Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mindmapping in a post-PC world

OK so I’ve just alienated half my readers - post-PC Apple none sense - pah? My name is Craig Scott and I’m the developer of iThoughts - a mindmapping app for the iPhone and iPad. In this article I’m going to talk a little about mobile mindmapping and why it’s a good thing - but mostly I’m going to try and sell you my app.

I think Mr J has nailed it. The world is moving towards more ‘personal computing’ - where people do much of their e-work on personal devices such as phones and tablets. The desktop will not disappear, but it will be relegated to more of a back office role. All the e-thinking (the valuable stuff) will be captured on personal with a (small p) computers.

Mindmapping is a killer app in this ‘post-PC’ world.

People use mindmapping for many different purposes - but for the sake of this article I will refer to their use as an idea capture and distillation tool - an ‘Idea Still’. Everyone knows that the greatest ideas come to you in the shower, which is where the iPad really....shouldn’t be! However, once you’ve had that idea it generally needs fleshing out and thinking through. This is where devices like the iPad come in. Thinking things through is best done when you have time to yourself - ‘spending time with your thoughts’. Those opportunities often present themselves when you’re already ‘killing time’ with your choice of personal computer - airports, trains, hotels, in the garden, laying in bed and dare I say it - in the bathroom (oleophobic works right?)

It’s not only the ubiquity of the device which makes it ideal for mindmapping - it’s more subtle than that. There’s something about physically manipulating your thoughts - it helps with the thinking process somehow. Previously we might have written ideas on paper cards and rearranged them on a table - now we can do it on the screen with our fingers. Mindmapping is also an inherently visual process - something that’s really enhanced by  the bright and vivd screens and attention grabbing animation effects (eye candy some call it!)

The killer for me, though, is that the ‘Apple Vision’ for the iPad experience is so in-sync with the requirements for an ‘Idea Still’. The Apple Vision is to put people directly in touch with their ‘stuff’ (photos, music etc.) - the iPad itself and its apps should go unnoticed. This is what mindmapping has been waiting for - a way for people to focus entirely on their thoughts and ideas unencumbered by complex tools and user interfaces.

So to repeat my previous assertion, mindmapping was and is great on the PC but its true potential will really be unleashed on the ‘post-PC’ device.

Convinced? Looking for a ‘post-PC’ mindmap app? You’ve come to the right place - iThoughts has been my labour of love (and more recently my sole income) for over 2 years now. During that time, I’ve learnt a great deal about what people want from an ‘Idea Still’. Based on customer feedback, I’d list the most popular aspects of the app as follows:

  Dropbox Integration
  Triple Tap - a quick way to create new topics using only the keyboard.
  Desktop App Integration - Mindmanager, XMind, Freemind etc.
  Folders - to organize your maps as you would on a desktop.

 This has helped me distill the 4 core principles which now drive iThoughts development:

  Compatibility - must ‘play nicely’ with other applications.
  Connectivity - iPhone and iPad are mobile devices.
  Functionality - it’s a tool - it must assist the user.
  Usability - if it’s not usable - people will not use it!

Plays Nicely...
iThoughts is compatible (import and export) with many of the most popular desktop applications:

  ConceptDraw MINDMAP

In addition it can import/export OPML which is supported by applications such as Omnioutliner, Scrivener, Curio and many others.

Maps can also be exported as images and PDF files.

Is Connected...

iThoughts is integrated with a number of cloud based storage systems:

  Any WebDAV enabled service

This enables users to collaborate and share maps seamlessly using a ‘single tap synchronization’ feature.

Maps can also be emailed to and from iThoughts, uploaded/downloaded over WiFi using a browser and transferred using iTunes.

Is Functional...
iThoughts supports many of the ‘standard’ features found in most high end desktop applications such as:

  Floating Topics (multiple maps on the same canvas)
  Boundaries (grouping branches together)
  Callout Topics (the sticky notes of mind mapping)
  Topic Attributes (colour, shape)
  Topic Icons (over 90 ‘built in’)
  Topic Notes (with hyperlink support)
  Relationships (additional link lines between topics)
  Task Management (start/due date, progress and priority attributes)

Is Usable...
Everything in iThoughts is designed from a user’s perspective. As much as possible I strive to make the interface go unnoticed. Some of the features which I believe assist usability are:

  Auto Organize feature keeps things tidy.
  Auto Colour/Shape selection keeps things visual.
  Drag/Drop Topics and Branches for speedy organization.
  TextExpander integration and Keyboard Shortcuts (triple tap) for fast data entry when brainstorming.
  Unlimited Undo/Redo for those second thoughts.
  iOS4.2 Fast App Switching helps maintain your train of thought.
  Cut/Copy/Paste information between branches, maps and other applications.

So what does the app look like?

 ...and what will it look like going forward (the next big feature is ‘image topics’)

 Where to find out more:

...or drop me a line at craigscott@ithoughts.co.uk


Blusky said...

Even thought I do not use Ipad or a Smart phone (boring I know as I only want to make and receive calls on a phone!) this sounds great. If this performs as well as the article reads, then this is a useful contribution. Love the fact that it talks to so many products

Wallace Tait said...

I'm not an iPad user; however I would like to see iThoughts being made available for use on other tablets too.

I spoke with a colleague recently regarding creating a common file format; and IMO, iThoughts seems to have ingeniously tackled an angle on this need for the mind mapper. A wonderful idea from Craig Scott regarding iThoughts importing many of the mainstream mapping formats and cuts through the need to have and own many of the mapping products it imports.

Craig deserves to have tablet developers knocking at his door to have him develop with their product in view for iThoughts.

This makes me want to order an iPad 2.

Hans Terhurne said...

I'm having an iPad and also several mind map apps. There are two that I'm using: iThoughts, just for the given reasons, and MindMeister as the web based variant. And yes, last time I was making a mind map of a big event I didn't us my PC but gave it a try with the iPad and iThoughts!

Colin Horner said...

A fascinating and thought provoking post. I'm certainly finding that my initial idea flashes occur in the most inconvenient and unconnected places and the more portable the device the better it is. I'm a long time user of iThoughts and lately iThoughtsHD. Superb products from a true innovator. Thanks Craig

profTK said...

Recently, I attended a 3-day conference and took notes with iThoughts on my iPad. Unlike a laptop, the iPad was quiet (no keyboard sound), non-intrusive (just another mobile device in the room), and easy to carry around. It’s a similar effect in meetings, where a PC makes some attendees nervous (what is he doing?), whereas an iPad is much more readily accepted. For me, the combo of iPad + iThoughts has really changed how I take notes and capture ideas.