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Mind mapping on the iPhone


I'm a fairly rabid fan of mind mapping. I use it daily for everything from mundane tasks like writing packing lists to more energetic pursuits such as frenetic brainstorming sessions. Accordingly, I've taken an interest in the development of two iPhone applications specifically geared toward the mind mapping enthusiast, especially the ones who are prone to ideas which just can't wait until they get back to their desk.

MindMaker (iTunes link) is a $4.99USD application which provides a basic interface for iPhone mind mapping. The first screen is a list of maps which can be added and deleted in the typical iPhone fashion, and clicking a document title opens a map for editing. Within a map, double tapping on a "node" will select it, double tapping again will edit its text, and child nodes are added by tapping the plus sign (+) in the bottom toolbar. Pinching zooms the map in and out, and swiping in the white space allows rapid navigation. Like I said, it's basic. It gets the job done, though ... if you're fast enough on the iPhone keyboard to make it more effective than working on paper.

iBlueSky (iTunes link) takes things a small step further (and costs a little more at $7.99USD). While the basic interface is the same, there are multiple benefits to this one. First, it adds landscape mode, which is an improvement for both editing and viewing. For some reason, I especially appreciate one minute detail: it only takes a single tap to select a node. I'm not completely sure why that makes me happier, but it does. The real leap forward for iBlueSky, however, is the clipboard menu. It allows for cutting, copying and pasting branches of the map, making reorganizing possible. The last option on the menu is the kicker; "Email Project" sends an email to the selected recipient with the project attached in PNG, PDF, OPML and Freemind MM formats. While MindMaker is supposed to have an export function in the upcoming update, this feature makes iBlueSky -- for the time being -- infinitely more useful.

My biggest complaint with both apps is that neither automatically adjusts the position of nodes, requiring constant manual untangling of branches as new nodes are added. A balancing feature which spreads out the nodes would be greatly appreciated. At this point, I'm much happier working on my MacBook Pro and making use of all of the advanced features found in the (inherently more robust) desktop mind mapping applications. But I've got iBlueSky on my iPhone, just in case my mind mapping addiction takes hold of my psyche and the laptop is out of the question.

It should be noted that the web-based MindMeister provides a small web app version of its "geistesblitz" widget specifically for the iPhone. It allows you to shoot single ideas to a MindMeister map for later development. If I'm really on the go and unable to get to my laptop, chances are I won't have time for much more than that.

I'll be looking forward to seeing the future development of these applications, and hopefully we'll see someone really push the limits of the iPhone's capabilities and create a brainstorming tool which doesn't beg comparison to a desktop application (or a Moleskine). Until then, these applications fit the bill for mobile mind mapping. Pop by the App Store to check out MindMaker and iBlueSky, and happy mind mapping.

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