iThoughts, redesigned, reengineered, re-everythinged

23 05 2014

On May 13, 2014, Craig Scott, the developer of the mind mapping tool iThoughts released a new version designed for iOS 7. It took him 9 months of reviewing the new features of iOS 7, testing them (even Apple isn’t perfect), and redesigning the old version. So it’s understandable that the new version is not free but comes up with a really fair price (80% off). Craig got bills to pay, kids to feed and more.

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Let’s say it with an Apple slogan for marketing the MacBook Air …

Redesigned.
Reengineered.
Re-everythinged.

To make it clear, re-everythinged doesn’t mean that users have to learn it all again. It’s still an application which can be used intuitively and users migrating from the predecessor will not have problems to immediately continue working on maps.

Craig’s company …

Craig Scott about his company …

toketaWare is a small software development business based in the UK (just outside York.) When I say small, I mean really small. Currently it’s just me Craig Scott.
In addition to the iThoughts mindmap products, toketaWare also builds/maintains makeDoc and makeSlides (iOS apps for converting Markdown, OPML and text into MS Word and PowerPoint files).
Toketa is a term used in Judo to describe when a person has escaped from being pinned down i.e. they’ve broken free. Seemed apt somehow – software that sets you free. That’s the goal anyhow!

Craig’s philosophy …

Steve gave us the iPad and Craig the app iThoughts.
Well, in some way this might be an inappropriate connection between people and products. On the other hand there are only a few developers who were able to adapt an application to a touchscreen in such a perfect way and to internalize many of the intangible assets of Apple and it’s innovative leader of the past.

Craig Scott brought home the bacon.

He started developing his mind mapping tool already prior to the launch of the iPad in April 2010. It’s not only an excellent coding but also a deep insight in what Apple intended to offer it’s customers. In his lecture about mind mapping on Biggerplate Unplugged (London 2013), Craig called it Touchy Feely Mind Mapping.

A mind mapping tool is an application for improving knowledge and personality as well as summarizing facts and ideas. In so far there is indeed a virtual connection between Steve and Craig. Priorities for both were/are:

Focus (on essentials)
Say NO (to bells and whistles)

People appreciate apps that feel as though they were designed expressly for the device. For example, when an app fits well on the device screen and responds to the gestures that people know, it provides much of the experience people are looking for. And, although people might not be aware of human interface design principles, such as direct manipulation or consistency, they can tell when apps follow them and when they don’t.

iThoughts follows

Apple’s iOS Human Interface Guidelines

in a perfect way. To use the app a documentation is basically not needed bit in cases directly accessible from within the app, e.g. creating doodles.

For example there is one and only one taskbar which is divided into two parts with a Share control in the center. On the left side there are file management features and settings. On the right side you will find all features needed for editing a map with the most important control (i), the inspector, to set all the properties of topics.

Craig on his website
The roadmap for iThoughts is pretty much driven by customer request – although there are some ‘core principles’ underpinning the whole thing as follows:

  • User Interface is everything
    if it’s not usable then people will not use it.
  • Interoperability is vital
    must play nicely with existing tools/services.
  • Stay focused
    mindmapping is what the app does.

The result of following these simple rules convinces everyone immediately after installation and it is the ultimate way to successful marketing via the Apple’s App Store.

The redesigned app …

In many articles about mind mapping I always talked about iThoughts as the most powerful tool for the iPad and a wonder of stability compared to other apps developed by really big companies (I’m just thinking about Google+ for iOS which crashed again while working on this post and looking up new notifications).

So it’s time to review the redesigned version including all the useful updates it got over time. All the powerful features let users create impressive maps. They can be shared in lots of different file formats up to nearly all needs.

A mind map is worth a thousand words so here is a full feature description of Craig’s tool. The map was created with the new version of iThoughts in June 2014.

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Feel free to download this map from my Box account.

The alternative file formats have been created with iThoughts (.ITMZ file format). Compatibility to other tools is limited. The DOCX file format is suggested for those who don’t use a mind mapping tool. The file contains the image as well as a detailed outline of all topics.

Application File format
Adobe Reader PDF
Apple Pages/Microsoft Word DOCX
iThoughts ITMZ
MindManager MMAP
XMind XMIND

The old version …

The old version can still be downloaded but not purchased. There will be no more updates and bug fixes. This is largely because Apple does not allow updates to apps unless they are build using the iOS 7 technology.

The migration …

After installing the new version you immediately feel back home.

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There is also an easy way to migrate from the predecessor and this is obviously in the line with Craig’s philosophy of perfectness.

After installing the new version there are two ways to transfer maps.

  • 1 If you already use a cloud folder synced to Dropbox then you can create a similar setup within the new version and have it sync your maps down.
    For more details see How to sync.
  • 2 If you are not syncing with Dropbox then you can use the ‘Send Archive … to app’ feature in the previous version to send a copy of all your maps over into the new version. Once you maps are successfully transferred you can delete the old app. Keep in mind that deleting an app always goes along with deleting all it’s data. This is due to the iOS file system. So first check out the new app and keep the older version for some time.

The anatomy …

If you are new to iThoughts it’s worth understanding the anatomy of an iThoughts screen.

