Mind Mapping on the iPad

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I have been a fan of mind maps for several years. As I wrote about in a previous post, mind mapping, after note-taking/research, is the first step I take in writing a paper. In certain cases, I might even start with a mind map as a way of helping guide my research and organizing the structure of my argument.

Mind mapping can also be helpful in the note-taking I do when preparing a course lecture. For instance, I often prepare a mind map for each of the papers being covered in a seminar. If I prepare the mind map on my MacBook Pro or iPad (as opposed to on paper) I can print the mind map, distribute it as a PDF, or use it via an LCD projector as I would a Keynote presentation.

While I find mind mapping incredibly helpful for both writing and teaching, I find them most helpful when I can convert them into something more formal. Generally, the mind maps I create end up being exported in the OPML outline format. Once in this format, I can import them into OmniOutliner and further refine my ideas. If the mind map deals with a paper topic, I may convert it to an outline and never return to the original brainstorming mind map. On the other hand, while I will often use a mind map in class, I also like to reorganize via OmniOutliner and export the outline as a Keynote presentation. There are even times where the mind map is sufficiently detailed to allow me to move directly to writing in Scrivener. 

Mind Map Workflows

  1. Mind Map->OMPL Export->Scrivener
  2. Mind Map->OMPL Export->OmniOutliner
  3. Mind Map->OMPL Export->OmniOutliner->Scrivener
  4. Mind Map->OMPL Export->OmniOutliner->Keynote

iThought HD and MindNode Pro

Recently, I have begun doing most of my mind maps on my iPad. Two apps that are particularly well suited to this task are: iThoughts HD and MindNode Pro.

MindNode Pro Mind Map

MindNode Pro offers a clean and simple mind mapping interface. The default new document starts with a rounded center rectangle. The shape, color and outling of the nodes is customizable as is the screen background. In this shot I have added fill colors to each of the nodes and changed the default background color from white to gray.

MindNode Pro Mind Map

Basic Tools

To add a new child or sibling node, you simple drag on the “+” sign of the currently active node. The positon of the nodes can be automatically adjusted or manually moved by dragging the node to a new position on the screen.

Basic Tools

Color Options

MindNode offers a wide variety of color choices for all elements of the mind map. Color choices go from the more vibrant shown below, to softer pastel colors.

Color Options

Borders and Fill in MindNode

As I mentioned, MindNode allow you to use or eliminate borders around nodes, and customize the color fill. You can also do more fine-tuned ajustments of the width of a node.

Borders and Fill in MindNode

Transferring you MindMap

MindNode Pro offers a number of ways to save or transfer your mind map including DropBox support.

Transferring you MindMap

Outline view in MindNode

One of the unique aspects of MindNode is the outline view. This feature which is absent from iThoughts lets you see how you mind map is will look if it is imported into a outlining program. It also provides an easy way to jump from one part of your mind map to another and expand and collapse individual parts. (This latter feature is nice for classroom presentation where you might want to hide parts of your map so that students pay attention to your lecture instead of attempting to copy the entire map at once).

Outline view in MindNode

MindNode’s Export Options

MindNode offers a variety of the most popular export options (though as I note below, iThoughts supports several more). If you intend to refine you maps on your desktop or notebook computer you are limited to either the desktop version fo MindNode or to the open-source Freemind mind mapping program. Since OPML is support by most mind mapping software, this limitation should not be a problem. For most academics I suspect these export options are sufficient.

MindNode's Export Options

iThoughts Mind Map

Nealy every aspect of an iThoughts created mind map is customizable, and in all honesty its default appearance is a bit more inviting than that of MindNode. Each new map begins with a center oval. From this center position any number of child or sibling nodes can be added by choosing the respective button on the menu bar. You can also add comments to nodes.

iThoughts Mind Map

Adding Boundaries

Individual groups of nodes can also be assigned background colors. Colors are completely customizable. For example, a red node can have blue siblings with a yellow background. You can also adjust the shapte of the nodes.

Adding Boundaries

Images

Unlike MindNode, iThoughts comes preloaded with a number of images that can be added to your mind map. The images can also be resized to fit your needs. You can also include active web links in you mind map which can be extremely helpful if you plan on using your mind map while lecturing.

Images

Transferring and Saving Mind Maps in iThouhgts

As with Mindnode, iThoughts offers a number of ways to save or transfer your mind map including DropBox support. Here again, iThoughts has far more options for saving and storing your mind map MindNode.

Transferring and Saving Mind Maps in iThouhgts

iThoughts Export Options

While you may choose to keep your mind map on the iPad, if you eventually want to make revisions to you map on a desktop program you will need to convert the map to another format. iThought HD offers substantial number of export options, including some for the most popular desktop mapping applications. It also include the the OPML format for use in your preferred outlining program or for Scrivener.

iThoughts Export Options

Mind Maps Exported to MindNode

While I often create mind maps on the iPad, I usually end up further refining them on my laptop. My desktop application of choice is MindNode. Intersestingly, both mind maps created on MindNode on iOs and iThoughts mind maps look identical when imported into MindNode on the desktop. The iThoughts mind map with its shaded regions, rounded ovals, and images are lost during import. It is possible these things would be preserved if exported in another format, to one of the other more expensive mind mapping applications.

Imported iThoughts Mindmap

Mind Maps Exported to FreeMind

Although both exported mind maps were identical in MindNode, FreeMind seemed to preserve a bit more of the original version of the iThoughs HD mind map. Still, you can see that the iPad versin of this map is much more visually appealing.

Mind Map Exported to FreeMind

Conclusions

Both MindNode Pro and iThoughts HD are capable mind mapping applications. In some ways I still prefer the tap and drag interface of MindNode. Still, when it comes to features, iThoughts HD offers more for the money. When MindNode was first released it was priced at $7.99 (below its current $9.99), and in the past I might have recommended saving a few bucks if you primarily used mind maps as one step in your writing or course preparation. The symbols, images, and group background color options, while a nice addition, really aren’t needed for basic mapping. But given both programs are now priced the same, there seems to be no reason to forgo the extra features of iThought HD. Plus, iThoughts offers the added flexibility of creating more visually appealing mind maps for presentations or lectures.

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