Friday, June 7, 2013

Product review: ChemDraw for iPad

A hydrogen sulfide probe, (randomly selected from my pile
o'magazines.) Took me a bit to draw this.**
I was happy to get an opportunity to review ChemDraw for the iPad, since ChemDraw is the gold standard for chemical drawing applications. I suspect that 10% of my time in graduate school was spent, hunched over at my desk, carefully (or not so carefully) transcribing structures from papers or my notebook.*

Using the free code provided to me, I downloaded a copy from the App Store and set to work fiddling with it; it's fairly intuitive and really doesn't take much to get started drawing structures. Even though there isn't (yet) the ability to use the ACS stylesheet, the structures still look pretty nice. (Thankfully, the atom labels are not in Times New Roman.) It's really nice to have a "clean" function (the broom icon).

As Andre the Chemist has mentioned, there is no text box, so it is difficult for the organic chemist to type in reagents above the arrow. Also, there are not a number of desirable R groups available to label molecules, including N3 for the molecule in the image above or "OR" for etheric R groups. (I assume that all these functions are coming in future releases.)

I was also surprised at the relative inability to communicate one's ChemDraw for iPad structures to the rest of the world. You can't save your structures as an JPEG image, nor can you Tweet them.*** You can use Perkin-Elmer's "Flick to Share" network, but it seems odd to create pretty much an entirely new social network (with its own login/password combo) to e-mail around ChemDraw files. You can definitely e-mail the ChemDraw files to yourself, which I suspect is the main way that people will transfer them.

At the moment, this application seems to be a work-in-progress; as I have said, the desktop ChemDraw is such a mainstay of chemists that it seems obvious that this app will improve over time, and the apparent imbalance between the desktop program and the app will disappear. It will definitely be well-used, I suspect, by chemists who want to draw simple structures on the go, so that they can fill in detail work later. For now, I think that it serves as a good, basic tool to communicate structures with your iPad.

Note: Other than a free download code****, Chemjobber has received and will receive no financial incentive for writing this review.

* If I had a nickel for every time I heard, "ChemDraw is of the devil!" 
** 7 minutes, to be exact. 3:30 on my desktop ChemDoodle.
*** You can screenshot your files, which is what I did above. Also, the number of folks who Tweet structures into the wild is probably quite small.

**** The app costs $9.99. 


  1. Thumbs down for no Android version.

    1. I'll agree, but also mention that Chemdoodle offers a free app for mobile devices that's pretty good.

  2. I'm going to put in a review as someone who has purchased both Chyris Draw and ChemDraw for the iPad (at full price for both). I haven't tried Chemdoodle yet. I will probably download that when I get home.

    Here's what I expect: I'm not making full manuscripts on my ipad. I use my ipad when I'm travelling because I hate lugging around a laptop. I use Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Quick office to get 90% of the experience. When I make a document, I just get the nuts and bolts into the document, then format on a real computer. So, when I wanted to make structures, I thought these might be decent replacements. And for both of these, I'll focus on the cons because the pros are basically the same: they draw molecules fairly easily. Both use the touchscreen reasonably well.

    Chyris Draw
    The quality of export options sucks. I have never been able to get a good looking drawing pasted into a document that I can work with later. It says that it exports to scalable PDF, but I have not had luck being able to do anything other than email a jaggy image to myself, and the cut/paste option never works on programs that I want to use it with (evernote, quickoffice, penultimate, or google drive). If they could get their export options figured out, I think it could be a serious contender to Chemdraw, even if they increased their price 2-3 times.

    ChemDraw (I bought this last night so this is a 15 minute experience)
    No export options. I suspect that at this selling price, there will never be export options other than to a .CDXML file. I think that the pricing strategy around this product is for those people that already have access to a full price program.

    This app is not for me, a person who peripherally needs molecule drawing software, but has difficulty justifying the expense in their current organization/role. Perhaps one day, they will increase the price and offer the image export options, but this is the ChemDraw equivalent of Adobe Reader - just enough functionality to make you need their full featured software.