Blog Post

Mindmapping on the iPad: iThoughts Review

As a long-time practitioner of the black art known as mind mapping, I was excited to discover an app for that on the iPad (s aapl). I use mind mapping when writing a long article, as I find the free form method is ideal to keep the creative process flowing. I have used tablets for mind mapping in the past, as I love to sit in a comfy chair and brainstorm. I quickly realized the iPad is perfect for this type of work, and I am happy to report that iThoughts HD is a solid tool for mind mapping on the iPad.

Mind mapping longer articles allows me to capture topics in a free form, without worrying about the organization of the article. I quickly capture thoughts in the form of topic bubbles in the mind map, and at the proper time I can drag them around to form the final article organization. This method works well for me, and I have adopted it for all longer pieces I write, such as the analysis articles for our research arm, GigaOM Pro.

I used to do mind maps with a pen and Tablet PC as it was the best way to work when sitting comfortably for creative work. I am finding the iPad is great for this, as the onscreen keyboard is ideal for the short text bits I write in map topics. A good mind mapping app for the iPad should be written from the ground up to be optimized for touch operation, and iThoughts HD is just such a tool.

Starting a new map in iThoughts is easy. The app provides a blank canvas with the title of the map in the central bubble. Adding topics and sub-topics is as easy as hitting a button and typing. The display is optimized for either portrait or landscape orientation, depending on how you are holding the iPad at the time. The display slides to the side automatically as you make a long text entry to keep it on the screen.

Each item on the map can be configured in many ways — the shape of the bubble, color, icons and even start and due dates. This configuration is done via simple touch controls, and make it possible to completely control the appearance of the map. Two items on the map can be linked when desired to indicate a visual dependency on two different topics.

The touch interface of the iPad is available to make working with large maps easy. Dragging the map around the screen pans around as expected, and standard pinching can zoom in or out as needed. It is as easy to work with large maps using iThoughts as any method I have used.

A very useful feature of iThoughts is the auto-versioning function. The program keeps previous versions of the map that make it easy to roll back to earlier versions. This is extremely useful should you make major changes to a map that you end up not happy with.

Once a map is finished, it can be exported in several ways for use outside of the iPad environment. It is possible to email a map from the program, and users of can interact directly with that service from within iThoughts (for those interested in cloud computing or data centers, check out our Structure 10 conference in June). Maps can also be transferred over Wi-Fi from within the program.

Exporting maps to other environments is easy within iThoughts, as the program supports outputting maps in the following formats:

  • PDF
  • Freemind
  • MindManager
  • PNG
  • OPML
  • Novamind
  • iMindmap
  • Mindview

I have only been using iThoughts for a day, but I can already tell it is going to be an important tool in my kit. Mind mapping plays a big role in what I do, and easy mind mapping is the best. That makes iThoughts HD worth the $7.99.

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19 Responses to “Mindmapping on the iPad: iThoughts Review”

  1. What program do you use for mindmaps on a tablet pc. I find mindmanager pretty unusable with the pen. I never find much use for the tablet pc since the ipad — the latter is frustrating because it cannot (yet) do many things I need (real file syncing, for example) but at least it works really well at what it does.

  2. I was wondering if you could do a brief comparison of iThoughts and Mindjet Mindmanager for iPhone, which one you like more, has more functionality, easier to use, etc. I use Mindmanager for my desktop needs and currently use their iPhone app, but have never used any other mind mapping software.

    • Hi Alex,

      You might want to check myMind, it’s our iPhone mindmapping application packed full with goodies, like instant topic creation, full drag & drop and map styles.

      Beside these, we added a killer feature to browse big maps at ease, a radar map where you see all topics’ position in real-time. This would also fix Patrick Duncan’ hard to get overview above.
      You can visit to see it live. We have some promo codes to share, so if you want one email us at [email protected].

  3. iThoughtsHD on an iPad is my fave MindMap application irrespective of OS. It’s an incredibly fast way to get the thoughts up.
    The UI lends itself to throwing the spaghetti up on the wall then subsequently organizing with more speed and clarity than anything else (other than my OmniGraffle templates which are highly specialized).
    FWIW, you can instantly turn it into a Word, Excel or even an HTML doc that supports lists and presto, numbered, bulleted or lettered lists instantly.
    Game changer for me, using it in more and more instances.
    Between iThoughtsHD and reQall I’ve got most of my immediate documentation workflows established (polish later on other devices, etc.). Good stuff indeed.

