Mind Map AR is a new augmented reality (AR) mind mapping application, available for Android smart phones and iPhones in the near future. It displays topics and their connections in 3D, displayed over the top of your camera’s view. The controls are easy and intuitive.
While it’s not yet a full-featured business mapping tool, Mind Map AR does a tantalizing job of showcasing what’s possible. I recently had an opportunity to interview Dante Martin, the founder of ScapeHop – the developer of Mind Map AR – to learn about the thinking behind it, the promise and limitations of augmented reality and what the future looks like for 3D mind mapping.
Chuck Frey: What’s the backstory of Mind Map AR? What made you decide to create this application?
Dante Martin: I’ve always felt mind mapping is an incredibly effective strategy for learning and brain storming. When I first learned about Augmented Reality, I was intrigued by its implications for learning and productivity. Mashing up mind maps and AR felt like a natural next step.
I became obsessed with the vision of building seemingly physical idea structures that I could walk through and around. The decision to launch this app stems from my desire to have an app that can do 3D Augmented Reality mind maps. It’s more of a Field of Dreams approach: “If you build it, they will come.” I hope others are like me and will enjoy this experience too.
Frey: What needs is it designed to fill?
Martin: Everyone has eureka moments, and we’d all be better off with more. That’s the need Mind Map AR is designed to fill – more eureka moments. Mind Map AR is designed to do this by getting your blood flowing in your brain better as you move around your thoughts.
The AR experience also engages your brain by better tapping into your powerful hippocampus as you work with color, imagery, and 3D structures. The structure of the mind map directly corresponds to the way that our own brains link information together, store it and retrieve it. The colors and images act as mental triggers which help your brain link the items together.
Having voice input also makes for more conductive thinking since you can effortlessly grow your mind map on pace with the flow of your thoughts. You’ll be able to let your thoughts flow freely and come up with new ideas.
Frey: Is this a business tool or more of something to play around with on your smartphone?
Martin: Mind Map AR is a personal tool that helps you generate insight and build knowledge in any setting including a professional one. Most business tools have an inflexible format, and you must force your thinking to conform to it. A predefined format can be useful for organizational consistency, but it comes at the cost of personal creativity. You also risk losing non-conforming approaches that might actually be better.
Mind Map AR overcomes these shortcomings. Its flexibility helps you develop break-out thinking. So, in a professional setting, whether you are planning a big presentation, preparing for an interview, or generating bright new insight for an analysis, Mind Map AR can make you better at work.
However, Mind Map AR can also be used in many other settings, such as studying, planning travel, writing, problem solving and many other extracurricular projects. Anytime you want to brainstorm ideas or organize information, this app will allow you to look at things in a new way.
Frey: Who do you view as the primary audience or audiences for it?
Martin: Our primary users are knowledge workers and students spanning business and academia. Our initial users found Mind Map AR despite it still being in beta. They wanted a tool that helped them better tap into the creative power of their minds. Their success depends on building knowledge, insights, and ideas. So far our user base includes disproportionate segments of business leaders, consultants, instructors, corporate trainers, and students.
Frey: Are there some shortcomings to traditional 2D mind mapping that you were aiming to overcome with Mind Map AR?
Martin: I’ve tried nearly all the mobile mind mapping apps. 2D Mind Mapping has worked in the past, but now that we have the technology to create 3D AR mind maps I believe that it’s time for the process of mind mapping to evolve.
Traditional 2D mind mapping works on a desktop or laptop with keyboard shortcuts, but it gets tedious on a smartphone or tablet. Mind Map AR overcomes this issue. It provides a new approach for mobile devices. Adding the third dimension eliminates the space constraint and Augmented Reality delivers an experience that’s bigger than your smartphone’s screen. We designed Mind Map AR to be an evolution of mind mapping, and I doubt users will go back to 2D after trying it. There’s nothing quite like the experience of being able to move around within your ideas and see them from all angles.
Frey: What specific advantages do users get from working in 3D with the mind map versus a traditional 2D mind map environment?
