Outlines dominate the teaching and note-taking landscape. Many PowerPoint slides consist of an idea header with organized bullets that go into additional detail. High school teachers often required students to submit paper outlines prior to the first draft. Tony Buzan, the self-proclaimed creator of mind maps, argues that the brain doesn’t develop ideas in this traditional outline format; instead, ideas develop radially, starting with the central point and branching out into detailed topics and subtopics. According to Buzan, mind maps are more efficient and useful for capturing and developing ideas. The increased use of colors and images also helps the creator to retain and express ideas in an enhanced capacity.
Mind maps have several advantages over outlines. They provide a beautiful way to visualize data, especially for presentations and papers. Mind map topics can have complex dependencies and relationships that move far beyond the limits of a hierarchical outline.
Users looking for a mind mapping application will find a slurry of choices, from simple subscription-based solutions, to complex cross-platform behemoths. iThoughtsHD by CMS is a feature-rich mind mapping solution that supports many export and import options.
How well does iThoughtsHD stand up against the competition? Read on to find out.
It All Starts with an Idea
New mind maps start with an idea. This idea often sits in the center of the map and radiates outward, as subtopics creep to the outer edges of the canvas. The idea becomes a living organism that grows and shifts as the topic develops.
iThoughtsHD creates the main topic automatically, using the title of the map. From here, users can expand the map by creating subtopics and notes. Tap the New Child or New Parent buttons in the right side of the menu bar to create new topics and subtopics. iThoughtsHD arranges topics automatically — shifting existing topics to accommodate newly created branches. The map also automatically shifts when a user taps the plus/minus icon next to the branch, to collapse or expand a branch. Topics can be dragged and dropped into existing topics, and the indicator arrow lets the user select whether the topic becomes a child, parent, or sibling of the existing topic.
Highlight a topic and double tap to create a new child.
Although there is an element of joy that comes along with the manual map creation process, iThoughtsHD also offers powerful import tools that import existing text into a new or existing maps. Users can copy an existing map, a portion of an existing map, create a map from the iThoughtsHD folder structure, or import from the clipboard. If the clipboard contains a list, iThoughtsHD will try to separate this into different topics while removing the list number or bullet. This incredibly powerful feature makes it possible to easily import long lists or outlines.
Outlines are limited to simple hierarchical relationships, but mind maps allow for complex relationships, comments, and interdependencies. Users can create visible comments on topics by adding callouts or add hidden comments by selecting a topic and pulling down the comments tab, in the center of the page. This is an odd implementation of a comments feature, but it is quite effective. Topics can be connected to other topics using the Relationship button. This connects the topics with a two-headed arrow, which can be moved and manipulated with a simple drag gesture.
Aside from simple text, iThoughtsHD can also handle images and basic doodles. Mind mappers can choose from a built-in clip art library, take or choose a photo, or create a doodle. The doodle tool offers three line thicknesses, a color pallet, and two line styles. Lines can be rearranged and deleted, and users can export doodles via email, Twitter or Facebook. The tools are simple, but they are all that is needed to add a quick sketch to a mind map.
Mind maps are a beautiful way to display ideas, and iThoughtsHD encourages stylish maps with a frightening number of design options. Canvas options range from solarized colors to detailed textures, and users can also customize branch styles. iThoughtsHD includes four map layout styles, from the common Horizontal to the complex Fishbone. The Fishbone and Top Down styles are useful for creating maps with an outline feel. iThoughtsHD offers some of the most complex customization choices out of any mind mapping app, allowing users to control nearly every aspect of the map.
iThoughtsHD relies on the inspector concept to control the styling of individual topics. Select a topic and tap the inspector to set the topic appearance. The inspector includes icons, color, topic shape, text style, task settings, and links. Users can also apply changes to child topics, siblings, or both.
Toggle the Has Boundary slider in the shape menu to display an outline around the selected idea and all of its children.
The Inadvertent Task Manager
For many, iThoughtsHD will serve as the starting point of a great project, but the app implements a lightweight task management system that makes it possible to completely manage a project from start to finish. Convert a topic into a task by opening the topic inspector. Users can assign a task start and due date, a predicted effort time, and required resources. As a user progresses towards task completion, he or she can assign a progress percentage, which is easily updated by tapping on the completion box next to the topic. Resources can be reused for multiple tasks, and the app can also pull in resource names via the iOS address book.
iThoughtsHD‘s task management features won’t satisfy the intricate needs of most GTDers, but they serve as an excellent starting point for those managing simple projects, or perhaps managing projects for the first time. The app can export simple task reports, organized by project or resource, which serve as a quick way to share project updates. The mind map format works well for simple task management, since the map provides a snapshot of the project as a whole. This method of task management is surprisingly effective and works well for tracking progress for everything from event planning to creative writing projects.
Ideas require research, and iThoughtsHD provides an in-app browser with built-in mind mapping features. Tap a mind map topic to reveal the popover menu, and select Research. This pops the topic into Google and displays the search results. iThoughtsHD can convert web browser text into a note or topic and incorporate images into a map as well. The iThoughtsHD browser is basic, but it does offer several search alternatives, including WolframAlpha and Wikipedia. The app’s research capabilities are reminiscent of Writing Kit’s. These tools provide an excellent way to become more familiar with a topic and gain the knowledge necessary to turn a single topic into a complex web of thoughts and inspiration.
Mind maps are often the start of a much larger project. Topics become headings and chapters or transform into fleshed-out characters and ideas. iThoughtsHD offers complex export options that turn the app into a halfway house between the mind and final editing applications like Scrivener or Byword. iThoughtsHD maps can be exported in more than 20 different formats, from simple images to Outlook tasks. Users can post an image of a mind map to Twitter or Facebook with a few taps, or export several filetypes simultaneously to Box, Dropbox, a WebDAV server or iTunes. The app also supports open-in, so it’s possible to open maps in compatible iOS apps, without having to upload the map to the web. The options are many, but all ensure that it’s possible to email, export, or share a map with anyone, in almost any format imaginable.
OPML export is perfect for importing mind map data into a traditional outlining app, but iThoughtsHD can also export in Markdown format, which is supported by many text editors.
The Bottom Line
iThoughtsHD is a richly developed application with tons of features. Apps like MindMeister may offer simple mapping capabilities for free, but iThoughtsHD is a wise purchase for anyone considering incorporating mind maps into their normal workflow. The app is complex, but not prohibitively so. It’s possible to pick up the iPad and start creating instantly, while ignoring all of the complex options buried within the sub menus. For those who feel restricted by traditional outlines, iThoughtsHD is an excellent introduction to the world of mind maps.