  4. Patrick Duncan

    JK, would you be willing to try loading one of your largest mindmaps into this software and seeing how well it handles it? I love mindmapping but I tend to have massive maps that are hard to get an over-view of. Just wondering how well this handles large (100-1000 node) maps.

    • I don’t have any really large maps to give a try as you suggest. My maps are single project maps that are limited in scope. I suspect such as map as you describe would likely choke this due to resources if nothing else.

      • I bought this within 10 minutes of reading this review without even realizing it would read mind manager formatted files. Once I saw that in the help file, I connected to my MBP via wifi and tranferred my daily compass map that has about 150 items in it. Other than missing a few screen captures (budget images) it came across and performed without a hitch in iThoughts. Great product!

  5. Dennisvjames

    What turns me on about this is imports and exports FreeMind which is a free mindmapping tool…particularly for students who may not have the resources for a costly software offering. The author is freely importing and exporting to other web-only and software-based mindmapping tools which gets kudos — rather than the “only here” mentality that a lot of other authors seem to support. Google FreeMind. It’s a no frills product (which I need with a Mindmapping tool – I get lost in using all the curvey lines and stuff like that) but reasonably sophisticated.

  6. I have been using iThoughts for some time (10 days of good use) and i think it is a very cool solution. Intitutive and very complete in terms of being feature rich. I am sure there is room to make interactions use other cues of multi-touch like two finger swipes etc but definitely a robust mind mapping tool.

  7. I was looking forward to this one but somehow missed the release…

    Meanwhile, I had switched to MindNode on the Mac and the iPhone. I love the fact that it’s super easy to use with just the keyboard. It’s definitely a no-frills tool, but it’s priced accordingly ($10 on the Mac). Transfer to and from the iPhone/iPad works rather well.

    I bought iThoughtsHD today but only played with it for a few minutes. Too much work to do and from my cursory inspection, the interface on the iPad seemed much more complicated and less straightforward. Granted, it has many more formatting options, but even simple things seem to take significantly more touches to get them accomplished. I’ll have to work with it when I have some more time. Then, I’ll be able to make an informed decision. For now, I’m sticking with MindNode for my day-to-day mind mapping needs (large-scale software development).

  8. TonyP

    iThoughtsHD was the first application I loaded on my iPad. I’ve been mind mapping for over 20 years, one of the first users of Mind Manager when it came out. I think that iThoughts is an excellent product and it does best some of the long time products in the market on this platform.

    I’ve been conducting my own Use Case analysis of Mind Mapping on the iPad:
    1) Standalone products:
    – iThoughts is one of the few iPhone Apps that had an iPad App available at launch, Crowd Map (Real-time collaboration w/ other Crowd Map iPad users) was just released, with more coming.

    2) Web based mind mapping (Real-time collaboration), via Safari on the iPad:
    – One thing I learned is that the majority of the Web based mind mapping tools use Flash or MS Silverlight, making them impossible to use on the iPad. Mindmeister is one of the few that doesn’t, and they have indicated a new product will be coming out by end of May in time for the iPad International release.

    3) Auto Sync iPad Mind Maps with Web based Mind Maps:
    – Several of the products already mentioned will likely move in this direction for a future release.

    Even without inking, the iPad is showing me that it is a very capable platform for mobile mind mapping. You could wait for one of the other developers to come out with their products but iThoughtsHD is an excellent product that is available now.

    I’ll be testing Crowd Map next.

  9. iThought was one of the first apps I loaded on my iPad… I have been a longtime user if MindMapper on my various Windows tablets and combined with OneNote they form the best note taking tools I have ever found on Tablets… It was exciting to play with the iPad Mind Map and it truely does work very well. I’m working on my Doctorate now and really looking forward to using my iPad for mind mapping when I’m on campus in a few weeks. (Still wish Microsoft would build MindMapping into OneNote!)