga, 50 Cent, and New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, hasn’t fielded any client requests for iPad Pro apps so far, said Appetizer Mobile CEO Jordan Edelson.
“It will be more of a niche development request or niche applications…likely stemming from the enterprise,” he said. “I don’t think the average consumer app or startup is going to go straight into iPad Pro.”
As Apple’s newest devices and features gain more traction with users, more developers will create apps for them. If you’re still looking for the biggest selection, though, you’d better stick with the iPhone.
For developers, “some of the products, like the Apple Watch and even Apple TV, right now are worth trying,” said Maximo Cavazzani, CEO of Etermax, creator of popular game Trivia Crack. “But, of course, it’s always something small compared to the iPhone. Our main priority is the iPhone.”
Tired of serving as just a pretty face, Autodesk on Monday announced that it’s putting its muscle into the business of making video games. The new Stingray engine, introduced at the Game Developers Conference, pulls together Autodesk’s efforts in the games space.
Autodesk later in August will offer Stingray worldwide for US$30 a month — and it will make the game engine available to Maya LT Desktop Subscription customers before the summer’s close.
Stringray is a cross-platform engine that supports Xbox One, PlayStation 4, the Oculus Rift, Windows, Android and iOS.
The industry is shifting toward new technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, and Stringray was built with those “new complexities” for indie game developers in mind, said Chris Bradshaw, Autodesk senior vice president of media and entertainment.
“Stingray makes it easy and intuitive for artists with varying skill sets and programming expertise to create the next generation of 3D blockbuster games, entertainment and even architecture,” Bradshaw said.
Autodesk built Stringray to be flexible and familiar. Developers can alter the engine and renderer without having to access Stringray’s source code.
It’s cross-platform support allows developers to roll out gameplay and graphical changes to multiple platforms at once, which helps smaller studios stay agile and competitive.
Stingray’s toolkit includes Autodesk’s animation middleware HumanIK, it’s user interface development tool Scaleform Studio, its artificial intelligence engine Navigation, its Beast lighting system, its data exchange SDK FBX, Audiokinetic’s sound engine Wwise and Nvidia’s PhysX engine.
With its “one-click workflow,” Stingray’s nervous system ties all the pieces together. There’s a live link between Stingray and Autodesk’s animation software.
Autodesk appears to have checked off every box for a next-generation game engine. It already has succeeded in the computer-aided design market, but now it has to answer the question, where will it go next? suggested Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT.
“3D gaming’s sizzling growth pace makes it an attractive commercial target, which is why Autodesk acquired the Bitsquid engine (Stingray’s underlying tech) last year,” he told TechNewsWorld. “But Autodesk also has numerous other development tools and applications that complement Stingray, meaning that what we’re seeing is just the opening gambit in a long strategic effort.”
Along with its cross-platform support and deep integration with Autodesk’s other tools, Stingray’s profile is raised by its parentage: Autodesk.
Developers already use several of Autodesk’s tools on competing game engines, noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group.
“It creates a suite of game developer tools that together can become both a stronger offense and defense through ever tighter integration with their existing leading developer tools,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Stingray is entering waters filled with apex predators such as CryTech’s CryEngine and the Unreal 4 engine, which was released earlier this year.
However, the cocktail of venom in Stingray’s barb is made more potent by its cross-platform support and low overhead, noted King.
“As a new entry to an established yet still growing market, Autodesk seems to be positioning Stingray as a powerful yet highly affordable alternative to mainstream 3D platforms like Unity 5 and Unreal 4,” he said. “Stingray’s $30 per month per seat subscription price should make it attractive to small and midsize studios that aren’t firmly wed to one of the larger platforms.”
The software company known for projects as far afield as One World Trade Center and Grand Theft Auto is bringing its tools to DIY-ers tinkering fixes to everyday problems.
Carl Bass opens a drawer lined with black-handled chisels, picks one up and carefully runs the steel blade along his arm as if it were a straightedge razor.
“See all those little hairs there?” he says, pointing to a dusting of black hair that settles into the drawer. “That’s how you can tell if they’re sharp.”
Bass is in his element. He hurries around his spacious, cement-floored woodworking shop, showing off both rudimentary hand tools and a collection of complex machines. Bass set up this workspace and a personal metalworking shop down the street as hobby spaces. But they both also serve as testing grounds for the company he runs: Autodesk.
While design professionals are familiar with Autodesk, it’s likely the multibillion-dollar company most people have never heard of. Autodesk makes more than 100 software products that millions of engineers, architects and animators use to design and model everything from bridges, buildings and roads to cars, planes and video games. Many of the creations you see around you — whether it’s One World Trade Center on the New York skyline, Grand Theft Auto on your game console or even a soldier’s prosthetic leg — were designed or modeled with Autodesk software.
