The Apple iPad and product development

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Apple’s iPad looks great for email, web and reading, but what does it mean for the product development community? Al Dean thinks its real potential is in putting 3D into the hands of the
non-expert user
The end of January saw the launch of probably the most anticipated and most hyped device to hit the computing market in decades. Never before has such a fever pitch been created before any details of the device were revealed. No one truly knew what it would do, what it would look like or what it would mean for the computing world. Guerrilla marketing from Apple, perfectly executed.
Just in case you missed it, Apple’s iPad is a tablet computer, a handheld device roughly the size of a magazine for email, web browsing, and for reading journals and books. Like its baby brother it’s multi-touch enabled and this, for me, is where the true excitement is.

For product development the obvious application for the iPad is conceptual design. With its pressure sensitive 9.7-inch touch screen, sketching should come naturally and applications such as Autodesk SketchBook Mobile have already seen much success on the iPhone.

Apple’s iPad: Perfect for reading the New York Times (and DEVELOP3D)

However, where I see the iPad having its greatest impact on the product development process is by putting 3D into the hands of the non-expert user. Just as Apple is targeting occasional computer users in the consumer space, that use a PC for email, web and the odd work-based application, through multi touch the iPad has the potential to proliferate 3D data throughout the enterprise. Whether that’s in management, purchasing, marketing, or on the shop floor, there are a huge range of people who need to gain access to complex 3D data, extract the required information, and feed back their valued input into the development process.

To my mind this all boils down to ease of navigation. With traditional mouse/keyboard interaction, the process of navigating a 3D model, switching between different views and selecting components, is not particularly intuitive. There’s a huge disconnect between the lateral movements of the mouse and manipulating a 3D model on screen.

Unless you’re experienced in the world of 3D (through CAD or games), it’s a difficult process to initially get to grips with. But by letting users manipulate an object with their fingers, select parts, rotate a model, pinch to zoom in and zoom out etc, that disconnect can be removed. Give someone, of any age an iPhone and they can get to grips with it, almost instantly.


There are a huge range of people who need to gain access to 3D data, extract the required information, and feed back their valued input into the development process

Multi touch for 3D is not new. It’s embedded in SpaceClaim 2009+ and not only enables designers to manipulate the model in 3D, but also move and edit geometry. And for the iPhone, Dassault Systèmes has already launched 3dvia which boasts single finger model rotation, two-finger panning and the ninja-pinch for zoom in/out.

Now, despite its exceptional style and impressive multi-touch credentials, I’ve been in this industry long enough to know that Apple’s iPad is not the device that will put 3D data into the hands of every non-expert user. For one, the hardware probably isn’t up to handling complex 3D datasets and there are many rival systems currently hitting the market that offer better compatibility with existing technologies.

What is important, however, is that Apple has undoubtedly put tablet computing firmly in the consciousness of the masses. The iPad is helping create an affordable breed of computing device that removes the legacy of the keyboard and mouse and puts the power literally in the hands of the user. I wonder if the product development software developers have realised its potential. I’m certainly looking forward to see what 2010 brings.

Al Dean is Editor of DEVELOP3D. He is currently running a book on how long it will take Consulting Editor, Martyn Day to buy this latest bit of Apple hardware. The self confessed Mac addict’s inventory of ‘Apple gadgets he really doesn’t need’ has already hit double figures. For the latest odds email {encode=”” title=””}

Al Dean ponders the potential of the Apple iPad

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