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.
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.
Ann, thanks- you are right.By classifying into two distinct groups, I can acknowledge value in the small screen apps. But I strongly reiterate the FLUFF effect that any major playerin the CAD industry (ummm,,,AutoDesk) is trying to put their apps onto Smart phones. It's a ploy for PR at best.
I completely agree with you. To have an application like Autodesk on smartphone is a PR job. You will damage your eyes before making a change on a drawing. On the other side to have a possibility to show various format drawings and sketches and 3D is a plus.
I damage my eyes sometimes just trying to decipher things on my laptop's 15-inch screen, even though I wear glasses. Making the type big doesn't work if a webpage has been designed to be too large to contain it all at a readable size. So I can't imagine looking at any of that on a smartphone screen, let alone detailed CAD drawings.
I agree. I do feel that in general conversations between engineers or meetings at shows it is nice pull something on the phone and help in the conversation. Or quickly check is changes were made or something like that.
We have been serving the design engineering community with interactive eCatalogs and eConfiguratiors embedded in component suppliers' websites, since 1998. Thinking it's time to offer the same capability in a 'mobile view', we released our Version 1.0 smart-phone eCatalog platform this month.
Reading about 'eye-test' feedback in this discussion, I'd be curious and appreciative of any reactions provided by design engineers about the viability and usability of this app. It's a mobile view of a SaaS app that serves out multiple instances of custom eCatalogs designed to help engineers discover our customers' components to then acquire and build-in to their designs.
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, excellent article.You're beginning to convince I really need an i-PAD, if for nothing else to save my eyesight.It's really amazing the distance we have come with communication technology.I'm one of those old guys who remembers wall-mounted crank-type telephones and party lines. The advances are absolutely striking.I certainly hope you will keep your readers informed as to developments in this fast moving field.Again, great job with the slides.
Beth, I really enjoyed the slideshow regarding the Design Apps for the Mobile Engineer. In addition to the wonderful mobile design tools for the iPhone and iPad there are quite a few apps for android devices as well. I currently have five design apps on my DroidX Android phone I use quite often. The "RealCalc and "Scientific Calculator" apps are powerful engineering calculators with functions equal to the TI 83 and 85 computing devices. Electroid is an mobile app that has such useful tools as calculating capacitve reactance, ohms law, voltage divider calculator, resistor and inductor color codes, filters, op-amps, and the LM317 voltage regulator tools just to name a few. Every circuit is a mobile simulator package for analyzing digital and analog devices. The "NXP" and "NXP RF" Calculator provide access to the companies semiconductor, microcontroller, and rf product line datasheets and application notes in addition to radio frequency design equations.
Thanks for the feedback on how these cool tools are being put to productive use. I think I would agree with the feedback of most on this slideshow post: That smart phone apps, in particular, lend themselves to utilities and other quick-hit resource tools while the viewing, markup, and collaboration apps are really better suited for the larger screen and better graphics of a tablet device.
We have been using BlackBerry PlayBooks between remote workshops using the video chat facilities. With the HDMI output built into the PlayBook plugged into a large HD TV up to 5 people gathered round provide feedback which is captured at the other end. Conflicts are formalized in CAD and advanced copies sent via the PlayBook, and all of this using PlayBooks out of the box. We get done in. 3 hours what could previously have taken 3 days
@mrdon: Thanks for the perspective on what tools seem to work best for you on this platform. I'm curious how the utility of a smart phone is better suited (if it is) for these calculator/utility apps than a traditional workstation or laptop? To rephrase, how does accessing these types of capabilities, which are already available on your traditional platform, make life easier for you in terms of getting your job done?
Hi Beth, I basically use these tools to assist my students or customer engineers with their designs. Instead of combing the web or through textbooks, I have access to these circuit design and analysis tools with a touch of my Android phone. I have quite a bit of these circuit analysis equations in my head but for the ones I don't use on a daily basis, I can get a quick refresh using these mobile tools. Reviewing semiconductor parts for proper orientation and identification on printed circuit boards can be quite tricky without a datasheet. The NXP app is capable of providing pinouts and orientation data for semiconductor and microcontroller devices and its all accessible on my DroidX phone!
Ah, perfect. So it's all about convenience and access to data when you need it without having to jump through hoops or be tied to your computer. Kind of like the idea of mainstream folk not getting up to search through a drawer to find the phone book to look up someone's number. Now it's a simple Google on your phone and you're good to go.
Convenience is the key word when it comes to helping customers out in the field with their design questions. With mobile design apps, I can immediately obtain data and provide a respond within a few minutes as opposed to going to the office and then calling the customer with an answer. Time is money, you know!
While Mobile Apps may not allow enough surface for design work (I bought a netbook because those screens are just too small for me to be comfortable viewing most things) - I agree as an engineering resource they can be invaluable. I just returned yesterday from judging senior projects at a local university. I have been doing this for years and yesterday was the first time students included mobile apps in their projects. One project involved leak detection and if a leak occurred the notification with details of location of leak had a mobile app option they incorporated into their project. Another project sent medical data collected from sensors and patient input to various locations defined in the app. I used to wonder, what's an app? Pretty soon they will be integrated into our everyday lives and a normal part of every design process. But I agree - for design use of any complexity a bigger screen is essential.
Thanks Nancy. Two great examples of what you can do when you start incorporating mobility into the equation. I think it's these little bonuses, not a wholesale shift to heavy design work on a mobile platform, where engineers will see the most utility.
Within a matter of months, we will be able to carry around real MCAD programs in a 2 lb tablet that will have have not only USB 3.0, but also a video out port for viewing on a full-size monitor.
Imagine not being limited to having only viewers and mark-up apps but actually being able to load much more power programs on Windows 8 Professional. The upcoming Surface Pro will have everything that is now missing in tablets, including a built-in but readily detachable keyboard and kickstand. The Ivy Bridge processor will make us wonder what can't be done rather than what can be done.
These are very exciting times for those of us who travel and wish to have lightweight hardware that isn't limited to lightweight apps.
Those are very good Apps. Some of them are more useful than others. Some of them are only good on paper but not very practical in daily use. Here is one that's very useful to me. It gives the chemical compatibility for common elastomers. If you use seals or elastomers in your work, this is definitely a very good practical tool. It is called MediaResistor.
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