iCAD: What Touch Could Bring To Product Development

Using the iPhone for the past couple of years, I have become accustom to having a multi-touch device at my disposal on a weekly, daily, hourly basis. So as you can imagine Apple's launch of the iPad this weekend peaked my interest...sort of. Despite the reasons why I chose not to get one right away, there is something compelling about having a large touch screen device that you can perform certain computing tasks with.  This is similar to the way products are developed and the various tools we use as engineers to develop concepts, and eventually the final product.

Spaceclaim has shown how touch interfaces can be used within their direct modeling tool and SolidWorks 2010 with some minor tool selection capabilities with gestures.  SolidWorks also debuted the SolidWorks V6, a cross-platform technology preview, showing how it could run on the Wacom Cintiq to manipulate the model and queue up menus.

I know there are other examples but you can see that touch makes sense when applied to certain areas of a CAD platform.  Actions like pan, rotate, zoom and tool selection all seem to have intuitive applications when it comes to CAD but there are aspects that are hard for me to embrace for touch.  Precision selection like mating or surfacing operations might be a bit difficult, especially when trying to pick an edge or vertex of a model.  However, that is not to say that a change in approach wouldn't solve these challenges but in many ways it is our own inertia to stick with interfaces we know and have become accustom to that prevent us from moving forward.

When Apple first introduced the iPhone with a virtual keyboard, everyone complained about it due to the lack of feedback and precision typing.  After spending some time using it, it becomes apparent that the keyboard was designed to be used with your fingers (even those of us with hotdog fingers) and tries to predict what you meant to type.  If CAD companies focus on designing the interface around the user, it could be a powerful tool if executed correctly.

So what tools of SolidWorks' make sense for multi-touch now?  I am sure there are a few but off the top I think many of the SolidWorks LABS tools could be a good start.  At SolidWorks World 2009 there were a couple of Microsoft Surface tables with an eDrawings mockup and something that resembled BluePrint Now.  The eDrawings Surface was showing off a pan, rotate and zoom interactions, while the other was a simple 2D drawing tool, allowing multiple users to interact and draw with.  Treehouse, BluePrint Now, and eDrawings all seem to scream out for the ability to run on a device like the iPad or HP tablet.  What better way to "dip a toe" into the touch device world and get feedback from real users in order to apply that technology to mainstream SolidWorks in the future? ~Lou

*UPDATE* Check out Josh's iPad First Impressions post over at SolidSmack