iThoughtsHD Product Review

I have been a big fan of mind mapping software since my good friend and former co-worker Glenn Ferrel introduced the concept to me nearly 10 years ago.  He showed me how a complex project or process with multiple relationships could be easily described and managed using the mind map approach.  This allows relationships to be clumped together to help show relationships between concepts and activities.  These ideas branch out from a centralized theme or objective and fluidly show the connections between the thoughts, ideas and objectives identified.  Unlike more strict and discrete project management tools like Gantt charts,  mind maps allow free association/disassociation as ideas formulate, shift and re-synthesize into a more crystalized state.  The best use I found for mind maps is at the start of evaluating highly complex projects and processes where many states are not yet rigidly predictable and a number of variables exist.  Mind maps are also extremely useful for brainstorming sessions and help drive innovation by illustrating the connections between thoughts and objectives.

I have used a number of mind mapping packages over the years but have settled on the popular free and open source tool Freemind as my desktop mind mapper of choice.  This Java-based application is comparable to commercial-based mind mappers and is supported by several mind mapping clients on various mobile platforms.  One of these is iThoughtsHD for the iPad.  iThoughtsHD is based on the original iPhone version, but takes full advantage of the iPad's larger screen real estate.  I have tried mind mappers on other mobile phone platforms (the free Thinking Space for the Android platform is an excellent piece of software), and while the functionality is there, working with complex maps on such a small screen can easily try one's patience.  Fortunately, the 1024x768 resolution of the iPad alleviates much of the headaches associated with maneuvering maps in the window, and the intuitive pinch screen features on the iPad make it a breeze to zoom in and out of a map.


iThoughts Screenshot

iThoughtsHD supports several mind mapping desktop applications including Freemind.  The maps I imported (most of which had dozens of nodes, notes, icons, hyperlinks and other attributes) were rendered by iThoughtsHD without a hitch.  Nodes and interconnecting lines are displayed in an appealing shaded approach giving the maps visual depth.

In addition to supporting all the expected mind map features (node creation, editing node/topic/line style attributes, collapsable/expandable branches, topic icons, fill and line coloring, hyperlinks, embedded notes, etc.), iThoughtsHD also features iPad-friendly screen rotation, somewhat responsive drag and drop actions, easily accessible toolbar icons for the most frequently accessed map management functions and more.  The manual that comes with the software is actually a mind map itself (as is the case with most mind mapping applications these days), though I would have preferred that the map were fully expanded so I didn't have to click on each branch to learn how to use the program.  Of course, for those unfamiliar with mind mappers, this approach does tutor newbies to the expanding/collapsing node concepts that is so basic to these types of applications.  While each of the manipulative functions were more or less obvious, the one that required my attention was the touch and hold requirement to move a topic node.  Even the slightest jiggle while holding down the node will obviate the command.  The FAQ warns that this action "can require a steady hand", but it would have been less frustrating to have some alternate trigger mechanism.

While iThoughtsHD satisfies my mind mapping needs on the iPad, there is one missing function that has burned me - no undo function.  I have accidentally deleted entire trunks, and thanks to the constant file-saving operation with most iPad apps, my accidents become permanent.  This is a huge problem that needs to be addressed, and if it has been addressed and I failed to find out how to access it, needs to be brought to the main menu or the context-sensitive pop-up menu.  This mistake happened enough times to prompt me to save multiple copies of my maps to allow for recovery in case an accident occurs.  Another less catastrophic annoyance is the fact that iThoughtsHD fails to retain map position and zoom information when closing and re-opening the document.  Some of my maps sprawl out quite a bit, so I like to see the big picture when I re-open and re-orient myself to the map.  Alas, iThoughtsHD tries its best to center itself at its default magnification setting when a document is reopened.  This isn't a showstopper, but I find it aggravating to have to reposition the map to my liking each time I open it.

A video of iThoughtsHD in action is available on YouTube and shows off most of the features available in the product.  Maps can be exported to a number of popular mind map applications (Freemind, Novamind, Mindmanager, XMind, iMindmap, Mindview, OPML) or as a PDF or PNG image, and can be transferred via WiFi on the same network subnet, sent as an email attachment or shared via the tiered pricing website.

Overall, iThoughtsHD is the best mind mapping application for the iPad to date.  While it doesn't have everything and its rough edges can be annoying at times, the developer is genuinely committed to improving the product.  I'm looking forward to what future updates the developer product has in store for the product.

Product: iThoughtsHD for iPad

Developer: CMS

Price: $7.99 US

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Mike Riley is a frequent contributor to several technical publications and specializes in emerging technologies and new development trends. Mike was previously employed by RR Donnelley as the company’s Chief Scientist, responsible for determining innovative technical approaches to improve the company’s internal and external content services. Mike also co-hosted Computer Connection, a technology enthusiast show broadcast on Tribune Media's CLTV.