Martin: Mind Mapping in 3D feels natural and intuitive. 3D lends itself well to the branched structure of mind maps. But 3D mind maps get even better when you can actively experience them in augmented reality. Mind mapping in AR is more mentally engaging which amplifies the core value of what makes mind mapping great.
Our brains have evolved to excel in a 3D world. We have a knack for orientation and relative positioning. This inherent ability is both powerful and effortless. For example, once you’ve seen where the bathroom is in an unfamiliar building you don’t need help getting there again. You effortlessly capture the information. This natural aptitude is what you harness with Mind Map AR. You develop a relative sense of where information is and capture it in the process.
Frey: How much of a learning curve is required to adopt this software?
Martin: Mind Map AR is designed to be simple and intuitive. If you follow your instinct to tap on what you want to interact with you will have 80% of what you need to be productive. For example, if you want to edit a node or add to it you just tap on it.
You can get another 10% proficiency by following your instinct to move. For example, if you want a different view of your mind map you move to get that view just as you might move around an apple tree for a better look at an apple you want to pick. The last 10% of the learning curve is getting acquainted with advanced features like filtering the view of your mind map with node tags. Mind mappers will have no problem with our app and once they have figured out the basics they will be able to use it with ease.
Frey: How easy is it to add content to a 3D mind map in Mind Map AR?
Martin: Adding content is simple. You touch a node, and a menu appears with all the options you need to add or edit content. You can type or talk for text input, so you have the choice of whatever is most convenient for you at that moment. You also can change colors, add images, hyperlinks, cloud storage file link attachments, etc.
Frey: How easy is it to manipulate the nodes within the map once you’ve created them – to rearrange them, join them to each other, etc.?
Martin: Connecting and manipulating nodes in Mind Map AR is straightforward and flexible. The basics actions like cut, copy, and paste are all there. Also, visual directional and bi-directional arrow links can be used to link nodes that are not parent/child related. You can also manually move nodes. However, by default, the nodes are auto-arranged for simplicity.
Lastly, there is a Node Jump feature which lets you define a related node to jump to which will enable you to make associations that may not justify a visual link. Overall, Mind Map AR provides a rich set of options to manipulate 3D mind maps. This tool is designed to be as intuitive as possible, so that it won’t take users long to figure it out.
Frey: Is there some way to turn off the camera? In the demo, I found the constantly moving background of the tables and chairs to be very distracting.
Martin: Yes, it can be disabled. However, when you are experiencing it in the first person, you’ll find the background to be a natural fit. That said, not all environments are suitable for AR so you can disable the Augmented Reality mode and enable the VR Canvas which is a simple 360-degree virtual background that replaces your environment as the background. You can also lock motion sensing if you are in a situation where it does not make sense to be moving around. In this case, you can use pinch to zoom and the rotation joystick to navigate.
Frey: Your website talks about the idea that Mind Map AR “harnesses your best ideas.” How, exactly does it do that?
Martin: Mind Map AR preserves the best of what traditional mind maps offer but enhances your engagement. So the benefits mind mapping brings to ideation remain, but you now have a more active and engaging experience that helps you tap into more of your potential. This ties back to the earlier point about how our brains evolved to excel in a 3D world. The ease of use and 3D perspective Mind Map AR provides allows you to capture and expand on fleeting thoughts and ideas.As you develop them, these ideas can lead to insights which might have otherwise gone unexplored.
Frey: It also talks about using Mind Map AR to “effortlessly explore inspired ideas with family, friends, and coworkers.” Is this a tool that enables multiple people to work on a mind map at the same time?
Martin: Sharing is possible a couple of different ways. You can do file sharing where other Mind Map AR users can experience the mind maps you’ve built. And there is outline text export where users can transfer the ideas from their mind maps into other deliverables like presentations, emails, notes, etc. We are also working on a live sharing mode for instructors, but I’ll hold the details on that until we are closer to launching it.
Frey: You say that “Mind Map AR helps you interact with innovative ideas without constraints.” What types of tools tend to constrain the thinking of business people and why? How does Mind Map AR solve these limitations?
Martin: Conventional business tools force conformity to linear formats. They work for communication since serial information is easily consumable by others, but they are deficient for what should come before communication; thinking, ideation, and creativity.
One of the reasons mind maps are great is because it’s OK to go down rabbit holes. You can develop and build on a stream of thought without worrying if you are straying off course. Those mental paths often lead to a place that enhances your original thinking. Even if you decide you missed something, there’s no harm done. You can always get back to a previous idea and build another branch without compromising your original thinking. This is powerful because you formalize your thoughts with the benefit of a broader perspective that produces better results.
All mind maps share this quality, but Mind Map AR delivers the third dimension which gives you a lot more flexibility. Once you have built your mind map out, you can see it all at once and look at it from many different angles. You can then harness that knowledge structure and leverage it anywhere. Your mind will be more free to let the ideas flow, rather than being constrained by any limitations.
Frey: In the FAQs, it says “Many starting points allow you to get even closer to the way your mind works.” So isn’t Mind Map AR more like a concept mapping tool than a mind mapping app?
Martin: It can be a powerful tool for concept mapping as well, but our approach is an evolution of mind mapping. In Mind Map AR many roots allow users to have related, but distinct mind maps in the same file. This allows users more flexibility. We’ve worked hard to eliminate any friction between a user’s ideas and the capabilities of the app. We’ve also added features to help users who want to work this way. For example, you can create arrow links and jump links between the mind maps. They are not limited to their own structures. The same applies to essential features like cut, copy, and paste.
Frey: Is any special equipment like VR glasses required (headset) in order to use Mind Map AR?
Martin: Mind Map AR runs on ARCore, Google’s Augmented Reality platform. It runs on any Android smartphone supporting ARCore. At the time of this interview, ARCore is still in developer preview, so it is not generally available yet. However, there are some high-end Android devices that can run it for users willing to install the ARCore developer preview app. The smartphone models Google currently supports ARCore on are the Samsung Galaxy S7s, S8s, Note 8, the Google Pixel models, and the Pixel 2 models. Google has announced they will expand support to more smartphone models in the future.
Frey: What kind of early feedback have you received from alpha or beta users?
Martin: The most common initial response is “Wow, this is cool!” We’ve received a lot of enthusiastic feedback from early users and testers. Everyone loves the magic of walking around and through their thoughts as if their ideas are physically present. Users also like adding images on the fly with pictures taken from their phone’s camera or any image in their gallery or on the web. The main message we have received from our feedback has been: ‘Mind Map AR makes thinking, brainstorming, and studying fun.’
Frey: What’s your timetable for releasing the full release of Mind Map AR?
Martin: The official release of Mind Map AR will be when Google announces the general availability of ARCore which is expected to happen before the spring. Mind Map AR will be among the first productivity apps on the Google ARCore platform. However, it is currently available as a pre-release beta app from the Google Play Store.
So users with a compatible smartphone willing to install the developer preview version of ARCore can download and use it today. We encourage Mind Mapping Software Blog readers to try it and send us your thoughts. You can reach us with the contact form at the Scapehop website. That form feeds straight into my inbox and I read every message.
Frey: Is the app available for iPhone yet?
Martin: Mind Map AR will be released on Android first. We started development last year before Apple’s augmented reality platform (ARKit) was announced, so it wasn’t an option then, there was only Google. That platform evolved into Google’s ARCore solution which is what Mind Map AR will be launching on. We will work on an Apple version as soon as we have the ARCore version launched.
Frey: Let’s say you’re talking to a business user of traditional mind mapping software. How do you convince him to make the move to 3-D? Why would he want to do so? What would the benefits be?
Martin: Mind Map AR is designed to help you creatively develop and grow your thinking, so you produce more impactful results. It helps you access your untapped genius to stand out from the crowd. You can take your mind mapping advantage to a new level with an app designed to deliver the core value of mind mapping better with an experience that utilizes our brain’s inherent knack for working in 3D.
Frey: What are your future plans for expanding Mind Map AR’s capabilities?
Martin: We are looking at new platforms to make the Mind Map AR experience accessible to as many users as possible. We also will keep fine-tuning Mind Map AR to ensure it is enabling users to achieve what they are setting out to with their mind mapping efforts. User feedback will guide many of our next steps, so we’d love to hear from anyone who tries it.