Review: PDF to AutoCAD iOS App

Disclaimer: I was asked (politely) by somebody from Cometdocs if I would be interested in reviewing this iOS app. This is my personal review and there was no financial compensation, but the software vendor was willing to provide additional information where needed.

From PDF to CAD drawings

This isn’t my first blog post on this subject and probably won’t be the last either.

http://cad-3d.blogspot.com/2014/03/able2extract-converting-pdf-back-to-cad.html

http://cad-3d.blogspot.com/2013/05/from-pdf-back-to-dwg.html

Despite the fact that 2D CAD drawings are widely used and shared, many of them only in the form of a non-editable PDF. Or so the CAD drafters assume. Regardless of your motivation to return an exported PDF into editable format, I assume here that it is not to circumvent any copyright protection measures.

Cometdocs PDF to AutoCAD (dwg)

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Cometdocs has several PDF related apps available in the App Store. Here we specifically look at PDF to AutoCAD (dwg) (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pdf-to-autocad-dwg/id909289034)

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The Application is free to use and is available for iPad and iPhone.

The app is actually a wrapper for an online web service. The app is registered in iOS as a handler for PDF files. Whenever you receive a PDF by mail you can shared it with this app. Alternatively, in some other apps, you can press and hold the PDF icon to get a popup with the option to open the PDF in “PDF to AutoCAD”.

The PDF is then sent to the Cometdocs server where it is automatically converted. This is not an “offline” solution, but is acceptable for a mobile app, that you might use occasionally.

The interface is minimal. In fact, if you open the app for the first time, there is nothing visible. You can press the small question mark in the upper right corner and get a popup menu, with entries mostly leading you to the Cometdocs website for further help.

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This is a bit confusing at first, but keeps the app very small (1,2 MB) and the information online can be kept up to date at all times.

There is a one-time in-app purchase of $1.99/€1,79 which gets you unlimited and immediate conversions. Without this, you can use the software for free, but your uploaded files get a lower priority in the conversion queue. That said, there are no further restrictions with the free version.

Workflow and results evaluation

Let’s try this out with an example document. I’ve added a PDF to a temporary Dropbox folder and when looking at it, you can use the “Share” button to open it in a specific app.

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Once you choose the PDF to AutoCAD app, you might get a warning that “Push Notifications” have to be enabled for this app. I usually don’t allow this with newly installed apps, as I don’t like being interrupted at any point of the day by an app that nags to be visited again (especially games tend to do this). But in this case, I guess that is what you need to be warned when the result is ready. Although simply watching my e-mail inbox should be OK too.

When you use the free version, you get a nagging screen to allow you to wait or buy the priority service. Seems fair.

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All there is to do now is wait for the results to finish.

After the file is uploaded to the service, the clock icon changes from “upload” to a rotating clock, but (alas) with no indication of how long it will take.

And it took a while… about an hour or so. The PDF in the list view of the app switches into a green checkmark and is now a DWG file.

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You can select it and then export it to one of the other apps that support file transfer/copy, such as Dropbox. Or send it by mail.

And what do you get? An AutoCAD-compatible DWG, which has some layers set: H for hatches, P for polygons and T for text. Due to the way a PDF is rendered from a CAD drawing, you don’t get all the native objects, but it is now in a usable and editable form, should you want to work from that.

For clarity, I did change the Layer colours quickly (grey/red/cyan) as all layers receive the same default black/white color.

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Final Conclusions

The service is very simple. Upload a file and wait for the result. There is nothing to set up nor to configure. And this might be the main limitation of the service. If you want more control, you’ll need another application, such as “Able2Extract”.

Actually, when peeking around on the iPhone file system with DiskAid I saw that the app folder has an sqlite database to store application data and this is named “Able2Extract”. So I guess that we, again, have access to the same conversion engine as in our last review. Why am I not (too) surprised?

At $0 and a small fee for direct conversion, this is a fine, little app, which does what it is supposed to do. It does not eat up precious device storage and is integrated as a service/utility app, which is perfect for its purpose. That said, this is also the kind of app I tend to forget to have installed.

This review focused on workflow and while the wait time was considerable, the process was straightforward. All-in-all, there is not much the app has to do: receive a file, send it to an online server and react when the result arrives. This is not a DWG or even PDF viewer, but mainly a conversion utility, integrated into iOS as a utility app.