Finally, an Excuse to Get an iPad Pro: Shapr3D
Roopinder Tara posted on May 29, 2018 |
Shapr3D, a Parasolid-based CAD program, works best on the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. (Image courtesy of Shapr3D.)
Shapr3D, a Parasolid-based CAD program, works best on the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. (Image courtesy of Shapr3D.)

A tablet and pen are all you need to use Shapr3D, a solid modeling app. Not just any tablet, though. How about Apple’s gorgeous iPad Pro with a 12.9 inch screen—the tablet you dreamt about but could never justify because… dammit, there wasn't any apps for design or engineering. Until now. Could you use a lesser iPads? I suppose you could.  Shapr3D runs on other iPads that support the Apple Pencil, such as the iPad 2018, 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, but CAD modeling and creation demands the biggest screen. That must be a law.

"It may surprise you to learn that the iPad Pro is a gifted piece of hardware," says István Csanády. Csanády founded Shapr3D three years ago in Budapest, Hungary. People think that it's not for CAD or other serious applications. That's okay, according to Csanády, as the company doesn’t mind having the only iPad Pro CAD program. Along with great power comes great price—for the Apple Store, anyway. With a $300/year license, Shapr3D is the most expensive application available in the Apple Store.

"We have the only CAD application for the iPad Pro," says Csanády, smiling as though he’s getting away with a secret. I met Csanády in a San Francisco Starbucks—not the typical site for a CAD demo, but that was only after he had shown that Shapr3D can be used and shown anywhere. The previous night, he showed Shapr3D standing up before a crowd at TEC Talk.

Shapr3D may be the easiest-to-use MCAD program you will ever try. iPad in one hand, pen in the other—no desk, no workstation, no mouse, no keyboard. If you are worried that a career that has you sitting throughout the day is taking years off your life, you could make a medical argument to model with an iPad Pro at a stand-up desk or even in a more active state.

It took a lot of programming to make Shapr3D work using a stylus and an iPad Pro. Makes sense. Making things simple is complicated. 

Shapr3D founder, István Csanády, shows how easy CAD modeling can be – even in a coffee shop. In Csanády’s hands, it did look like the most intuitive CAD interface ever

I expect Csanády to be another genius Eastern European developer. He is. Previous to Shapr3D, he was senior software developer for LogMeIn. But an impish sense of humor, an irreverence for the powers that be, the patience and ability to explain genius-like things to non-geniuses – sans condescension – make him more. Then there’s the need to set things right, to correct errors of the past that continue to the present, unchecked… errors that the rest of us are resigned to accept as normal and unavoidable. 

There was that mobile app for his bank that just sucked. Csanády was obsessing about user interfaces and the mobile app had a lot to learn from him. Littered with low resolutions, misleading icons and basic functions (like wiring money) that were cumbersome, the app prompted 20 “easy-to-implement” suggestions in an email that if printed may have been 5 pages. He never heard back.

Csanády stumbled across a CAD program and found it, if not really hard to use, certainly much harder than it needed to be. Having no design or engineering background made him free of the weary acceptance of CAD as an intrinsically difficult program to use. Instead, Csanády is the fresh pair of eyes encountering old problems: an aged interface plus a collection of last-century hardware to make it all work: a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, a desktop workstation, a desk to put everything on. This would not do. But instead of a missive emailed into a void, he was going to show them how it should be done.

Shapr3D employs only 11 people in his office in Budapest and has been selling CAD for the iPad Pro for 18 months. With his small team, no advertising or marketing (unless you count a listing on the Apple store), Shapr3D may have created quietly a small revolution among iPad Pro users.

What about Onshape?

Shapr3D needs to be compared to the other MCAD program that works on an iPad Pro. While their usage may be similar (with one important distinction…wait for it), the two companies are worlds apart. Onshape is the center of attention, is led by the founders of the last MCAD revolution, has snared $169 million in investments, and employs hundreds of people.

Csanády laughs at the comparison, but you can tell he’s proud of what he has managed to accomplish with such a small team.

But the two companies’ products are not at all the same, according to Csanády. Shapr3D is more like SketchUp—only better, he says. SketchUp doesn’t do solids, generating only surfaces. Trying to get a design from SketchUp to a CAD program usually means starting over. Shapr3D, like Onshape, is based on the Parasolid geometry kernel—but that is where the similarity ends, says Csanády. Onshape requires an Internet connection. Your iPad operates Onshape over the Internet connection while the program is in the cloud—not installed on the iPad. Onshape simply cannot work when you lose the Internet connection—or if you just don’t have one. In contrast, Shapr3D is installed on the iPad Pro. It works wherever you are, and whether you are connected or not.

Shapr3D is made exclusively for the iPad Pro. It doesn’t work on Windows. Sorry, Surface Pro lovers. If you have felt enslaved by Microsoft because the software you use runs on Windows, you may consider Shapr3D an escape route.

But before you lay down your mouse and keyboard, be warned that Shapr3D is a practically a newborn CAD program. As such, it would be unfair to expect the robustness of a mature, full featured MCAD program. Still, Shapr3D could be a good companion, providing an effective way to get started with a design. It’s a fun way to sketch, but in 3D.

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