Now the 33-year-old company is pushing into the consumer realm, bringing affordable software to the masses with the goal of helping people create. And that puts Autodesk smack in the middle of the Maker Movement that, at its core, encourages tinkerers and hobbyists to think of new ways to solve everyday problems. Makers combine do-it-yourself invention with technology — which could also describe Autodesk’s approach to design, simulation and modeling.
That positioning is just fine with Bass, who took over as CEO of the San Rafael, Calif.-based company in 2006.
“One part is creativity, the other part is solving problems,” says Bass. “You can step back and say we are trying to use technology to solve problems.”
Rather than looking like a buttoned-up executive, Bass more resembles a carpenter. He’s tall — 6 feet, 4 inches — and prefers T-shirts and Carhartts to suits. He has a thick New York accent and often belts out a deep laugh. Bass is not your typical CEO, say people who work for him. Yes, he’s business-minded, competitive and has strong opinions, but he’s also unassuming and on a first-name basis with hundreds of his employees.
Bass, 57, has been a maker since his 20s. Sawing, sanding and soldering seem to be part of his DNA. Before joining Autodesk in 1993 as chief architect for AutoCAD, he built houses on an Indian reservation and constructed boats in Maine. A quick scan of Bass’ wood and metal shops shows dozens of objects he’s made, like a chair built from one piece of plywood, a 2,000-pound iron table, baseball bats for his two sons and road-ready go-kart.
“Some people buy yachts, some people buy fast cars. Carl does his workshop,” says Amar Hanspal, Autodesk’s senior vice president for the Information Modeling and Platform Group. “It’s been in his blood. It’s not a recent discovery.”
Autodesk and the Maker Movement
Set against the wall of Bass’ woodworking shop is a 20-foot piece of bubinga, a distinctive type of wood with curly rose-colored grain and dark bark. “That’s destined to be a table,” Bass says, explaining that it’s one of the newer additions to his decades-old collection. For instance, he carved his bed frame out of a piece of maple burl he had for 25 years. “Metal you go to the store and buy. Wood you accumulate over the years,” he says.
While Bass has always made things with his hands, he hasn’t always seen Autodesk as playing a role in the Maker Movement, which began to gather steam in 2006 with the first Maker Faire in California. Shortly after Bass became Autodesk CEO, Dale Dougherty, founder of Make magazine, sat down with him to explain the movement.
“I have to say, at the time, he wasn’t buying it. I think he defined it as localized production,” Dougherty recalls. “For many years, the company Autodesk wouldn’t have resonated with the Maker movement as the consumer movement, their focus has been on professional design tools.”
That changed in 2010. While Autodesk always had amateur users, it really began to focus on the consumer market that year. The company has since grown its consumer user base to 227.6 million people worldwide, far outdistancing the 12 million professional users who work with its software.
One reason for that consumer growth is that Autodesk now gives away much of its software for free. Students, teachers and schools pay nothing for the company’s professional products, while many small businesses get hefty discounts. Professionals, on the other hand, typically pay thousands for the software.
“Part of what we’re seeing with Autodesk is the democratization of that tool set. It’s moving from just professionals to amateurs,” Dougherty says. “The more they can make this easier for more people, the more powerful it becomes.”
Making design software more accessible has been the company’s strategy since its start in 1982, when it offered a cheaper and (relatively) easier way to create 2D designs on personal computers versus requiring dedicated and costly workstations. Autodesk also was among the first to realize the benefit — to itself and to its customers — of allowing hundreds of other software companies to create products that hook into its programs. This universe of add-on products gave Autodesk an edge over its competitors, like PTC and Dassault.
Now, by giving away free software to schools, Autodesk is creating a new pool of users who may one day buy its software.
“It has a synergy with what we’re trying to do,” says Crawford Beveridge, who’s been a director on Autodesk’s board for 21 years. “Some would say a lot of our main focus is on very large customers who design cars or airplanes or buildings. But the Maker movement has a very important role to play in both the democratization issue and the opportunity to go to other businesses.”
By far, the company’s biggest markets are construction, architecture and engineering, and its most popular software is AutoCAD, which lets designers and engineers draft 2D and 3D drawings. But Autodesk also extends into other markets and offers software for things like 3D modeling, personal creativity, simulations, photo editing and animation.
“When you step into your car, use some type of other physical product, or walk into the building you might be in now,” says Marc Halpern, a research vice president in Gartner’s Manufacturing Advisory Services division, “there’s a tremendous chance that Autodesk technology played a role in the design or creation of that building or product.”
