Sketcher improvements: familiar toolbars, and helpful tooltips

The chemical structure diagram editor used by the Mobile Molecular DataSheet, and all other apps created by Molecular Materials Informatics, is currently undergoing a refit in order to make it more accessible to new users. The sketcher, which has been around for nearly 2 years, is based on a drawing paradigm that was designed from the ground up to be suitable for small-sized devices with severe constraints on screen real estate and user interaction methods. It can be used on iPads, iPhones, and even non-touch BlackBerry phones with trackpad+keyboard, to draw publication quality structures, both quickly and perfectly. While the method makes extensive use of gestures, there is still a down side to all of this functionality: it comes with a learning curve. But this about to change, which you can watch via this YouTube clip.

The previous post mentions that the MMDS app is about to get a makeover – that part is actually true, whereas the rest of that blog post is an April 1st prank. The real makeover does not involve ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs – rather it involves adding two new buttonbanks: one on the left, which contains tools that behave in a familiar way to what is expected from a conventional sketcher designed for a workstation+mouse, and one on the right, which contains common ring templates.

The tools contained in these banks work using an action-then-select sequence, rather than the select-then-action sequence that the mobile-optimised tools use. There are two advantages of this approach: firstly, it is familiar chemists, most of whom are already experienced users of ChemDraw, ISIS/Draw, and dozens or sketcher plugins for online structure searches; and secondly, it allows the app to do a bit of prompting: once the user has declared the action by tapping on the tool, the app can provide some feedback on what the user ought to consider doing next.

These two new toolbars are referred to as “training banks”, because they are less sophisticated than the mobile-optimised actions, and require more steps to accomplish comparable tasks. But they are very easy for a chemist pick up and work with, and they can be mixed and matched with the more powerful features of the MMDS structure editor.

The other new feature that is going to be released soon is the introduction of tool tips within the structure editor. This manifests itself as a glowing lightbulb at the top right of the screen, which brings up various did-you-know? style facts. But text alone would not be so great, so most of these tips come with a demo button. Clicking on it walks through an example use case for the feature being described.

Watch the YouTube clip. The new user-friendly functionality will be shipping soon with a new version of MMDS, and the rest of the app product suite will follow.

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