Who knew: Mechanical engineers have their own iPad app

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You’d have to forgive me for not thinking of the iOS App Store(s AAPL) as a place to find software specifically devoted to those who specialize in heat transfer or fluid dynamics. But I just recently became aware of an app called simply Mechanical Engineer, which, to me, is one of the most surprising utilizations of the iPad in the workplace yet.

Sure, we’ve seen doctors, restaurant servers, clergy, commercial pilots and salesmen of all stripes incorporating Apple’s tablet into their daily workflow. But it turns out the iPad is a cool and useful way to store and use hundreds upon hundreds of conversions and formulas that mechanical engineers (or those studying to be one) need to use on a day-to-day basis too, when they’re designing brakes or fans or bridges or elevators.

The app’s overall design is very similar to something Apple might make, in that it uses literal interpretations of what you might use in the real world. Like Apple’s own Notes app or Calendar app, the app’s “scientific calculator” is actually made to look just like a yellow notepad you might use to jot down a quick formula or scribble a quick calculation.

You can pick from dozens of formula categories, from actuator and bearing on down to spring and vehicle drive. Clicking on each topic — which look like textured leather book spines — gives way to hundreds of pre-stored forumlas, with an explanation of what it does.

Once you’ve done a calculation, you can save it to your favorites, email it or print it out if you’re connected to a networked printer.

Mechanical Engineer ($5.99) was developed by Marc Schulman, co-founder of Multieducator, Inc., which builds education-oriented software. The company started out making software for history students that was distributed by CD-ROM back in the mid-90s. But since the iPhone arrived, they’ve (wisely) moved into making mobile apps for a wider variety of educational specialties, now counting 35 apps for both the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad in the App Store.

Mechanical Engineer has been available for a year and has tallied about 20,000 downloads to date, according to Schulman. But it just recently received an upgrade that included a new series of formulas for hydraulic engineering, an upgraded graphic interface and the ability to print from the app.

I admit I would never need to use this in any capacity and there is a relatively small group of you readers that will find a need for this app, but it illustrates well how the iPad as a platform is changing the way that we work — toward touchscreen, always-on mobile devices — and inversely, how Apple has managed to work its way into highly scientific niches, decades after the very first time the Mac was deemed ” a toy.”

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Given the mistake in the formula’s description I’d be leery of relying on this as more than a check of my long-hand calcs.

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