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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

State of Tablets for Engineering Work

July 5th, 2012 by Jeff Rowe

I’ll admit up front that I’ve had a “thing” for mobile computing devices for some time — smartphones, netbooks, ultrabooks, tablets, and so on for day-to-day office work activities. However, I’ve increasingly gotten more interested in how these mobile platforms work in an engineering environment.

I’ve used various Windows, iOS, and Android devices with different levels of satisfaction and frustration.

I currently use devices running iOS (an iPad and iPhone), as well as a Dell Notebook running Windows XP. In the past I have used an Android smartphone and tablet.

I actually had the highest hopes for the Android devices, but gradually got so frustrated with the relative lack of standards and consistency with different apps and devices with regard to look, feel, behavior, and reliability. I guess I could have worked more diligently getting things to work better, but felt I didn’t need another hobby/part time job, so I sold all my Android stuff. That’s not to say I won’t return to the Android camp at some time, because I do like the “open” aspect of things Andoid. I’m just going to take a step back for a while.

I now use the Apple devices on a daily basis and am pleased with the way they work together in their little ecosystem — what works on the iPhone usually works on the iPad and vice versa. Office document, engineering application, and photography workflows are still quite a challenge, but I’m really trying to make things work. Beyond writing and simple photo editing, on the engineering side, the I use the iPad primarily as viewer. There are some interesting apps for engineering, such as simple CAD and simulation, but haven’t spent too much time with them yet, although I intend to in the near future.

On the Windows side, I’ve had fairly good luck with the Windows platform (netbook), but it is Windows, and that fact alone has caused me a lot of frustration over the years — don’t get me started. The upcoming Microsoft Surface tablets with Windows 8 look interesting, but with the keyboards Microsoft is pushing, they look more like ultrabooks than innovative tablets. When introduced, there will be two levels:
-RT with an ARM CPU, 16-32 GB and starting at $599
-Pro with an Intel CPU, 64-128 GB and starting at $799

Admittedly, Microsoft is a little late to the tablet game, and the company (with few exceptions) has not exactly been a powerhouse with in-house developed hardware. However, Microsoft tablets might be popular in the business world, including engineering. I’m going to wait and see on that one, though.

Ideally, I’d like to be able to have one OS/platform that meets all my needs, but for the foresseable future, I’ll probably be using two — one for personal work and one for professional work — iOS and Windows. This means ongoing compromise, but I enjoy the ability to make the best use of each one in ways that work best for me. I have no doubt, though, that mobile devices and engineering apps will continue to improve to the point where they are as useful as their counterparts on desktop platforms.

Editor’s Note: I’ll review and report on some engineering-oriented apps in the coming weeks and months.

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