SolidWorks Catches Mobile Fever! eDrawings Pro for iPad

This morning, DS Solidworks released its fourth new mobile app of the year. In the last 8 months, they’ve released n!Fuze, the wildly successful SolidWorks World 2012 app, and an entry-level version of eDrawings.  After that initial release of eDrawings, there was plenty of excitement, but also lots of room for improvement, and the community didn’t hold back.

“I have a feeling that the app will continue to grow over the next few months and years, as SolidWorks realizes that it’s users need more mobile functionality.”

“…lack of markup, measure, section, and other basic review tools.  SolidWorks needs to realize that the goal of any mobile app, however unattainable, is to replace a computer completely, and if some brave engineer is going to bring only his iPad to a design review halfway across the country, he’ll need more than rotate and explode. “

“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.”

Within 4 months, SolidWorks delivered. Today, eDrawings Pro for iPad was released, and has many of the features that the community has been asking for, including measure, markup, and section view. I could gripe about the fact that they’ve saved the best features for the more expensive version, but honestly it’s just good business.  

I was able to test the three major enhancements of eDrawings Pro:

Measure

To measure, you drag a cursor to the appropriate spot, and tap it to select a point, edge, or face. The mouse-like interface is useful for selecting small details of complex models, but not exactly intuitive on a multi-touch device. Luckily, the help section is easily accessable and explains everything well. Filtering is completely intuitive, since the filter toolbar appears whenever measuring. There even appears to be a distinct filter for holes, but it was consistently greyed out for me (even when viewing parts with holes). This is also the feature that caused the most crashes. Although the iTunes description promises increased speed and stability, my ancient iPad 1 crashed constantly.

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Markup

I was pleasantly surprised with the wide functionality of markup. It’s so much more than adding standard text, but even that part is well done. You can type text and enclose it in a box, ellipse, or cloud, and edit the text by double-tapping. You can add multiple leaders to a note, and the drag points of the leaders are a good distance from the arrowheads, so you can actually see where you’re dragging them. A nice little feature that could have easily been overlooked. What I’d like to see next is automatic text wrapping for long comments, based on the current field of view.

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You can also add markups using multi-touch. Using your finger, you can draw out your suggestions and revisions. However, this feature isn’t yet sensitive enough for writing out text, even with a stylus. It came out jagged, like it was only capturing input a few times a second. You can even choose your markup color using RGB values from the settings menu.

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The next markup tool is a dimension marker, which works in much the same way as the measure tool. However, there seems to be a couple big issues. Since markups have to be in one distinct view, you can’t rotate the model one you start this command. This makes it difficult to measure from the front to back of a part. Also, there is no filter toolbar for this command, even though it’s so similar to the measure tool.

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The next two markup tools are my favorites. eDrawings Pro allows you to insert pictures directly into the file you’re viewing, either from your photo library, or using the camera on late-model iPads. So if you find inspiration for your design while looking at funny cat pictures on your iPad you can just save it to your library and insert it into your model. Or, if you drew a napkin sketch during lunch (while also looking at lolcats), just take a picture with your iPad camera and put that in the model.

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Finally, you can delete any of your own markups by tapping the trashcan symbol, and then the markup.

Section View

Section view, while trapped on the three orthogonal axes, still has a moderate number of features. You can choose the section direction, show the cutting plane, and show or hide the endcap, and drag the section location using either a slider in the control panel, or the section plane in the graphics view (section plane must be shown for this). What it’s missing is a colored section cap, and the ability to adjust the angle of the plane.

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So there you have it, SolidWorks’ next big step in mobile computing. Does this downpour of mobile apps mean that something bigger is over the horizon? Only time will tell. Until then, if you want to get your hands on eDrawings Pro for iPad, it’s only $4.99 on the App Store for the next 90 30 days, before reaching its regular price of $9.99.

eDrawings for iPad: The Difference 3 Months Can Make

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As most of you probably already know, SolidWorks has finally released a mobile eDrawings Viewer. It came hot on the heels of the widely disappointing mobile n!Fuze app, and many would agree it’s been a long time coming. But those people would also agree that it’s better late than never.  It’s ironic, though, that SolidWorks’ tagline for this product is “You asked. We answered.”  We all hope that this is SolidWorks’ first foray into a true mobile CAD platform.

