Ever tried composing an essay on an iPad or a smart phone? With patience, you could persevere, but it’s not without frustration. As I discovered, one of the biggest hurdles is cursor placement. For years, writing programs catered to the standard mouse-and-keyboard input paradigm. For the most part, mobile apps for composition on touch-enabled devices simply duplicated the PC experience on the new hardware; however, they didn’t solve the problem arising from the drastically different fingertip input. It’s not that easy to use fingertips to position a cursor precisely between certain words or characters when you need to delete, revise, or copy phrases.
You might notice the same issue in mobile apps for design and engineering as well. On the one hand, tumbling and rotating 3D models using fingertips offers a great advantage over the cumbersome approach with a mouse; on the other hand, selecting specific polygons, edges, and corners for editing is not as easily executed with fingertips. This, I think, is currently the biggest hurdle to developing a mobile app that could be used to design or sketch complex geometry and schematics. (Because viewing and markup involve only minor edits, mobile apps in that area aren’t severely handicapped by fingertip input.)
One team trying to solve the fingertip issue with mobile apps is Orange Juice Studios (quite possible a name inspired by breakfast drinks). The two principals, architect Attaz (Az) and engineer Vimal (Vim), are developing a new mobile app called Cado, expected to bring AutoCAD-style sketching and drawing to the iPad. Their secret weapon is what they call the OMouse (patent-pending), a way to use the forefinger and the thumb to draw and enter numeric values.
Vim described the input mechanism as follows: “The user is able to confirm or cancel the command by pressing either of the floating buttons that ergonomically trail the offset cursor. The keypad and sidebar tools are also presented to afford the user the option to draw using coordinate points or angle and length combinations. The horizontal and vertical guides along with the running dimensions and angles allow the user to draw quickly and intuitively.”
Whereas many mobile engineering and design apps are intended for minor edit, viewing, annotation, and collaboration, Az and Vim believe Cado can be used as a full-blown content-creation app. When released, Cado will have to compete with Autodesk’s AutoCAD WS, a lightweight CAD drawing program that can be used from a browser or from a mobile device, and IMSI/Design’s TurboViewer X.
Cado and other mobile apps are the focus of two feature articles in the upcoming February issue. In my article “Mobile Engineering 2.0,” I examine how the latest crop of apps take advantage of the tablet’s unique characteristics, such as location awareness, built-in camera, and touch sensitivity. In her article “Engineering Meets The Mobile Fast Lane,” Beth Stackpole illustrates how mobile apps are replacing certain operations once performed in desktop software.
For more, watch the demo video below, produced by Orange Juice Studios: