In the emerging world of mind mapping on the iPad, iThoughtsHD has taken an early lead with an incredible set of features that no other developer even comes one close to. More importantly, it contains the features and functionality that makes it eminently useful to business users. And on the iPad’s large screen, it’s an absolute pleasure to use.
iThoughts started life as an app for Apple’s iPhone, where its developer, Craig Scott, quickly established it as the leading mind mapping app for that platform (read my review of iThoughts for the iPhone here). When he heard that Apple was releasing the iPad, he quickly jumped on that opportunity. But he didn’t just port his popular iPhone app over to this brave new computing platform. To his credit, he looked for opportunities to leverage the unique capabilities of the iPad, such as pop-over windows. It’s also obvious that Scott has a bigger vision for what mind mapping can do on this mobile platform, and a keen eye for usability and interface design.
In this review, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most valuable capabilities of iThoughtsHD, and why they make it an ideal business mapping tool.
iThoughtsHD has a clean, well-organized user interface that is key to its functionality. It contains just enough toolbar icons to enable you to quickly capture your ideas, while more advanced tools for embellishing your map and its topics are cleverly hidden within several “inspector” buttons. That keeps them out of the way, yet they are only a few taps away when you need them.
Creating topics in iThoughtsHD
This well-designed app gives you several options for adding topics to your mind maps. A set of 3 buttons enables you to add child and sibling topics, and to create a topic at the level before the currently selected topic. Many desktop mind mapping programs don’t even offer this last option, so it’s a bit surprising to see it on the iPad. You can also add a new topic by first selecting a topic, and then clicking on a blank area of the workspace adjacent to it. iThoughtsHD will automatically create a new topic at that location, connected to the one you selected.
I tried this, and discovered that it was a very effective way to add new topics – mainly because it doesn’t require you to tap the screen with any amount of accuracy. I also love the fact that you can create new topics from within the mapping workspace; you don’t have to reach up and tap on a toolbar icon.
Once you have added some topics to your mind map, it’s time to add some style to them. The shape and color of topics, icons and task details can be set via a simple multi-tabbed dialog box. It also contains a tab for topic notes, which may contain live URL and e-mail links. After you have finished typing your notes, you simply click on a blank section of the app’s workspace and your note is automatically saved. Nice!
Moving topics is simple: You just tap and hold a topic until it is highlighted and its connector line disappears. Drag it until it is overlapping the new topic to which you want to join it and drop it there. Obviously, the developer has a strong sense of the principles of user interaction and interface design, because it shows in simple, no-nonsense functionality like this. Deleting topics is similarly easy. Double-tap on a topic to bring up the context-sensitive menu, and delete the topic – or simply move a topic to a blank area of the workspace and drop it there; the delete command appears above it.
In addition, you can add task information to map topics, including start and end dates, percentage complete and priority. Once again, this is a feature you’d never expect to find on an iPad app, yet here it is in iThoughtsHD.
This impressive app’s attention to detail carries over into the map-level options it provides. These are accessible via another inspector icon in the toolbar. It enables you to:
- Set the map background color and pattern
- Turn the topic auto-layout setting on and off
- Control inheritance of topic colors and shapes
- Turn drop shadows on and off
- Turn rainbow coloring of topics on and off
You won’t find most of these capabilities in any other iPad mind mapping application.
Impressive import and export capabilities
One of the most common usage scenarios for mind mapping apps on the iPad, iPhone and other portable devices is that you get inspired, fire up your device and capture some ideas on the fly. You then transfer your new mind map to a desktop program for further development and refinement. That means it’s essential that these apps offer multiple options for exporting your mind maps to other applications.
Not surprisingly, iThoughtsHD offers a multitude of import and export options. You can export your maps via e-mail, wi-fi transfer, Box.net and Dropbox (the latter two are online file storage services, which you can utilize to keep a backup of all of your iThoughts files). Supported export formats include:
- Freemind (.nmind and .nm5 formats)
In addition, the developer of iThoughtsHD has given some thought to supporting other, more informal forms of information transfer. For example, I selected a topic in my mind map that contained 4 subtopics. I tapped it a second time to display the context sensitive menu, and selected the copy function. I then switched over to my writing tool of choice on the iPad, Evernote, and selected the paste function. The text of the topic I selected was pasted into Evernote, with the 4 subtopics neatly indented beneath it.
This works the other way around, too: You can select several lines of text in an e-mail message, copy them and paste them into iThoughtsHD; each line is added as a new topic. I believe that digital data is most powerful when you can move it between applications and manipulate it at will, without the application getting in the way. iThoughtsHD does a great job of enabling this.
iThoughtsHD offers some additional options for importing and exporting information in the iPad’s settings menu, such as whether or not text, line and fill coloring are carried over into exported files, and whether or not the app’s auto-layout functions are enabled for exports to NovaMind. Since these are capabilities that will probably appeal mainly to advanced users, it makes sense that they are not part of the app itself, but are handled in a separate iPad settings menu.
Since its launch in early 2010, the iPad has gained a reputation as being primarily a device for consuming content. iThoughtsHD takes a contrarian tack by enabling it to be a powerful and flexible content creation tool. This well-designed app contains as much functionality as some desktop mind mapping programs. Its practical design ensures that you can get started quickly with the basics of this app, and explore its more advanced functionality as you get more comfortable with it. In short, iThoughtsHD is the gold standard for mind mapping on the iPad.
At US$9.99, iThoughtsHD is a bargain. If you own an iPad, iThoughtsHD should be an essential part of your personal productivity toolkit.