eDrawings for iPad Goes Pro

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Back at the beginning of May DS SolidWorks launched the 1.0 version of the long awaited eDrawings for iPad.  This first release was far from perfect but SolidWorks opened up the suggestions box and asked for feedback from the community.  Many of the feature requests were addressed in the 1.1 version that shipped just 45 days after the debut of eDrawings for iPad.

Although the biggest request was a version that would run on Android, which has still not been addressed, the feature list that makes eDrawings useful to a majority of it's users (Markup, Measure, Section, etc..) was still absent from the mobile version of eDrawings.  It appeared that subsequent updates would trickle out but that the buik of what this mobile client would do was somewhat feature complete.

On the last day of August 2012, DS SolidWorks launched another version of eDrawings for the iPad called eDrawings Pro for iPad, bringing almost all the features still missing in the standard version.  In addition to the first generation build, eDrawings Pro for iPad will add the following functionality:

  • UPDATED Interface
  • Read and create markups
  • View Decals
  • Measure
  • Apply cross sections

SolidWorks, on their blog, listed many features that were already in the first version of eDrawings along with the pricing for this new offering.  The official price will be $9.99 but will debut for 30 days at a 50% discount of $4.99.  I think the $4.99 price is probably fair but the $9.99 price tag might me a bit high unless this is a must have app for you.  Some folks seems to think this is a hefty price considering they already bought the first version that does most of what this version does.  Maybe I'd feel that way at the $10 mark however it would have been wiser to make the Professional features available as an in-app purchase in the original version for $4.99.  Perhaps this would ease the pain of buying the first version not knowing the Pro version was right around the corner.  Unfortunately I will probably just delete the original version of eDrawings since it has been obsoleted by the Pro version. ($2 early adopter fee?)  

It's interesting how the mobile app marketplace has changed not only the price point of apps but also the expectations of it's users.  Five years ago, people wouldn't even complain about an application that had a $10 price tag, in fact they probably wouldn't even hesitate to purchase it.  However, today a $10 mobile app brings a lot of  "purchase hesitation" where as a $4.99 price may be still considered an impuse buy.

Below is the updated compatibility chart I built from the first version of the application.  Obviously there are still things that can only be done on the desktop version but overall this mobile client is the one to have of the two.  It is not apparent if the new interface or other pre-existing features will be updated in the standard version of eDrawings for iPad.

As far as plans to eventually support Android, well the stance is the same:

"We opted to concentrate on iOS for the time being because we felt we would reach the most users that way. But as I said earlier, we welcome any and all feedback."  - Matthew West, Social Media Manager, DS SolidWorks

Personally I have purchased a Google Nexus 7 and think it is one of the best tablets I have used to date.  Having owned the original iPad and now the iPad 3rd generation, as a utility device, the Nexus is at par with the iPad and has become my go-to device.  I hope Google entering the market and making a reference design will promote more quality devices to be made by its partners and boost the Android tablet market.  At this point counting out Android on tablets is just not going to happen and more companies have to start giving Android love on day one instead of treating the platform like a second rate citizen.

eDrawings Pro for iPad is the real deal and is the feature set I have always wanted to see on a tablet.  At $4.99, it is worth every penny, even if I already paid for the first version.  I have invested a total of $7 into having this functionality on my tablet and would like to see it make its way not only to Android but also to phones since that is the platform that will reach the masses.  Having this feature set on any mobile device will move SolidWorks in the right direction to addressing what users want in the mobile space. ~Lou

eDrawings for iPad UPDATED...

About a month back SolidWorks released eDrawings for iPad and for a V1 release it was a nice viewer.  I wrote up my thoughts after my initial install and although it was very lacking on the collaboration/markup/measure features, it had some fundamental issues even as a viewer.

Today version 1.1.0 was pushed out on the App Store which has addressed many of the major bugs and added a few nice feaures to bring it closer to par with the desktop viewing experience.  

Here are the additions:

What's New in Version 1.1.0

We’re back ! A great update with many new features and enhancements that you have asked for :

- Transparent parts
- Standard orthogonal views
- Shaded with edges mode
- Perspective mode
- Hide, show & make components transparent
- Select components from graphics area
- Hyperlinked views in drawings
- Sort files by name, extension, date and size
- Leave file open during background execution for fast app switching
- Fixed shaded drawing views during panning and zooming
- Fixed incorrect legends in SolidWorks Simulation files
- Various bug fixes

Here are a few screenshots of the updated features:

The update added filters for the file library, interaction in the UI for hide/show/transparency and nice standard view shortcuts.  It now respects password protection and supports fast app switching so the application doesn't relaunch when you return to the app.

Overall this is a quality update and makes eDrawings for iPad a good viewer.  I have attached an updated compatibility map for the features I have tested. ~Lou

eDrawings for iPad: Better Late Than Never?

