A mix of utilities and CAD and automation tools characterizes our first roundup of engineering applications for the iPad.
In searching Apple's App Store, it's obvious that there's a lot of low-hanging technical fruit. Most notable is the plethora of engineering unit conversion programs. We've included a few we found of particular interest to mechanical and industrial engineers. There are also many apps of value only to captive users of a particular vendor's products; we've included some with widespread user bases.
Click the image below to view our slideshow of useful engineering apps:
This native viewer for the ubiquitous DWG CAD file format supports both 2D and 3D renditions. Usability features include pan and zoom. Files can be accessed via ftp or Dropbox. $3.99. Go here.
Clearly, our starter list isn't comprehensive. Still, we believe it's a good beginning. We're also interested in your favorites for a followup gallery. Please send your picks to me at email@example.com.
Point well taken, Franck. What I was trying to say is that, in retrospect, Microsoft should be given more credit for attempting to seed the technology than they've been given. (They've received none, and have been bashed instead.) As you note, it's more a case that the capabilities weren't there, even circa 2008, and this relates I think more to available processor power than to product conceptualization or a desire to field something. The ubiquity of computing cycles today -- they are essentially free -- does indeed make a difference. (Well, they're still not free in the smartphone form factor, which is another story/discussion in and of itself.)
For the small story and responding on "created a "need" for a device", I was following tablets since 2000 because of that need, and I ended using until 2008 the psion Netbook (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psion_netBook) designed before 2000. What it had valuable for me, was 10hours battery autonomy, touch screen, light weight (~1kg), a super stable OS with instant switch-on, many useful apps (email, browser, games, HP RPN calc emulator, ..) and the best, a full word processor integrating spreadsheet tables, charts and on-screen drawings. Those specs I wanted from a tablet or convertible was certainly not achieved by any of the PC-based ones. The need was there, the technology was there, but no product before the Ipad succeded in convincing a large public. Franck (written on IPad)
To TJ and Franck, I was at the press introduction of the first generation of Windows-based Tablet PCs in 2002, and did a lot of coverage at the time, including an article for IEEE Spectrum. I have to say they were nowhere near as bad as people now claim. They were advanced for the time. True, the Windows for Pen Computing didn't work quite as well as claimed. And the Toshiba convertibles were cumbersome (that's what I'd call them, as opposed to fragile). My ex post facto take is that they failed because of a) price and b) there wasn't a perceived need for them at the time. I think that's what Steve Jobs brought to the party with the iPad. He created a "need" for a device that people hadn't really been all that interested in before. He did it by making the tablet a good looking and desireable consumer product. In conclusion, I think sometimes Microsoft takes the rap for failure when the failure wasn't really its fault. Those 2002 tablets laid the foundation for what followed.
To answer "why the convertible notebook computrs never caught on".
From my experience having looked at those for years and never been convinced to buy one, they were :
- twice the price or more of the Ipad
- half or less of the battery life of the Ipad
- heavier than the Ipad
- mechanically fragile
I agree that the netbook would be better for creation, but I think the price comparison is a bit low.
One wonders why the convertible notebook computers (where the screen can be rotated 180 degrees then closed again to make a tablet) never caught on. You have the best of both worlds (easy presentation like an I-Pad, full notebook when needed without an extra piece of hardware like external keyboard).
Good point about mobile, Brett. The definition is/has become fungible. Mobile no longer means just a smartphone, which is what is still my default thought. In the real world, though, the def now includes tablets, and basically actually refers more to a mode of working than to the platform upon which you're doing the work -- the latter (that platform) being almost irrevelant. The one exception I would say is the (lack of a) hard keyboard, which limits input capability on tablets.
Consider RealCalc (try before buy, $3.49). This is a virtual scientific calculator that also support decimal/binary/octal/hex conversions and operations, RPN entry, customizable constants, and customizable conversions (ie, add your own constants and conversions).
The Kindle Fire is a limited capability Android platform, and may be a poor comparison to a more complete android device. My Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S) also includes TWO cameras, accelerometers, and a magnetometer, all of which the Kindle appears to lack.
(Why isn't there a spell checker and previewer for these forum posts?)
When you say "mobile", I think mobile as in a tablet, and very mobile as in a phone.
I always have my phone with me wherever I go, so whatever I use would have to be usable on the phone. If I needed an app that required a tablet or keyboard, I would use a computer instead - a tablet would still be too limiting to be usefull. Exceptions to that would be the touch interface really added value, a viewer that allowed me to rotate/zoom objects, or a virtual control panel using sliders/knobs/buttons/switches.
(I do not have a tablet, but I do have an android phone.)
I can see a lot of applications for a tablet in field maintenance and on the test bench.
On the bench, the tablet could serve as the virtual display and control panel for a whole range of instruments connected via usb or wireless. In the field, it could be used to interface to systems with embedded test and maintenance capabilities (like JTAG).
I'd love to have one to start working on apps like this, but it will have to wait 'til they become a little more affordable. Meanwhile, I already have a range of instruments that interface to my laptop, and their a big plus.
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