First Look – Onshape’s Mobile Interface

Onshape looks to be a great CAD app, but what kind of pitfalls might you face while adopting it? Here’s my review of the app’s mobile interface.

A few months back, we wrote a preview about Onshape, the browser-based CAD application built by a cadre of former SOLIDWORKS developers. Since that time, I’ve been dabbling with the software on and off, looking to see if it’ll fit into my workflow.

After a few weeks of relearning how to navigate through a CAD environment on a tablet, I think I’ve finally become comfortable with the interface. If you’re anything like me, if that whole “getting comfortable phase” takes more than 10 minutes, you’re likely to ditch a product, no matter how promising it appears to be. In the case of Onshape, I decide to put my impatience aside and remap the hardwired synapses I’d developed over years of using mouse-based CAD.

First off, Onshape isn’t exactly like the CAD tools that you use on your desktop. However, it is a fully-functional CAD application complete with all the solid modeling, inference, constraint and dimensioning features you’re familiar with.

What makes Onshape different is its interface. While sketching, dimensioning and modeling tools look eerily similar to SOLIDWORKS (I mean, I think they even use the same font for dimension units), there’s just something a bit tablety (or maybe netish) about the entire layout. But aesthetics aside, the most obvious difference with Onshape is its navigation features.

Pinching, two-finger tapping and two-finger sliding haven’t really been a part of CAD, but they are now. Without the use of a mouse, Onshape rightly leverages the touch interface that’s native to mobile platforms for all of its interaction. Whether you’re sketching, making selections or entering dimensions, your digits will be your input device. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that this was cumbersome at first. However, after walking through an Onshape tutorial about this very subject, I felt more comfortable with the platform. Granted, although it took me a few days to stop making routine selection and drawing errors, I did eventually come around. Onshape’s biggest hurdle had been surmounted!

While I’ve been focusing on Onshape’s tablet-based nature, one of the most important aspects of Onshape is that it’s not only a tablet-based CAD app. Because of its cloud-based nature, Onshape can be used on any device that’s connected to the web. Simply launch your browser, surf to and login in.

For those of us who have trouble learning new ways of doing things, Onshape is ideal. By being able to get used to the new interface on a laptop or desktop (even if it’s an Apple!), Onshape has compartmentalized the relearning process. When getting used to the software, I was able to learn new buttons and function with a mouse and then slowing transitioned that knowledge to a tablet where I relearned navigation.

In the end, Onshape’s learning curve isn’t too steep, and, in my opinion, its portability make it an awesome option for designers on the go and start-ups looking for a fully-functional tool that requires no investment. If you’re willing to take the time to relearn how you use CAD (which this stubborn author highly recommends), then Onshape is an excellent app for you.

Pricing and Availability

The Onshape app is free to download and use for students and makers. For professionals and enterprise customers, pricing begins at $100 a user/month.