Hybrid desktop/mobile sketcher (sneak preview)

Users of the mobile apps produced by Molecular Materials Informatics will find the following screen capture familiar in two ways:

Hybrid sketcher: conventional toolbar, mobile command actions

The toolbar on the left is a conventional tool palette which is recognisable to any chemist who has used a desktop software package to draw molecular structures. The bottom and right toolbars are suspiciously similar to the main menu and template groups provided by the MMDS structure editor for iOS and BlackBerry mobile platforms.

The application being shown above is an HTML page, with the URL address bar cropped out. The bulk of the application is coded in JavaScript, and it works with any modern browser, which includes the WebKit-based browsers that most mobile platforms use, as well as all of the modern desktop based browsers.

By unifying the mobile and desktop sketcher paradigms into the same application, the learning curve is kept very gentle. Users who are familiar with conventional sketchers can stick to the conventional toolbar, and at any point test drive the features that were originally designed designed for use under the constraints of mobile environments. Anyone who becomes too accustomed to drawing structures on a mobile device will not have to shift gears to return to drawing structures in the usual mouse-centric way. Or perhaps most importantly, the sketching primitives that were designed for mobile devices really are more effective for certain sketching tasks, and being able to mix’n’match provides the best of both worlds.

The JavaScript-based sketcher is at a very early point in its development cycle, although the underlying technology has been under construction for some time now. Under the hood, it makes heavy use of client-side vector graphics features that are now part of all modern browsers. The more demanding tasks are delegated to a back-end server with an all-new Java-based software stack, while the user interaction and graphics rendering, and much of the cheminformatics workload, is handled by JavaScript libraries, which are based on the Google Closures framework.

When completed, this project will provide a complete implementation of the sketching capabilities of the Mobile Molecular DataSheet, combined with features roughly equivalent to those found in SketchEl, and more. The same JavaScript-based code will form the basis of a cross-platform mobile strategy, i.e. Android, PlayBook, WP7, WebOS, or whichever phone/tablet platform operating systems are still in use when the dust has settled!

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