So, for example, the US Navy’s first 45,000-ton amphibious assault ship USS America was created with Autodesk’s ShipConstructor. Lightning Motorcycles used Autodesk’s Dreamcatcher to design the world’s fastest electric motorbike, which can reach speeds of up to 218 miles per hour. And Autodesk’s 123D Catch software was used to help figure out how to clip 25,000 LED lights on the San Francisco Bay Bridge for the world’s largest light sculpture called The Bay Lights.
“Their software is the equivalent of a Ferrari,” says Leo Villareal, The Bay Lights artist, who also used his own software for the installation.
Autodesk’s animation, editing, motion capture and 3D rendering software has also been used in dozens of Academy Award-winning movies, including “Interstellar,” “Avatar” and “Frozen.” Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron relied on Autodesk’s MotionBuilder and Maya 3D animation software for his 2013 Oscar-winning film “Gravity.”
When Cuaron first set out to film “Gravity,” he couldn’t figure out how to realistically show actors Sandra Bullock and George Clooney floating in space. The movie’s production team solved the problem by using Autodesk software to pre-visualize and animate the entire film before shooting.
“If you take the shot where they’re repairing the shuttle and the shuttle gets hit by the debris, everything there — the shuttle, the debris, everything — is created on the computer using our software and then is animated,” says Maurice Patel, Autodesk’s entertainment industry manager. “The main point about the movie and the use of technology is this trend we’re seeing in the industry, which we call the blurring between the digital and real world.”
While Autodesk has been helping film companies stay on top of digital trends, it’s also been working to keep current with the trends reshaping its own technology industry. One of the most transformative is cloud computing, where people can share applications, documents and data over the Internet. While cloud-based apps have touted their collaboration and teamwork benefits since the late 1990s, cloud services didn’t become mainstream until 2009, when Google first publicly offered Google Apps.
Yet Bass has hammered on bringing software to the cloud since becoming CEO. He believes the future involves bringing 3D modeling and design to the cloud in the same way that Google Docs now hosts documents in the cloud.
“One thing that Autodesk has been able to do and why it stayed in its leadership position is it can touch the technology trends,” says Carol Bartz, who was the Autodesk’s CEO from 1992 to 2006. “We had to pull the company into the Internet. Carl is pulling the company into cloud services.”
Helping makers make
Bass is also pulling Autodesk into the Maker Movement. This move can be traced back to 2009 when the company released its first mobile app SketchBook Mobile for iOS. The app garnered more than 1 million downloads in the first 50 days. That level of success prompted Autodesk to roll out more apps for students, professionals and, yes, makers. The company now offers 17 programs under its Personal Creativity category. That category’s tagline reads, in part, “Reshape your world. Make a difference. Create something.”
A little over a year ago, Autodesk opened a 27,000-square-foot workshop on San Francisco’s Pier 9. It juts off the dock of the city’s Embarcadero into the waters of the clay-blue bay. From the outside, Pier 9 looks like most of its neighboring whitewashed piers. Inside, it’s a hotbed of makers.
The two-story workshop is divided into several rooms holding state-of-the-art machines and tools. Here, Autodesk hosts its artist-in-residence program that lets people play with its water jet cutter, CNC router (a computer-controlled cutting machine) and industrial sewing machines. Hanging from the wall is a giant set of electronic googly eyes that look at you wherever you move, a fire-breathing machine and a conference table that swings. One room holds Autodesk’s first foray into hardware — its desktop 3D printer called Ember.
Pier 9 is also home to Autodesk’s how-to website, Instructables, which it acquired in 2011. Geared toward helping makers create, the site offers a range of lessons from “how to make a solar robot” to “how to kiss.” Bass himself has even authored a few Instructables, including “Turning a baseball bat” and, fittingly, “Sharpening a chisel.”
As Bass strolls from room to room in Pier 9, he waves hello and stops to chat with the local makers and ask them about their projects. One man is working on a small part for a lunar lander, another is 3D-printing tiny metal pieces of jewelry that look like delicate swaths of lace.
In a sense, Pier 9 is a highfalutin version of Bass’ Berkeley workshops. Every year Bass spends extra time in these shops fashioning holiday presents for Autodesk’s directors. He’s made small sets of audio speakers, 3D-printed metal baskets and other various creations. One of the reasons he does this is to work with and test Autodesk’s software.
“Carl’s always been interested in building things even before the Maker Movement was called the Maker Movement,” Autodesk board member Beveridge says. “His own interest in making things has allowed him to bring back into the company information about how we can help other people who make things, make them better.”