While range limitations and bandwidth constraints of smartphones and tablets prevent full-blown CAD, CAE, or other design tool work, new mobile apps are emerging to help engineers be more productive.
Technical calculators, 3D mark-up and viewing capabilities, and a variety of highly specialized engineering utilities are now commonplace on app stores for both Apple's iOS devices and the wide variety of Android gear. There are even some base simulation capabilities being made available in app-sized packages, and there will be lots more to come as design tool vendors and engineers figure out what functionality makes sense in this new paradigm.
Click on the photo below to view a slideshow showcasing the mobile design apps available today:
Autodesk's SketchBook Mobile is a professional-grade paint and drawing application designed for the iPhone and iPod Touch. (Source: Autodesk)
The iDVM is pretty darn cool. The manufacturer makes a comparison to the Fluke 289, trying to show theirs is better. The Fluke meter has a higher safety category and a larger voltage range, but in any case, it's just darn cool to see an app and hardware like that!
This slideshow really illustrates how much the engineering profession has changed in the past 30 years. In the late '70s, one calculator manufacturer rolled out a product with a little screen that allowed the user to type in equations with parentheses. In the office where I worked, the idea of owning a calulator with parentheses became the rage, and the engineers were crowding the stationary store next door to our office in downtown Chicago to buy the calculators. The owner of the stationary store was shocked and confused. He couldn't keep the calculators in stock. Now, here we have the CompCalc which is a tape roll adding machine, scientific calculator, engineering calculator, hex calculator and trigonometric calculator (and that's not even one of the more advanced apps shown here). And it's all offered on a handheld phone. I wonder if it has parentheses.
I think the tool definitely has parentheses and a whole lot more. The strategy behind most of these mobile design tools is to pick one highly targeted piece of functionality and then leverage the unique capabilities of the mobile platform to deliver it in such a way that it drives productivity and makes life easier--especially when the engineer is on the go.
I'll be following up the slide show with a full-blown feature on mobile design tool apps, exploring what makes sense and what doesn't and how engineers are working the new platforms into their daily work routines. Keep an eye out for feature, which is slated to run in the print edition and online in May. If any one has any thoughts on how mobile design tool apps can and should be used, feel free to reach out to me. I'd love your perspective.
No formal stats, yet, Alex, but by most accounts (vendor interviews/analyst interviews/trolling around talking to engineers), deployment is pretty low at this stage of the game. Most of the major CAD/design tool vendors are releasing experimental offerings to see what works and what resonates with users. The thing about app development is it enourages a lot of DIYers to get out there (if they have a knowledge of iOS or Android platforms) and create their own app and get it into the Apple or Android apps stores. I think we'll see a lot of engineering apps created by engineers, in that vein. I also think that by this time next year, we'll see an even wider variety of apps and slightly more deployment. Again, remember this is not a replacement for traditional tools, but simply an adjunct capability on a device (smart phone/tablet) that is becoming as crucial to engineers as it is to others in business life.
Yes thats a good point....i was already working on some cool mobile app tools for engineers soon to deploy on tablets when you published this . I am thrilled that i am on the right innovation wavelength...
Thank you for your article i have been inspired to rise to the challenge.
ChasChas, your comment is funny. It also reminds me of when any business traveler carried at least half of all that stuff--at least everything but the toolbox and data acquisition hardware--and we kept hearing that real soon now it would all get merged and converged into a single handheld device. Uh, yeah, right, I don't think so. Today we may have 2 or 3 handhelds, especially those of us who need a laptop, but I'd guess it will be quite awhile before that toolbox goes away.
Beth, we keep seeing more and more articles on small screen CAD apps.I've posted "objections" before, but obviously the tide is turning where people in all disciplines feel the need to have and to hold such capability on their mobile devices. But I simply can't wrap my head around how they have any real value, as I've spent decades using full-scale CAD on increasingly larger and larger screens.On the contrary, these all seem like the old Etch-A-Sketch joke. (Apologies to the Ohio Art Company!)
So, it's the perfect tool for the Dilbert Engineering Manager who truly doesn't understand design details but simply wants to "appear" to be enlightened by using a showy watchdog tool to keep tabs on real designers using full scale systems.
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