Thursday, June 21, 2012

AutoCAD/LT and Touchscreens

You've seen those large touch-screens on the high budget flashy news shows, where the host, using one or more fingers on one or more hands to delight and amaze us with this visual mastery. You may have also seen the demonstration from Autodesk on youtube for the very impressive Multitouch Computing Labs demonstration (

So how about the current Windows 7's Slate touchscreen computers (or the newly announced Microsoft Surface Tablet)?

I use the Samsung Series 7 Slate: unlike the iPad (or insert-your-favorite-Android-slate-here), this is a full operating system (Windows 7 64-bit). The Series 7 sports a 400 nit, 11.6-inch capacitive panel (1366 x 768 resolution), Intel's 1.6GHz Core i5-2467M CPU with integrated graphics, a 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM. Connectivity comes courtesy of 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, plus there's a USB 2.0 port and a micro HDMI socket (and cameras front and rear with light sensor). While not as smooth and universally responsive as what we've come to expect on the iPad, the iPad (and Droid-slate) can't launch a full copy of Excel or Work or Photoshop or CAD (for better or worse). Windows 8 promises to trim the fat and bulk from Windows 7 and offer better touch-screen experiences.

So how does AutoCAD/LT fair on the Tablet PC/Slate? I installed LT 2013 and took it to a job site for the last few weeks for some real world testing. Battery life was good: just under three hours jumping between MSOffice applications, AutoCAD, Evernote for Windows (the best multi-platform notes taker), and when Wifi was available (finding a power outlet to recharge is so much easier) I added web access to the mix from DropBox access to FTP site access and more (and access to my desktop remotely).

What Works
  • Pinch zoom works whether you are in a command or have no command running: place two fingers on the screen simultaneously, bring together to zoom in, move apart to zoom out.
  • Pan without activating that command: place two fingers on screen simultaneously then drag in the opposite direction of where you want to go.
  • Deselect objects by reselecting one of them and holding for one second. Dropping an item from a selection set still requires a keyboard or menu selection.
  • Take advantage of an AutoCAD feature: MOVE command does not need to be active in order to move objects. Simply make a selection, the click/hold and drag the object(s) to the new location.
  • Floating commandline just gets in the way on a touchscreen: dock it.
  • Right-clicking on my screen is triggered in two ways: touch the screen with one finger and hold for a second (does not work in AutoCAD/LT), or touch the screen with one finger and tap close by with a second finger (works well in AutoCAD/LT).
Observed Limitations
  • Running Osnaps are critical. It takes too long to set any other way.
  • Forget keyboard shortcuts.
  • Ribbon shines over the "classic" interface of pulldown menus and toolbars.
  • Customization of the Ribbon through CUI command is critical: you have to compensate for a lack of a keyboard if you are a power user.
  • Keep that screen touch-pen that came with your device real close: sometimes precision selection require more finesse than an adult finger can offer.
  • Don't avoid Zooming in and out more often than you would on a desktop.
  • Use that USB keyboard (vs onscreen keyboard) every chance you get: AutoCAD is tethered to the command line more than you think.


I prefer access to my DWG files in AutoCAD/LT over any viewer running on a lightweight status-symbol "pad" toy. Same with my other "office" work files. While great for collaboration, I find Cloud-based Cad tools like AutoCADWS limiting with their need for an Internet connection.
By the same token, touch-screen is not practical for production work: keyboard entry is still very critical to AutoCAD/LT even with the advent of the Ribbon. And I truly miss convenient right-clicking. So, hang on to that laptop (and mouse) for longer than you wished.
AutoCAD/LT (and Microstation for that matter) require a lot of information to be entered via the keyboard so that would restrict the use of a tablet PC. On screen keyboards are just too slow. The CAD software is just not there for true touchscreen keyboard-free use.