Mind mapping is a method that works for quite a lot of people. Brain storming, idea mapping, thought generation, think tanks – call it what you will. Traditionally done on large pieces of paper, why not use your iPad to create mind maps? You could use these for your own purposes, or “convert” those large flip charts into a smaller, digital version. This article provides a review of some “free” mind mapping apps for the iPad. Despite these being advertised as free, most require either registration or payment for full functionality.
Edit (October 2013)
After some chats with Tim Foster, the developer of Cell Storm I feel it appropriate to draw your attention to some interesting and relevant points he had made. I’ll leave the review as it is but I think it’s quite important to note that whilst his app could be used for mind mapping it’s actually designed and developed to assist with brain storming. He took the time to outline how it could be made to work as a mind mapping app and I can certainly commend his friendly and accommodating approach. Definitely an app to watch for future developments!
Summary of apps reviewed
Click the icon to go to the website, or click the title to go to a more detailed review.
This is a nice straightforward tool, with the added benefit of being able to create your maps either visually or via text. This tool is not as flashy as Mindomo (for example), but a very capable app. Definitely a contender.
Probably my favourite app reviewed, Mindomp is an all round performer with lots of nice visual touches. You can add photos and numerous other touches to your ideas. The ability to export the finished map as an image or PDF was a very welcome feature. One of my favourites.
Whilst I admire this rather off the wall app, I felt it didn’t really work. Ideas are created via connecting cells, which can contain a variety of sources. The inclusion of rich media (such as audio clips, video clips and photos) might appeal to some.
A pretty simple looking app that crashed extensively on my iPad. So much that I gave up the review. It might be that they have modified or improved this app since I wrote the review but at the time of writing it crashed so often it became pointless continuing any further.
A very visual app that allows you to draw from scratch your map – including boxes etc. Don’t worry if you are no good at drawing – the app smooths out your ideas into images that look sharp and crisp. There are some limitations of the free version (such as you can only create four maps) but overall a very nice tool.
To even begin to use this app you have to register to use this tool. Even after registering you might find the functionality limited until you pay. Not a bad app but not as good as some of the others, plus the registration might be enough to put most people off.
I found this app to be quick to get to grips with and easy to use. However, it does seem to lack some of the imaging functionality of the others. Like Inspiration, you can view the maps either visually or in a table so if this is something that appeals to you, you might want to check this one out.
MindGenius takes a very straightforward approach to mind mapping. Perhaps it’s a bit too straightforward in that there is almost no customisation features and no exporting, making this app very limited. However, the interface is very intuitive and works well making this a bit of a puzzler as to whether to recommend it or not.
A very colourful, almost cartoon-like app that is jam packed with features. Oddly this turned me away from the app – I actually found it had too many features and had to constantly remind myself what it all did! If functionality is your thing and you’re not afraid to learn an app this might be the one for you.
Another app that requires registration before you can use it. If you can get past this, Mindjet is a nice app that works quite intuitively but seems to be lacking in flexibility. For example, once you have added your “idea” you can’t move that idea to another location. Unless I missed something, this lack of flexibility makes this app one to delete.
Like the title says, a simple mind mapping app. The interface is nicely designed and allows for rapid creation of your ideas. However, there is almost no options to customise the interface and the free version has no save or export. Despite the lack of customisation, I found this to be one of the more intuitive apps reviewed – it certainly allowed me to quickly brainstorm an idea without getting bogged down with features.
More In-depth Reviews
Inspiration Maps Lite
This mind map is quick and easy to add new “thoughts”. A nice aspect is that maps can be created via the mind map area or via a list method. Elements can be adjusted in numerous ways – you can change the font and size of text for a thought, the colours can all be changed, the “thought” bubbles can be changed from a round shape to squares and so on. A thought can be text or you can use images – either take a photo or use images stored on your iPad. You can zoom in and out of the map to focus into detail or see the whole picture. In the free version, exporting can be done by sending the map to a printer or as their own format to an email address. To read this, the recipient would have to have the app installed on their iPad.
Inspiration Maps is a great, solid mind mapping tool. It’s maybe not the flashiest app out there, but it creates mind maps quickly and easily. The ability of being able to create a list, and then visualise it was a particular bonus for me who likes to write everything down first and then structure it.
Mindomo (Mind Mapping)
Mindomo is a very intuitive and accessible app. The display/look can be changed using set themes – this includes the look and feel as well as the structure of the map. You can also configure individual elements as well. Images can be included into each topic, and rearranged very easily. There is a selection of icons that you can add to a topic, giving a quick and clear representation of the item at hand. Each subject/topic can be assigned a task if required as well as a priority and there’s a handy icon to tap which returns you to the centre of your map. Zooming in and out is smooth and intuitive. The finished map can be saved and exported either as an image or as a PDF.
Like Inspiration, Mindomo is a very good app for creating mind maps. The extra graphical capability of Mindomo over Inspiration tips it ahead slightly in some respects, but there’s not much between them.
Cell Storming Free – Media driven Mind Mapping. Brainstorming, and Idea Generation
A very quirky app that might not be as intuitive as some others reviewed. I certainly felt I had to go through the tutorial quickly to understand the process. Rather than having a “map” you create almost like a grid of thoughts/processes. These are in hexagon shapes that you can add to, creating your map. One nice feature is that for each hexagon (or idea) you can attach notes, weblinks, photos, audio memos and video clips making it a comprehensive way of recording your thoughts. The interface certainly leaves a bit to be desired. The free version allows you to export an image of your cellstorm. With the paid version, you can link up a dropbox account and export the full cellstorm including images, audio and video links etc.
