Nearly one in every four Americans now owns an e-reader or tablet computer, and that number is growing rapidly. In the fourth quarter of 2011 alone, Apple saw sales of its iPad jump 111 percent from the same period a year earlier; an estimated 20 to 30 million people in the U.S. own one version or another of this market-dominating device. Meanwhile, worldwide smartphone sales grew nearly 50 percent in 2011, with 472 million such devices now in use.

Why do these statistics matter? Like it or not, these trends are shaping the future of everyone in the geospatial professions.

“What we’re doing in our personal lives is setting the expectations for how we want to work in our professional lives,” said Autodesk President and CEO Carl Bass during a media summit on March 27. As proof, he pointed out that AutoCAD WS, the cloud-based CAD editor from Autodesk available as a mobile app, was released less than two years ago but already has more than 7 million users, with 300,000 files uploaded to the service every week.

“New disruptive pieces of technology are often viewed as toys,” he said. “But think of how much processing power is in an iPad. It is powerful and will be increasingly important in the future.”

To underscore that point, Autodesk’s new 2013 design and creation software suites are designed to take full advantage of the iPad and other mobile devices through Autodesk 360, the newest version of Autodesk’s cloud computing platform. Autodesk users can now access cloud services on the jobsite or in client presentations for rendering, simulation, design optimization, energy analysis—essentially any process that previously would have required a desktop computer.

A new interface between the various products also makes workflows simpler and more cohesive, regardless of how the software is being accessed. The design suites provide interoperability between widely used programs such as Revit, Civil 3D, Navisworks and 3ds Max for a more intuitive user experience. In fact, these programs are no longer available as stand-alone products. Autodesk describes the new design suites as “cohesive” “interconnected” and “cloud-centric.”

It’s a change the company said is being driven by their customers, who are inevitably being influenced by trends in the consumer world. Although the changing workflows will require a shift in thinking, ultimately they open a vast new world of opportunity for adding value and winning new clients.

“We’re moving to a world where the computing center of the world is where you are,” Bass said. “It’s a data-centric view in which all tools become available in a single place.”

Photo: Autodesk CEO Carl Bass / Photo courtesy of Autodesk