Today DS SolidWorks launched eDrawings for iPad, its first mobile app to date under the SolidWorks name, well except for the n!Fuze app…*crickets*…moving on. Up until now, there have been limited resources on mobile to view native SolidWorks files. Some of the viewers currently on the market are extremely overpriced and very limited. We got a taste of how 3D could feel on a touch device when Dassault shipped the 3dvia mobile app 2 years ago, which connected with their 3dvia.com service. Although SolidWorks users could File, Save-As to 3dvia.com, there were security issues with making your content public just to view it on your iPad. The 3dvia app also lacked the important interrogation tools like markup and measure that many of us would like to have for reviewing SolidWorks data.

eDrawings for iPad:

Feature set: ($1.99 USD)

- Open SolidWorks® parts, assemblies and drawings

- Open eDrawings files

- Open AutoCAD® DWG and DXF files

- Supports "Open In" from Mail, DropBox, GoodReader…etc

- Zoom/Pan/Rotate

- Navigate SW assembly tree, drawings sheets and switch configurations

- Play animations

- Show exploded states (assemblies)

As you can see from the list above, this outlines the typical requirements for a viewer, much like we get from the free version of eDrawings on the PC. The interface is clean, supports full screen mode and reminds me of the Mac version of eDrawings with the file properties drawer. My favorite feature is the app supports the "Open In.." function of iOS which makes opening files from Mail or even Dropbox simple. Here are a few shots of the UI:


Although this $1.99 USD app is a no-brainer for a SolidWorks user with an iPad, it is not yet available on Android and is not a universal app, allowing it to run on the iPhone either. Don't get me wrong, having a native viewer is a great start, however practical design review tools are needed to move eDrawings for iPad into the collaboration/design review arena.

Personally I would like to see more focus on the features that made eDrawings my de-facto tool for communication by adding markup and measure capabilities. There are a number of things that are missing from the iPad version like:

- Markup

- Measure

- Section

- Hide/Show/Transparent/Open in Assemblies

- View inserted BOM/tables in parts/assemblies

I do agree that a mobile app does not necessarily have to duplicate functionality of its desktop counterpart but should minimally offer tools that are device appropriate. Many of these missing features, I believe, would be device appropriate since being able to markup and grab measurements off of models are key for design reviews.

I understand this is the first version to hit the public but I have to believe that this has been floating around the catacombs of SolidWorks for quite awhile and there had to be discussions around bringing more design review functions to the app. The price of $1.99 USD is fine and for what it delivers, arguably a fair price. The success of an app in today's mobile market is more than just the local features the app can deliver, but the services they are connected to.

What Version 2 Will Need:

- ANDROID SUPPORT (don't ignore the major share of the mobile market)

- Phone support across iOS and Android

- Markup/Measure/Hide/Show/Transparent tools

Wish List:

- Collaboration with others via Cloud service (shared view/markup/chat)

- Open directly from Cloud services or network shares (Dropbox, Google Drive, Box.Net, UNC path, etc.)

I wrote a while back how to Preview SolidWorks CAD data on Dropbox by using SolidWorks Task Scheduler but now being able to simply use "Open In.." makes Dropbox, or any other cloud storage service, work great for viewing your data on the device. With a few tweaks, eDrawings for iPad/Android could become a great resource for users in the field and on the go. ~Lou

Engineer's Guide to the iPad

Even though tablets have been around for over ten years, I have never had an interest in using a device that brought "touch" (which I use here lightly) to a desktop operating system, that came at an additional cost.   The devices were under powered since the target market was note-takers and the whole stylus concept was slow. So Apple steps into the game a decade later and introduces their idea of what a tablet should be. If you have paid any attention to the reviews, the field is split and it seems that reviewers either love it or hate it.  Regardless of your stance on it, one thing is pretty clear, the device is fast, has great battery life, and has a HUGE library of applications to fill in some of the device's shortcomings. 

As an engineer and a power user of technology, I was skeptical if a device like the iPad would work for me. Having had smart phones for almost 10 years, connectivity has become a part of my daily life but there is only so much one can do on a 3" screen!  With most smart phones, the library of applications is extensive enough to bring functionality to the device but some features like remote desktop, could help in a pinch but extensive use is really not productive.

Here are some reasons the iPad can be the device to have for engineers and technical professionals alike:

The Device:

As are most Apple products, the device is well made.  It is, in a sense, a big iPod Touch, which is really not a bad thing when you see what developers are doing with their applications to utilize the real estate.  The device is wicked fast and despite the fact it doesn't support "multi-tasking" yet (coming in fall 2010) it can open and close apps extremely fast, resuming the last closed state. It also supports A2DP Bluetooth connectivity with works for audio out and can be used to pair a bluetooth keyboard for any major data entry.

The battery life is just astounding.  10 hours of battery life when the device is being used but when you put the device in standby, it will last up to a month!  I have charged it to 100%, unplugged it and put it in my bag, pulling it out a noon and finding it still reading 100%. 

