Whether you’re studying or brainstorming: making mind maps can be an essential skill. Paper works fine in a pinch, but technology makes the whole process ten times easier.
Your iPad, in particular, is the ideal study companion and works wonders for creating mind maps. There are some incredible third party tools that make it especially fast and easy to create a wide variety of mind maps and other diagrams with your tablet.
We’ve come up with a list of the best for your benefit.
Starting off, Popplet is the simplest and one of the cheaper mind mapping tool of the bunch. It sports a very clear, clean-cut interface that’s all business and no clutter. With just a few very simple features, it’s nevertheless possible to create some very diverse popplets, the name given to Popplet’s distinctive-looking mind maps.
You start off by creating a single popple, or node, on your screen. Drag and release from the side of a node to create a new, linked-node or create a separate node to create multiple mind maps in one view, as shown in the screenshot above. Every node can be customised in color and text size. For more diversity, you can draw freehand inside a node or add a picture, instead of populating it with text.
Once you’re done with a popplet, you can export it to PNG or PDF, store it locally on your iPad, or store it online (linked to your Popplet account). These online popplets can also be viewed and edited in Popplet’s web app, making it incredibly easy to share Popplets with other people.
To top it off, Popplet is a great tool to collaborate on mind maps with multiple people, in real-time. Either iPad to iPad or iPad to Web. The individual popples show who created them, so it’s easy to differentiate between the input of different users.
If you want to try your hand at Popplet before committing to buying the full application, Popplet also offers a free lite version. This version is limited to a single popplet and doesn’t allow you to share and collaborate on online popplets, but it’ll give you a fair view of the user interface.Alternatively, you can try Popplet in an online demo in your web browser.
If Popplet offers too few features, take a look at iThoughtsHD. It’s one of the most action-packed mind mapping suites available for the iPad. The amount of customisability that’s available is sometimes baffling. Even within a certain type of mind-mapping layout, you can change how the vertices connecting the nodes bend, thicken and connect.
The number of styles is not the only area where iThoughtsHD offers you choice. Apart from simple radial mind maps, iThoughtsHD lets you transcribe your thoughts using a large variety of diagram types, like horizontal, vertical, or fishbone layouts.
iThoughtsHD supports keyboard shortcuts and even integrates with TextExpander to make creating mind maps that much faster. Inside each mind map you can assign tasks and resources, embed documents and link to other files that are relevant to your project, making iThoughtsHD a de-facto project management hub.
Completing the package, iThoughtsHD offers advanced integration with other software suites. You can import pre-existing mind maps from a wide selection of desktop mind mapping tools, synchronise your data over Dropbox, and export to PDF, HTML, Powerpoint and Word.
Where iThoughtsHD is the ridiculously feature-packed all-in-one solution, MindNode shares more in common with Popplet; it’s a simple, beautiful piece of software with a no-nonsense feature-set that meets most of your mind mapping needs.
MindNode is used to create simple branched mind maps, like the one in the screenshot below. This particular layout lets you pack a lot of information in a very concise view. It’s also, as mentioned above, stunningly beautiful. Some small details—like colours and borders and the width of elements—can be further tuned, but most of the styling is taken care of by the app. This allows you to focus on fast and intuitive mind map creation.
Finished mind maps can be shared as interactive documents over the web. This lets people show and hide entire branches, and also makes it possible to navigate otherwise unwieldy mind maps. Dropbox and iCloud synchronisation makes sure that you always have your own mind maps at hand, and integrates perfectly with the Mindnode desktop app. More traditional export options are also available, with support for PDF, OPML, PNG, FreeMind or plain text.
DropMind Lite ($0.99 in-app purchase)
Seavus’ DropMind is one of the other big players on the mind mapping field. Although DropMind largely garnered its fame on the desktop and web, the iPad app also works like a charm. DropMind Lite is centred around the creation of radial mind maps and comes equipped with most standard mind mapping functionality, like nodal and vertex styling, adding notes, icons and hyperlinks to topics, and defining relationships between distant nodes in the mind map. Finished mind maps can be exported to an image, PDF document, or DropMind’s own DMMX format.
DropMind Lite is available for free, but you can only have three mind maps on your device at any one time. There are also a few other restrictions, like a lack of cloud support, which can be found in the full version.
For more functionality, consider making the upgrade to the full version of DropMind, which is available as a separate app in the app store at the price of $7.99. For these extra bucks, you buy the ability to share your mind maps as outlines, clone your maps to use them as future templates, insert images into your mind maps, and synchronise your data using DropBox and DropMind Web.
Do you use your iPad to create mind maps? Tell us how, in the comments section below the article!