In the 13 months since this iPad app review was originally posted, use of tablets has grown to be nearly ubiquitous. The number of apps directed at architects has exploded! I’m an iPad user, so this review features apps I have tried on my iPad.
Most apps are, or will soon be available on the Android platform as well. In cases where the identical app is available for both iPad and Android, I have included a green link to the Android app in parentheses. If there’s not an identical app by the same provider, there is likely to be something similar out there. For more on Android apps, please refer to articles Top Android Apps for Architects and Designers and 10 Most Interesting Free Android Apps.
There seems to be an app for everything! Not all are created equal. I found that many apps offer “free” versions, but they are often barely functional. In order to be truly worthwhile, many require “in-app purchases,” (I’ll call these IAPs). I have made a note of the actual cost of the software with the addition of these.
This post will really benefit from readers’ experiences and opinions. Please share what you know in the Comments section!
Architects’ tasks fall into predictable phases. First, I’ll look at apps that are useful for tasks in the Pre-Design and Schematic Design phases.
DRAWING / DESIGN
I compared freehand drawing apps by doing a timed 15-minute drawing of a toaster (why not?) with several highly rated apps, enabling me to compare features and results. I used my finger, not a stylus. I had not used any of these apps before this experiment; my learning curve is built into the 15-minute time limit. 3 apps stood out favorably.
“Sketchbook Pro,” an Autodesk product ($3) (Android, $3) is versatile for drawing and graphics. It has many tool and line weight choices, infinite color choices, layers, and numerous ways to save and share. The zoom feature enabled a degree of precision. I would like to spend more time learning this app, which is not all that intuitive, but not difficult to learn.
“Paper,” by Fifty Three, (free, but $10 with highly recommended in-app purchases: Mixer $2, Color $2, Sketch $2, Write $2, and Outline $2), has 5 drawing tools with limited line weight control, and infinite colors. The lack of a zoom feature limits precision. It is very intuitive, and nicely emulates drawing and applying washes. Good for loose sketches and diagrams when connectivity is of the essence.
“Morpholio Trace” (free, and $1 each for IAPs, which include among others, Grids, Scale Grids, Architecture, Diagrams, Perspectival Grids, Figures: Female or Male, Axonometric Grids, Landscape, 3D Grids, and Interior Design). Trace enables you to start from scratch or take a photo or drawing from your files and overlay it with layers of virtual tracing paper. They have added an additional fine line weight, and a zoom feature. This app allows you to instantly upload your sketch to Facebook, Twitter, email, or the Morpholio cloud.
DOCUMENTING EXISTING CONDITIONS
“MagicPlan,“ (free, needs IAPs to be of any use. The options are: 1 Plan (PDF, JPG, DXF, HTML) $3, Unlimited (PDF, JPG, HTML, DXF) $20, 10 Plans (PDF, JPG, DXF, HTML) $20, and 40 Plan (JPG/PDF/DXF/HTML) $60, (Android, pricing structure the same). This app uses photos from which it creates measured floor plans in PDF, JPG or DXF format.
“My Measures Pro,”($8) (Android, $5), is useful for documentation, either during the design process or during construction. One can photograph from within the app or open an existing photo, and add dimensions, angle readings, and notes to it. The resulting image can be sent to the cloud or through email.
“Total for iPad,” (free) which is designed for real estate appraisers, is simple and versatile enough to get me to a measured floor plan in a reasonable amount of time. In “Total,” project folders can contain drawings, photos (taken within the app, or brought in from elsewhere), voice recordings, and written notes. There is a detailed form for project information that might be useful. The compiled documentation can be emailed as a PDF.
The interface is easy to learn and use. Dimensions and room areas toggle on and off. Notes can easily be added, as can furniture, windows, doors, (pianos!) and other common plan elements. In my first use of the app, this drawing, in keeping with the toaster theme, took about 14 minutes, including my learning curve.
“Snapseed“ (free) (Android, free), corrects, crops, and adjusts your photos.
“360 Panorama” ($2) (Android $1), stitches together photos to make a complete panorama.
See article on Site Survey, Analysis & Visualization for Architects.