Maybe I’m too traditional in my approach to mind mapping, but I didn’t really take to Cell Storming’s hexagonal approach. I found it quite restrictive in how I could layout my information and didn’t really warm to it during this evaluation.
DropMind® Lite| Free Mind Mapping & Brainstorming
A relatively simple, no-frills approach to mindmapping. Whilst testing the app, it did crash on me several times. Overall, fairly decent app – you can only create maps using the map view (no list view option). The background colour can be changed. Each box can also be changed with regards to shape, colour and font. You can also add an icon from a list. Moving thoughts around is not so straightforward. When you move a sub-thought, it tends to unlink itself from the main thought leaving it floating in mid-air. Finished maps can be emailed as a PDF or an image.
Overall, the constant crashing and lack of flexibility means that this is not an app I would really recommend. With it crashing on numerous times I found myself giving up in evaluating it. This might not be a fair representation of the app and it might have loads of great features, but after fighting with the buggy interface for 20 minutes, I had had enough. Sorry!
Grafio Lite – Diagrams & Ideas
A slightly different approach, Grafio works on a very intuitive drawing interface. You simply draw the boxes, shapes, lines etc and Grafio smooths them out to make them look neat and tidy. You can add images from your camera roll, or add from a selection of clip art. Objects can be resized and rotated. Whilst this works great from a user perspective, actually creating maps isn’t as quick as some of the other apps reviewed (Mindomo or Inspiration for example). Finished maps can be emailed and it you purchase the full product you can synchronise them to your DropBox account. One limitation is that the free version only lets you create 4 maps.
I thoroughly enjoyed Grafio – it was quick and easy to get familiar with the controls, and the finished product looked very slick. However, the overall canvas was quite small. This could limit the functionality of the product, especially if you are wanting to create large and complex maps.
MindMeister (mind mapping)
A free tool, but one that requires registration to use. Thought boxes can be added quickly and easily, and it’s very easy to attach different idea strands. Each box can be adjusted to a fair degree – the shape, the colour, the size of the font and a range of different icons. Each box can also have a small note attached to it as well as external web links. Ideas can be moved around the page at will, and also re-ordered through the interface.The free version doesn’t allow you to insert your own images into the thought boxes (that requires subscription fees of £2.99 a month or £34.99 a year). After you have created your map, you can also create extra links to different areas of the map. Finished maps can be exported into a number of formats, but only seemed to export a portion of the map. This might have been down to my lack of understanding or a limitation of the free version.
Overall, this is a very nicely produced mind mapping tool. The limitations of the free version compared to some other tools put this down a few notches on the leader board but it’s certainly a contender!
Ideas can be added quickly. Each idea box has some simple features to customise it – 3 different text sizes, 5 different colours and 5 different shapes. Each idea can have a title, and a small description. You can create your mind map graphically or via a table interface giving you a lot of flexibility. Maps can be exported as an image into your Camera Roll (which you could then synch up with DropBox or similar). You can also synch up the app with your Facebook account or email a map as a picture (PNG) to your email account.
The lack of inclusion of any icons, images compared to other apps is a bit of a let down but the ease of creating the maps combined with the table view makes this a robust (if simple) mind map app.
MindGenius for iPad
Quick and easy, this app allows you to create mind maps very rapidly. You can view the map in a list view (called Explorer) but this list is not editable – it can take you to a specific part of the map, but you cannot make any changes from the list. There are no customisation options. You cannot adjust the colours, font sizes, box types or line types. You cannot add your own images or any icons. You can send your map to your inbox or DropBox account, but it comes in its own format. There are no options to export as an image.
With no customisation and no export options, this app is a little bit limited. However, the interface is very intuitive and works very well. If you don’t want to change the look and feel of the map, are happy with the text style given to you and don’t really need to save it as an image you might want to look at this free app.
This mindmap tool is very colourful, with lots of features. The interface is slick and relatively intuitive but the sheer number of features is a bit daunting on first impressions. You can create ideas, thoughts, links to other ideas, add images and so on. If you’re prepared to stick with this app it certainly has a lot of great tools. You can add images, shade boxes in different colours and the list goes on. There are options for exporting the finished product but these require purchase. There is also a “presentation option” which allows you to display your mind map as a type of presentation.
In conclusion, a great free tool that produces bright and colourful mindmaps. My one reservation is that I kept forgetting what did what, and had to re-learn the various tools.
Mindjet Maps for iPad
You have to register to use this app, so if you’re not keen on registering your details you can stop reading! If you’re okay with registering, then this isn’t a bad app at all. Very quick to get going with a very intuitive interface. You can add images and icons, and adjust the shape of the thought boxes. You’re limited with font types and the layout of the ideas. It seems that once you’ve added a thought, you can’t move that thought around. You can link to it and change the contents but not the location. The app exports to email, including a text version of the map and a PDF of the map as an image.
Overall, this is a solid mind mapping tool. The lack of flexibility of the map itself in terms of moving ideas around lets it down, but otherwise it’s a very straightforward app.
SimpleMind+ (mind mapping)
The last app is exactly as the title says – a very simple mind mapping tool. Its simplicity is its biggest feature. I found it incredibly fast to build up a map. Adding ideas, or changing ideas was all very intuitive and required almost no thought on my part. With no extra features, there is no clutter on the interface allowing you to get to the nuts and bolts of your mind map. There are some pre-set colour schemes but that’s as far as it goes. This may or may not appeal to you. I certainly found myself enjoying the slick approach to mind mapping but then found myself wanting just a bit more. On the free version there is no save or export options, which might seriously limit your use of this app.
In conclusion, I really liked this app. The clean interface allowed me to focus on the task at hand and prevented me from getting bogged down with too many features that I didn’t need. On the other hand, a few customisation options would have been nice!