Revit 2014 & ArchiCAD 17, please meet your friend SketchUp Pro 2013

So this is big news. Lots to read.

I was too busy with my impending move to get this out the day everyone else was freaking out about SketchUp Pro 2013. But that’s okay, news like this deserves to be mulled over. And I think it’s going to take a while, especially with what my Summer is looking like, to digest all the implications of this new release. In general I’m very impressed; the people behind the development of SketchUp have a really good understanding of where the industry is going. They are clearly doing a good job of focusing on what I see as the major trends in the coming years: digitization, 3D printing, and connectedness.

SketchUp+logo

Improvements to LayOut

One of my biggest complaints about SketchUp (let’s go ahead and say the biggest) is that compared to other architectural software, ESPECIALLY ArchiCAD, their documentation tools are a joke. SketchUp Pro 2013 takes documentation seriously, and this could be the start of a big game changer. I still think powerhouse BIM tools have plenty to offer over SketchUp and LayOut, but if the models can be traditionally documented better then that’s good news for SketchUp users. And bad news for the sales guys at Autodesk, Nemetschek, Graphisoft, and Bentley Systems.

I’m very intrigued by the addition of a full screen presentation mode for LayOut. This fits well with my recent discussions of reinventing our documentation. If your design and production tool can also handle presentations, not only do you not need to print, maybe you don’t even need to export. Granted, that might be a little farfetched at this junction. But there’s already a free version of SketchUp, why not a free version of Layout that’s just for viewing? I could see it. Or something like it. PDFs are great and all, but we can do better.

The Maker Movement

The free version of SketchUp has been re-branded SketchUp Make to better align and connect this free 3D modeling software to the Maker movement. This is a genius move. Highlighting SketchUp’s usefulness for non-professional, do-it-yourself 3D printing is great. Not just for Trimble, but for everyone really. The mass-customization that will come with ubiquitous 3D printing will open up so many possibilities. SketchUp will only be one option in this 3D printing ecosystem, but their involvement will be intentional and focused, not accidental or kludged. Of course SketchUp Make will only be for personal 3D printing. Using it to create STL files that are used to make salable items is a breach of the clarified license agreement:

Trimble Navigation Limited and/or its affiliates (“Trimble”) gives you a personal, worldwide, royalty-free, non-assignable and non-exclusive license to use the executable version of the Software for non-commercial use only. Non-commercial use means: you may not sell, rent, lease or lend the output of the Software or the Services. If you are a for-profit organization of any kind, or an employee of a for-profit organization using the Software or Services in that capacity, you are engaged in commercial activity; therefore, in order to use the Software and Services, you must purchase a SketchUp Pro license.

The Center of an Ecosystem

To me the biggest strength SketchUp has is that it’s the center of a giant, vibrant, and growing ecosystem of add-ons, plugins, 3D models, etc. Historically this has been most obvious with the 3D Warehouse. So many people dump content (good and bad) in there that whenever you need some random object (even if you’re not using SketchUp), it’s probably already there. For instance when I was looking for zombies for my BIMx competition entry back in 2011, the 3D Warehouse gave me plenty of options. That huge mass of 3D stuff has been a great advantage for SketchUp, and I imagine it was an inspiration for Graphisoft’s own BIMcomponents—with luck BIMcomponents will attain a similar critical mass of usefulness. Well with SketchUp in 2013 they are introducing the Extension Warehouse, which is a central clearing house for plugins. Right from within SketchUp you can access a world of bonus functionality developed by a rabid ecosystem of developers. No more searching and scouring the web. This will definitely give SketchUp further clout and momentum. Of course what I want to see is some plugins or development of the core program to help it integrate into the OpenBIM movement. It is making baby steps in that direction. But if SketchUp is to ever become a real BIM contender then it needs to take IFC and OpenBIM seriously. Fortunately Trimble—the new owner of SketchUp—takes IFC and OpenBIM seriously. So perhaps we’ll see some developments in this direction in 2014…

It has a Year in its Name

When SketchUp Pro 2013 was announced the first thing that struck me was the appearance of a year in the name. I immediately thought “I’ll bet my 401k that SketchUp has joined the yearly update train.” No software company (these days) ever includes a year in their product name unless they are declaring that it’ll be superseded within the next 12 months. And in fact this is exactly what SketchUp is doing. They are now on a yearly update + subscription model, just like all the major BIM players. Of course since this is SketchUp, the cost of subscription is about a 1/10 of some other software’s yearly subscriptions.

All in all, the gauntlet has been thrown. Autodesk, Nemetschek, Graphisoft, and Bentley Systems better be paying attention to this release. SketchUp Pro 2013 appears to be the start of something big. There is a lot of potential and I’d wager Trimble has some exciting things in store for us in 2014 and beyond. I hope this competition spurs the other companies to counter with some great advancements of their own.

Want to read some of my other recent thoughts on SketchUp? Here’s some things I think SketchUp has to teach ArchiCAD. For more of my thoughts on all sorts of Architectural and Architectural Software related issues follow Shoegnome on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.

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