Autodesk 360 Mobile

October 17th, 2012

Autodesk recently released the Autodesk 360® Mobile App for Apple's iOS and Google’s Android-based smartphones and tablets. Autodesk 360 supersedes the Autodesk Design Review Mobile App which was lacking a lot of basic functionality beyond just viewing DWFs and placing the odd markup. Even though this was the case, at the time it was most certainly a welcome addition to Autodesk's mobile apps offering. Design Review Mobile was a poor reflection of what its desktop-based parent was capable of, so it makes sense that its replacement comes in line with Autodesk's '360' brand. Whether or not this confusing brand should continue or not is up for debate. 

Figure 1: Recent site activity page.

I quite like what Autodesk 360® Mobile has to offer so I thought I would write a review highlighting some of its features, but also some of its current drawbacks.

Getting Started

Figure 2: The main menu.

If you haven't done so already, crack on and create yourself an Autodesk 360 account by going to 360.autodesk.com. Then download 360 Mobile via Google Play or the Apple App store. Then upload a document to the Autodesk 360 website. Once you have signed into the mobile app you are presented with the Recent Activity page (see Figure 1).

Your first port of call is usually the main menu (Figure 2). It is here where I hit my first snag. I immediately started trying to select the top menu item, expecting it to take me to my profile information (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Misleading menu item.

The next menu item in the list is Activity, which was what you see when you first login. Let’s skip that for now.

The second item is the business end of the App, but just to be boring we'll take a look at the help section first. The help is well laid out for the features the app has at this stage. It’s well categorized and easy to understand, with the following topics.

  • Quick Start
  • Tour
  • View Activities
  • View Documents
  • Share Documents
  • Add Comments
  • FAQ

Figure 4: Make sure to take the tour!

The best place to start is the tour, which gives a great overview of Autodesk 360 Mobile's intentions and basic feature set.

Figure 5: I'm not sure if I've successfully achieved this.

The only anomaly I found is the help file states you can attach a comment to an object (Figure 5); however, I haven't been able to differentiate between a comment attached to an object or just applied to the file itself.

Design Data

From the navigation menu select Design Data and you will be presented with a list of the files and folders you have stored on your Autodesk 360 site. You can store any files you want on the site, but only the following file formats appear to be supported by the app.

  1. 2D DWF and 3D DWF
  2. DWG

The Autodesk 360 website, from what I can tell, supports viewing of the following file types.

  1. 2D and 3D DWF
  2. DWG
  3. JPG and PNG
  4. BMP (supports a preview but not a full view)
  5. PDF

Although you can't view all the files that you can on the website, you can view thumbnails and summary details (Figure 6).

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Figure 6: Image files aren't supported.

Once you select a supported file from the Design Data screen, you are presented with the Related Data screen instead of the drawing’s first sheet of 3D model. If it's a drawing you will likely select 'sheet' but then you have to select which sheet you want to view from the list (Figure 7). Realistically, the app should simply load the thing and allow you to navigate through the drawings sheets and views from there.

Figure 7: Select the sheet or view you want to display.

Viewing

Once you have opened the drawing, navigating around it is extremely smooth and switching to Landscape mode clears the screen of all toolbars.

Figure 8: Landscape viewing.

The UI is beautifully clean in landscape mode, with loads of screen real estate, a factor which I love and one that is lacking in other Autodesk Mobile apps. The only problem is it only supports viewing—you can't use any of the tools provided since there's no access to the toolbars until you return to portrait mode.

Figure 9: 3D DWF viewer and toolbars.

With any CAD file you have the following tools available on the lower toolbar (Figure 1).

  • Visibility
  • Saved views and Home view
  • Full screen
  • Comments
  • Sharing

The Visibility icon is disabled in the 3D view until an object has been selected. At that point it will display all the properties assigned to it from within the 3D CAD package used to model it.

Figure 10: 3D model object properties.

Clearly, this feature would benefit greatly from being viewed on a tablet instead of the 4.3" screen of the Galaxy S2. Maybe something could be done to support smaller screen sizes for smartphones as opposed to tablets.

When the file being displayed is a 2D drawing, the 'eye' icon displays the layers available (Figure 11) so they can be turned on or off as needed.



Figure 11: Controlling 2D drawing layer visibility.

There’s no way that I could see for changing from one drawing sheet to the next without going back to the previous page a selecting it. Maybe Autodesk could add a page navigation section to the ‘eye/layer’ icon menu.

Collaboration

With the first release of Autodesk 360 Mobile, they have provided a nice Commenting feature. It's a similar style to the AutoCAD WS 'Design Feed,' which is actually a conversational or social way to collaborate on and review a drawing.



Figure 12: Conversations can appear as individual threads.

It is inferior to AutoCAD WS's implementation in the sense that you can't visually attach a comment and ultimately a conversation to a specific area of a drawing or object in a model.  In addition comments can't be tied to revision clouds or callouts of any form, which in truth is rather disappointing and inefficient. I would expect this sentiment to be the case with a large number of the users.

Hopefully some code sharing can happen here because the WS 'conversation'/Design Feed set up is slick.

With Autodesk 360 Mobile it’s not openly obvious if the drawing/file has any comments associated with it, without actively going and looking to see if there are any.



Figure 13: You can toggle the visibility of comments on and off.

Nevertheless, it is easy to just tap the comment icon and overlay any conversations which may have been started on the drawing. You are immediately presented with an opportunity to reply within that interface which is a nice feature.



Figure 14: The Help file says you can attach a comment to an object.

I am really looking forward to this feature being made more obvious. I have tried a number of times to apply a comment to an object within the 3D viewer, but I haven't been able to tell whether I've succeeded. I should make it clear that I have been testing an early version of the App and it is quite possible this has been resolved by the time this article is published.

Figure 15: Sharing from the app is possible.

Sharing is enabled from within the app; however, it doesn't give you the option to share it publicly. Since it only asks for an email I assume it is only a private share. This is quite likely the most common use for sharing design information anyway.

Conclusion

Autodesk 360® Mobile takes a fresh look at enabling mobile collaboration by integrating it directly with the cloud-based and browser-accessed Autodesk 360 document storage service. It's a refreshing and solid foundation to build a great app with exceptional features going forward into the future. They do have some work to do, though. Better commenting tools and integration with the desktop app is essential. Without that, Vault users taking advantage of the ECO process or any user leveraging the desktop apps' review tools are being forced away from using it for anything other than viewing DWFs on the go.

I do wonder if Autodesk will link up its mobile apps so one app will use features of another, in a similar way to how the two ForceEffect apps work together. I would like to see Autodesk 360 Mobile open ForceEffect documents stored on Autodesk 360 within the ForceEffect app.

Although AutoCAD WS and Autodesk 360 Mobile offer completely different feature sets, they do have features that appear to be developed concurrently. I would like to see some parity between the two apps in the areas they can share. Unfortunately, at this stage neither of them provides a solid way of bringing mobile based reviews back into a controlled, desktop- based review system. Maybe it’s the desktop applications (Vault and Design Review) that need to change…

Scott Moyse is the Design Manager for SMI Group, a Super Yacht Interiors company in New Zealand. His background is in Motorsport Engineering and CNC programming. Scott has been using various Autodesk products for 9 years. Most recently he has been implementing Vault Pro. He can be reached using Twitter @scottmoyse and scott_moyse1@hotmail.com

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