Less than six months ago, Apple announced that its App Store now holds 1 million apps—a milestone that Google passed just a few months earlier. We all now have more choices than ever with endless low-cost digital pearls just waiting to be downloaded. How does anybody find the best ones?
You sift through user and journalist reviews, number of installs, ratings, and when the app was last updated. Then, download and play with the most promising of them.
At least, that’s what I did. Here are my nominations for the best of the mobile apps for engineers:
Capturing the Good Idea
Waiting until you’re sitting at a computer to capture ideas is a little like waiting until tomorrow to write down that crazy dream you just had. You’re likely to forget the details. That’s why engineers, designers, and everybody else so frequently download these idea-capturing apps.
Sketchbook Mobile. A good starting point when ideas arise while you’re in the field. Sketchbook Mobile is a professional drawing and painting tool. It’s the less expensive version of Sketchbook Pro, but a step above the free Sketchbook Mobile Express. Available on Android and iOS.
Autodesk AutoCAD 360. A viewer for DWG files. This is probably the most downloaded of the CAD viewer apps with more than 5 million installs on the Android platform alone. It's available on Android and iOS.
GrabCAD. A no-brainer for anybody using GrabCAD Workbench. This mobile app provides access to both the GrabCAD public library and your private projects stored on the GrabCAD Workbench. View models, comment, create projects, and get update notifications—all from your Android or iPhone/iPad.
Evernote. Take notes, save pictures, make lists, make voice recordings, and organize it all in folders that are easy to use and access. And here’s a bonus for your workflow—it has an integration with the AutoCAD 360 app. Available in Android and iOS.
Let’s say you’re meticulous as you convert a pound foot to Newtons for an international customer. If you’re still doing it on your calculator, it’s probably costing you hours. Now, let’s say you’re not meticulous as you convert units. In either case, a good app proves essential.
Engineering Unit Converter is popular, with more than 100,000 installs and many happy customer reviews. The best part? The app uses less than 1 MB of space on your system. The downside? It’s only available for Android.
Engineering Unit Converter. Same name, different app. This one offers a huge selection of measures and units. The ads can be distracting, but the price makes up for it (free). This one is only available on iOS.
Simulation apps help especially during concept design. While you wouldn’t validate your digital prototypes with these (they can’t help you with thermal loads, for example), they can help you set up the most efficient design before choosing materials and otherwise moving into detailed design.
Autodesk ForceEffect. Import or sketch out your idea for a static model in this app, and then apply loads. Make changes and repeat until optimized. Available on Android and iOS platforms.
Autodesk ForceEffect Motion. Like ForceEffect, import or sketch your idea directly in the app. Then experiment with motors, pistons, and loads. Available on Android and iOS platforms.
Many engineering apps are some form of reference, often an adaptation of a hardcopy book. These two rise above the rest.
Mechanical Engineering Toolbox. This free reference app includes calculators, unit converters, and material properties. Credible reviewers call the app a “superhit” and “very useful.” Available on Android.
Mechanics Basics: Mechanics laws, equations, tables, and reference material. This app covers everything from American standard beams to wire rope slings. It will cost you almost $2.00, but what better way to find the “tension increase on a rope with angle” when you’re working on a job site? Available for Android and iOS.
Because You Love Engineering
Bridge Basher. Build a bridge, and then destroy it by adding forces with pinpoint accuracy. No engineer would ever want to demolish a model in real life, and yet reviewers call the game “enormously satisfying.” Available in iOS and Android.
Pocket Slide Rule. Why would you want to learn to use a slide rule in 2014? For much the same reason you might want to build virtual bridges just so you can destroy them. The fun. There are several slide rule apps, but this iOS one is the classiest.
Do you use any of these? Do you know about a gem I missed? Comments are open!
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