Get it on the App Store ($1.99)

I was actually lucky enough to get to alpha-test the app during a Product Dev session at SolidWorks World 2012. And believe me, a lot has changed. First, and most obviously, every other action made the thing crash, and from what I can tell, that doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore. (My copy seems to have trouble dealing with files larger than about 4 MB, but I think that says more about my iPad 1 than the app itself. Moving on.)  Secondly, the layout is completely different, and much cleaner. In the original version, several buttons performed the exact same command, and the labeling was much poorer.  Now each button has a unique function, and a symbol that follows either the SolidWorks or Apple standard.  One tweak that I especially like is the Home button. It used to return the model to an isometric view, but now returns it to whichever view the model was in when it was imported.  It also wasn’t possible to hide the upper bar (CommandManager?) and side window (Task Pane?), and the UI felt much more cramped. 

A problem that has plagued eDrawings since I can remember is still present: Edited appearances are not carried over (such as brushed aluminum with a color added in, as below) 

SolidWorks Original: 

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eDrawings for iPad:

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Finally, the most important change is the ability to import models into the app.  When I was testing the early version in January, it was hinted that the ONLY way to get models into the mobile viewer would be to go through n!Fuze. I stopped the testers right there and asked what they were smoking and where I could get some.  I would LOVE to be that far removed from reality for a day.  Thankfully, that’s not the case, as the app allows iOS to recognize SolidWorks, eDrawings, and AutoCAD files, and they can be opened from any app that hosts them, such as Mail, Dropbox, Evernote, etc. Even models embedded in Powerpoint can be opened.

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Overall, the app could prove to be very useful. The motion is smooth and the UI is easy to use – especially with the addition of a short help section – and  overall the app looks very professional. I have a feeling that the app will continue to grow over the next few months and years, as SolidWorks realizes that it’s users need more mobile functionality. A few consistent gripes among the rest of the SolidWorks community are the lack of markup, measure, section, and other basic review tools.  SolidWorks needs to realize that the goal of any mobile app, however unattainable, is to replace a computer completely, and if some brave engineer is going to bring only his iPad to a design review halfway across the country, he’ll need more than rotate and explode. 

Keep up the good work!

Is Dassault Turning SolidWorks into Apple?

And not in a good way. Apple’s mission has always been to control every aspect of its products, including the hardware, software, and sales of every Apple device. This has served them well in some areas, and poorly in others.  We won’t get into that now.  What I find more interesting is the growing similarity between SolidWorks and Apple, even since Dassault Systemes took over the company (or at least since they started exerting more of their influence, in 2008 or so). 

Let’s start with SolidWorks’ systematic dismantling of all open-ended collaboration tools in the past few years, except for its new, SolidWorks-only n!Fuze “product”.  Just a few years ago, we were able to collaborate and share with anyone, no matter what platform they might be on. We could use 3DInstantWebsite to create an html page of our models, and send them to anyone who had an Internet browser. We could also wrap up an eDrawings model in a neat little exe file, and send it to someone, who wouldn’t have to install anything.  

First they came for 3DInstatWebsite, but I said nothing because I did not use 3DInstantWebsite…

The change started with 3DVia Studio. You could upload your models directly from within SolidWorks to a cloud-based web viewer. Then you could share your models with anyone, all they’d have to do was log on, install a little plugin, and view it.  No big deal, right? Wrong. The overwhelming majority of lay-people I tried to share with using 3DVia refused to allow it to install a plugin. All of a sudden, collaboration got a lot harder.

For a brief shining moment, those in the know thought Project Panama – a web-based project management tool – would start us in the right direction. But Dassault condemned it to endless delays while they evaluated how it would “fit with their product line.”

Now, not only does Dassault only wants us to be able to share via n!Fuze, they want us to pay for the privilege.  $70 per month (at minimum) for each the creator and the viewer, even if they’re only using the web portal. I’m not saying n!fuze is the only remaining way to collaborate, but SolidWorks has made all the other options less appealing in the last few years.  So now, if you want to collaborate semi-efficiently, you’ll have to use Dassault-sanctioned programs on Dassault-owned servers. 

How does this compare with Apple? iTunes is Apple’s social platform, iCloud is their collaboration platform, or at least could have been.  If you want to share Apple data, they want you to think that the best way to do it is with Apple tools. Apple has been taking the same line for years. If you want to use an iOS device, you’d better be using iTunes to organize all your media. And if you want the “best” (in their opinion) experience out of that media, you’d better buy it through them. Sure, you can get your music somewhere else, but then its not on synced to the cloud or populated with album art or blah blah blah.

