Free CAD Software for Mobile Devices

20 Aug, 2014 By: Curt Moreno

Cadalyst Labs Report: Cadalyst Labs investigates free apps for CAD on the go.

Remember when we thought it was amazing that we could take a few songs with us — by toting stacks of cassette tapes? Now we don't bat an eye at carrying around thousands of tracks in a digital music player or mobile phone. That sort of exponential mobile technology growth is changing every part of our lives, including the CAD world.

Covered in this review:

Today our laptops, tablets, and even our phones have so much computing power that we can carry our CAD work in a backpack or pocket. More importantly, today's technology not only allows us to work anywhere, but it also connects us to the rest of the world, so we can take production and collaboration capabilities wherever we go.

Who Uses Mobile CAD

Although the first commercial cellular phones entered the market around 1984, it was not until Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007 that the modern mobile data age began. Cell phones transformed into handheld computers capable of much more than facilitating voice communications. Since then, the term mobile has permeated many aspects of modern life, and the number of people owning one or more of these devices has exploded. According to Digital Trends, the number of mobile phones will exceed the number of people on Earth in 2014.

Needless to say, a huge number of people use mobile devices in their jobs, including CAD users who must perform work-related tasks on the go. Some of these user categories are obvious, such as engineers needing to review drawings at a job site, but there are others who should consider mobile CAD options as well. Architects marking up plans in a meeting, drafters making edits in the field, and construction managers clarifying important design details for crew members are all prime candidates for mobile CAD. And in reality, the list is even longer: Selection board members, material estimators, warehouse managers, and transport load chiefs also need this technology.

In short, all types of professionals in the design, construction, engineering, and manufacturing fields could find themselves using mobile CAD software in the near future. And these people have a wide range of mobile CAD software options to choose from, each with its own feature set. But before we compare some of those choices, let's define what qualifies as a mobile CAD application.

What Makes CAD Mobile

A wide and growing range of CAD software can be used away from a traditional desktop workstation, but not all of it is considered mobile CAD. The line is blurred by the fact that some hardware types — such as powerful tablets, which you might consider to be mobile devices — can operate full-blown installations of the Windows operating system and, in turn, run full-blown desktop CAD software.

The difference between mobile CAD applications and traditional CAD programs installed on mobile workstations is that modern mobile CAD applications are small-footprint installations on mobile devices. While the line between mobile devices (such as tablets and smartphones) and portable devices (such as laptops) is becoming increasingly indistinct, a common differentiator is that mobile devices run lightweight operating systems such as Android or iOS. Portable devices, in contrast, normally run operating systems that require more powerful hardware, such as Windows 8 or Mac OS X.

For the purposes of this mobile CAD roundup, we narrowed our focus to applications that have the following qualifications:

  • Free
  • Mainly used for viewing and/or editing CAD files
  • Written for the Android and/or iOS mobile operating system
  • Available for download from an official application store, such as the Apple App Store or Google Play Store
  • Accepts fingertip control via a touchscreen interface
  • Operates over cellular and/or Wi-Fi data networks.

Even with this list of qualifications filtering the field, the selection of mobile CAD applications on the market is still quite broad. In addition, the range of features available is vast enough to complicate your selection process, so let's examine some defining features of mobile CAD applications.

Mobile CAD Software Report Card

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About the Author: Curt Moreno

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