One day soon, I think Architectural Graphic Standards will be an app. For now, some of its components are separately available from various sources.
“Design Dimensions,” (apparently free) (Android, free), is an Android-only app.
“Steel Shapes” ($5) (Android $3), is similar to the big ol’ Steel Manual, which we called the Steel Bible back in the day.
“Architect’s Formulator” ($10), is a growing storehouse of formulas related to electrical, carpentry, plumbing, concrete, excavation, steel design, parking areas, swimming pool design, as well as basic formulas for wind load and wind overturning force.
“Big Calculator,“ (free).
“Pocket Light Meter,” ($1).
“Noise Sniffer,” (free).
“Pitch Gauge,” (free) (Android, free).
“Clinometer HD” (free) (Android, $1).
“Colorsnap,” (free) (Android, free), for matching in situ colors to actual Sherwin Williams’ paint colors. Other paint companies offer similar apps.
Next are additional apps that architects can use during the Design Development and Construction Documents phases.
Autodesk AutoCAD 360, (free with IAP necessary upgrades to Pro $50/year, and Pro Plus with 4x the storage capacity, $100/year) (Android, same pricing structure). This is a highly rated drafting program. Allows you to share, view, and comment on 2D and 3D DWG, DWF™, Autodesk® Navisworks®, and Autodesk® Revit® software files from your mobile device.
I have not rated the following drafting apps: “GraphPadPro R3,” ($20), “CadTouch,” ($20) (Android, free limited trial version), “PadCAD,” ($15) (Android, $15), “iDesign,” ($8). Comments, pro and con, from users?
Most CAD systems have available proprietary BIM apps. Some apps work across several CAD platforms. ITunes currently shows no less than 85 apps for BIM. Have you used one that you think is really good?
“Formit,” by Autodesk (free) (Android, free), allows you to create and alter BIM models on mobile devices.
See article on BIM Apps for Architects for Architects
3D MODEL CREATION AND VIEWING
Again, have you used a 3D app that you think is really good? These following ones are highly rated.
“Verto Studio,” ($14).
“Sketchup Viewer,” (free).
iRhino 3D Viewer, ($4).
“TurboViewer,” (free, with IAPs TurboViewer X $7 and TurboViewer Pro $20) (Android, $20).
See article on Mobile CAD Viewers and Collaboration.
It’s not an app, but the Arcat website is a great starting place for specs.
My last addition to the architect’s app toolbox is those that are particularly useful during the Construction Administration phase.
Autodesk “BIM 360 Field Mobile,” (free). Create ad update issues, reference project documents, and run QA/QC checklists on the job site, offline or online.
Autodesk “Bluestreak Mobile,” (free). Track architecture, engineering, and construction project activities and collaborate.
See article on 50+ Best Apps for Punchlist.
“Dragon Dictation,” (free), for miraculous voice to text dictation.
“Dropbox,” (free) (Android, free), for document sharing.
See article on 10 best iPad apps for office productivity.
“Docscan HD,” (free) produces clear, straightened-out, cropped black and white PDF, .JPEG, or ZIP images of paper documents that can be annotated, shared and/or saved. Will send multi-page scans.
“Instapaper,” ($1 with IAPs for $1 per-month subscription) (Android, same pricing structure) (Android, $3), can be used to search the web and save articles offline in an attractive text format for future reference.
“File App Pro,” ($5), is a file manager and viewer. A variety of documents can be organized according to size, date, or name, and then opened, viewed, edited, moved and/or shared. This solves the mystery of “Where’s my stuff?” on my iPad, and makes it a far better tool as far as I’m concerned.
“Office2 HD” ($8) emulates limited versions of Microsoft Office programs. With it, I can store, open, view, edit, and share documents, including Excel spread sheets, Word documents, and Power Point presentations. They can be emailed, shared in the cloud and printed. They can cross over to the desktop.
1. App prices shown are valid for today’s date, December 24, 2013, and will probably change.
2. App developers revise, update and expand their wares, so please consider this information current as of the date of this posting.
All images by Laura Kraft and app developers’ websites.
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