Let’s also take a look at the development of the “next generation” SolidWorks product, SolidWorks V6 (at least I assume they’re actually developing it, I’ve seen no real evidence of it yet.)  SolidWorks currently uses the Parasolid kernel (which is the basic underlying structure of the software).  Parasolid is owned by Siemens, who makes a competing software, Unigraphics NX. SolidWorks has been perfectly content leasing that kernel from Siemens, and using it to build a very successful product. But now Dassault is in charge, and all of a sudden SolidWorks needs to rebuild itself from the ground up, in order to accommodate Dassault’s V6 kernel, which is used in other Dassault products (Enovia, for one), and is entirely controlled by DS.  

That sounds to me like the early days of Apple computer, when Steve Jobs refused to build computer hardware, unless he also controlled the software that was used on it.  While it improved the performance of their products, for a long time it detracted from their ability to distribute those products. And although Apple now has more money than God, they’ve managed to alienate a sizable portion of their possible user base. Has anyone reading this NOT gotten into an Apple vs Android argument?  Android users regularly eviscerate Apple, not on the basis of their product, but their practices.   

Finally, while not currently in place, SolidWorks has recently considered the idea of distributing its software by way on an online store, similar to (or as part of) the 3DS store.  While this may honestly be more efficient, it will also likely do away with the need for resellers, and give Dassault complete control of SolidWorks sales and distribution. App Store anyone? 

But Apple has one luxury that SolidWorks no longer has: momentum. When Apple launches a product, it’s innovative, fully tested, and completely ready for public consumption.  Apple products take off like a rocket and carry them forward to the next, perfectly-timed release. SolidWorks has been stumbling forward of late in both their core product and peripheral offerings.  I don’t think many people would argue that, until the newest reveals for 2013, there has not been a lot off innovation in the core product for a few years now. They release a new version every year, whether it’s ready or not. That’s why we’ve seen two major hotfixes for 2012 already this cycle.  Conversely, Jeff Ray showed us a sneak peek of the next-gen product more than 2 years ago, and no one has wanted to say much about it since. It’s one thing to develop a product fully, it’s another to jump the gun to mollify your base.

I don’t dislike Apple (and I certainly don’t dislike SolidWorks). I own plenty of Apple stuff.  But I don’t think their tight-fisted control over every aspect of their technology has done them many favors. And I don’t think its what the future of technology – especially a highly collaborative technology like CAD – should be.

Bad News Comes in Threes

It’s been a rough week for nerds everywhere, in and out of the CAD community.

 

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First, we heard about Jon Hirschtick’s sudden departure from SolidWorks on October 4th.  I was first notified of the change early that morning by a SolidWorks employee who just said, “Get ready to feel the Earthquake. That is all I can say at this time.”  The full story broke shortly thereafter through the Graphic Speak blog, which stated:


“SolidWorks founder Jon Hirschtick, for the last 14 years a member of the executive board of Dassault Systemes, today announced his immediate resignation.”

 

Jon wrote on the Dezignstuff blog:

 

“Thank you for all of your kind words. The main reason I am leaving is that I am ready and anxious to work on a new project, not sure exactly what it will be but something brand new, and I feel that this is best done in a fresh new and smaller environment.”

 

Jon was the co-founder and CEO of SolidWorks, and maintained a position on the executive board since the company’s creation in 1994.

 

Some reactions from the SolidWorks community:

 

“I will miss seeing him at SolidWorks World events. His enthusiasm and customer involvement was catching. I hope to see him pop up again soon.”


“I really admired and liked Jon, I wish him well.”


“Good luck with the future Jon. From the 21 team to the success of SolidWorks I’d say you’ve had a good run already and I have to think there are more great things to come. I’m excited to see where you pop up next.”

 

 

 

Then, on October 5th we learned about the loss of the visionary Apple founder, Steve Jobs.  The man was nothing short of an icon and a legend, who redefined the way we as human beings interact with the world.  Whether your first computer game was Hacker on an Apple II, or Angry Birds on an iPad, you’ve been influenced in some way by this man’s creations.

 

Even President Obama took the time to memorialize Jobs’ passing:

 

“There may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.”

 

One of the most heartfelt tribute’s I’ve seen so far comes from the Pixiq blog:

 

“Three apples changed the world: Eve’s, Newton’s, and Steve’s.”

 

 

 

Finally, just one day later, on October 6th, the SolidWorks community is once again reeling from (unconfirmed) news that yet another high-ranking SolidWorks executive is resigning.  Austin O’Malley, the VP of Research and Development at SolidWorks for over 16 years  is reportedly being replaced by Gian Paolo Bassi, of RIWEBB, who holds multiple patents CAD modeling tools and functionality.  There is still no official statement from SolidWorks regarding either departure. 

 

Stay tuned.