One aspect that I don't hear people talk about is the instant on.  This device goes from a basic "off" mode to working in a second.  Even Chrome OS doesn't do that and this even faster than any standby or sleep mode wake time on a netbook. 

So what is missing? Well, it could use an SD slot and maybe the ability to access an external storage device via a USB port.  Apple does sell a Camera Connection Kit, which has been determined to be able to connect some USB devices like keyboards and microphone headsets, among other things.  For mass storage, the Camera Connection Kit allows the iPad to pull data off of it but not write to it.

The Browser:

Because the iPad comes with mobile Safari, the ability to use cloud applications and web-based services is very accessible.  Most, not all, sites work pretty well to get to the content you need.  Remember the device doesn't support flash so check with the sites you visit the most and see if that would be an issue. I can get into the SolidWorks Customer Portal & Knowledge Base, and the almost every engineering forum I use.

I am a Google Apps user so nearly everything I do can be accessed and used within the Googlesphere.  Gmail has a specific build for the iPad and everything else (Calendar, Talk, Buzz, Reader, etc) runs as it does with the iPhone and iPod Touch.

The device also supports VPN so if you have internal intranet sites at work or other corporate hosted sites, bearing they do not require Internet Explorer and ActiveX, you can get as well.  If they do require IE, I will talk about how to combat that as well below. 

It is also worth mentioning that natively the device has a great Mail app and can be configured to use Microsoft's own ActiveSync, supporting PUSH Mail, Calendar and Contacts as well.

The Apps:

The rest was left to the applications to bridge the gap.  Let's face it, it is not about operating systems, it has always been about applicaitons and the iPad is no different.  Once I found a few key apps, my decision to buy was solidified.  Below are 6 applications that were key to my decision to get the iPad and the solutions they deliver for me and my workflow:

Dropbox - (free) This data sync service brings file sharing and transfer to every computer you use in your eco system.  Locally installed clients sync selected files/folders to all systems connected, giving access from your desktop, laptop, phone and iPad. I have found that this replaces the need for the USB storage since any file can be synced or a link can be sent from any device to share. (2GB Free)

Evernote - (free) This note and data sync service is where I live.  Everything I do; research, writing code/scripts, storing PDF files and other documents, all get put into Evernote.  I can take notes on the website, on the desktop app, phone or iPad and all of it syncs. There is a free 40MB/month service and the Premium is about $45/year.  I have the Premium account for the full search and expanded space to 500MB/month.

GoodReader - ($0.99) This documents reader connects to many online services like Dropbox, Google Docs, Box.net, FTP and more to download and upload files from across the iPad. Attachments from Mail can be opened and managed from within this application.  GoodReader essentially acts as a device wide file manager and viewing solution for the iPad.

Office2HD - ($7.99) For those of you who use Google Docs, there are many solutions to download and access your documents offline on the iPad.  However, creating new or editing Google Docs online is not possible...yet via the web.  This application brings a word processor and spreadsheet creation capability (cheaper than Apple's own Pages & Numbers) and has the ability to edit existing Google Docs directly.  **It currently does not work with documents created with the newly announced document editor yet**

IM+ - ($9.99) Many companies are using instant messaging to keep communication up among employees and this app has it all!  It supports SKYPE, AOL, MSN, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo!, Google Talk, Jabber, ICQ and MySpace.  You can have multiple accounts on each type and it supports PUSH so messages can pop up as you are working without the application running.

WinAdmin - ($8.99) This is a great remote desktop client and the last piece of the puzzle for me.  Coupled with a VPN connection, access to any remote desktop enabled system can be used.  It supports legacy systems and the most current Windows 7 and Server 2008 systems as well.  This gives a very usable remote touch access to run any application, like CAD, for those times when you need to make an edit or access those corporate PLM/ERP/MRP systems internally.

Conclusion:

Having a snappy, instant on, application rich, big touch device is becoming something I am preferring to use for a majority of my day to day work.  I have not yet traveled with it but for those that do, the TSA has determined that the device does NOT have to be removed for security. For me, not having to worry about the person in front on me moving their seat and breaking off my 17" notebook screen is appealing!

I purchased the 16GB WiFi version since I already own a Verizon MiFi, which gives me connectivity anywhere but if you don't, it might be worth the extra $130 to get the WiFi + 3G version.  The access via the 3G is provided by AT&T (I know, I know) but it is contract free so you can pay $15/mo (250MB) or $30/mo (unlimited, no really unlimited not the 5GB hidden ceiling) and pay as you go.

As I said in my last post about touch, I believe that 2010 is going to be the year of the tablet and engineering software companies should start developing supplementary design tools for these devices.  Portals to PLM/PDM, CAD viewers and markup tools, design planning like SolidWorks LABS Treehouse, and even web-based tools optimized for touch. Mobile is booming and is the single largest hardware and software market so why not give engineers ways to get things done no matter where they are! ~Lou

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