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I created this map directly from toketaWare’s website (I hope by courtesy of Craig) by using the screen’s image as the center of the map, copied the outlined description to the clipboard and used the ‘text to map’ feature described further down to generate the topics. That’s it. Admittedly I did some further work to improve the layout.

The new features …

The following features are implemented in the new version … •

  • Universal app, you buy it once and install it on all your iOS devices.
  • Rich text support everywhere
    bold, italic, underline, fonts, sizes, colours – all in the same text block
  • Totally new cloud sync architecture – much faster and more reliable
  • Extensive bluetooth keyboard support
  • Multiple selection of topics (SHIFT)
    Left handed?
    If you’re left handed and find it tricky to use the SHIFT button then you can switch this to the other side in the ‘System Settings’ under the ‘Options’ menu.
  • Independently resize topic, image or text
  • New map picker with thumbnail previews, favourites and recycle/trash system
  • Imports Markdown format files•
  • Imports Mindnode and Simtech Mindmapper maps
  • Exports as a ‘website’ (package of HTML, clickable images and attachments.)
  • Export as multi page PDF (which can then be printed out and stuck together into a ‘poster’)
  • Research feature can now download websites for off line viewing (as a .webarchive)
  • System settings accessible from within the app
  • Relationship improvements (drag the actual curve – even drag the end to another topic) •
  • Choose a default colour for callouts
  • Infinite (effectively) and dynamic canvas which grows and shrinks to fit the map

These features have been retired permanently …

  • • Passcode protection •
  • Dimming branches (‘hide completed tasks’ and ‘show unfocused topics’) •
    Shadows
  • Novamind4 and iMindmap4 import/export support
  • TextExpander support
  • Support for WebDAV or Box.com cloud services
  • Splitting branches into separate maps automatically.
  • ‘Based upon’ options when creating new maps.
  • Version history for maps.
  • Paste Style
  • $date and $time variables

Well, no reason to shed crocodile tears. Well done Craig with one exception, the ‘Paste Style’ feature should be returned.

Some details …

My tagline on Google+ is ‘Doing things accurately’. So my blog posts seem to be long but there are two reasons why this is the case:

1 Reviewing a powerful app cannot be done with writing ‘Awesome …’, ‘Best app of the week …’ etc. it needs some weeks to assess a tool and give the reasons for a final rating.

2 Some developers do an outstanding job and in this case it’s simply funny for a leisure blogger not driven by Click Stats to go into the details.

So I think it’s worth spending the time to look at some tidbits of iThoughts and the sophisticated considerations Craig put in the code.

Using the Inspector

Mind maps can drastically be improved by using adequate connectors, colors, shapes, images, numbering, and size of topics according to its importance. Be aware that the appropriate usage of attributes may attract an audience, force further discussions, and last but not least remain in the peoples photographic memory for a longer time compared to a more simplistic layout. But you shouldn’t go over the top. A informative map in most cases shouldn’t be degraded to artwork.

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These images show the main features of iThoughts for improving layouts and with it, breathing life, attractiveness, and a better understanding into the map. All dialogs are integrated in the Inspector control (top right).

Using Links

Today nearly all kind of information is accessible via the Internet. It’s a giant knowledge base. To provide background information from within a mind map iThoughts allows the assignment of hyperlinks to a node. When opening a link app switching between iThoughts and Safari is not necessary because of iThought’s integrated browser. This is an indispensable feature for mobile devices because of their One-Window technique.

It’s also possible to seamlessly assign links to a topic by just tapping on Research in the context menu and using one of the options (Copy Link, Insert Link, Make Topic) offered in the browser’s task bar.

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Even if you are within Safari iThoughts can be directly accessed by using this bookmarklet

javascript:void(location.href=’ithoughts://link?url=’+encodeURIComponent(location.href)+’&title=’+encodeURIComponent(document.title))

which can be easily integrated in the bookmarks bar of Safari and allows permanent and fast access to iThoughts. See the instruction for installing the bookmarklet here

iThoughts bookmarklet for Safari

Commenting

Some maps are hard to understand because they often reflect a very subjective process of thinking about topics. To make it understandable for others it’s indispensable to add comment to topics.

iThoughts allows two options for commenting on topics.

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As a third way you can use a normal topic and place text into it like I did in the map ‘Anatomy of iThought’.

Note
Commenting or even creating topics can be done with Siri, Apple’s speech driven assistant which can be started by just tapping on the small microphone button to the left of the keyboard’s spacebar. To create a sequence of topics use the word ‘comma‘ which is interpreted as ‘create new topic’.

Adding attachments

Mind Maps visually summarize information but sometimes it’s necessary to refer to documents containing detailed description.

The map in my example is about security features provided by Apple. Basics of the 2-Step Verification for Apple accounts are explained in subtopics. I created a detailed description of the activation process and the usage in a Keynote presentation which contains a lot of screenshots and comments. To make it available in a mind map iThoughts allows to attach whole documents to topics.

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Here are the steps to go explained with a Keynote document…

  • Open Keynote
  • Use ‘Open in Another App
  • Select the presentation you want as the attachment
  • Select the file format (Keynote, PDF, Powerpoint)
  • Select iThoughts in the app’s menu
  • Use Paste to attach the document to a topic

While presenting your map to an audience you are now able to go into the details of 2-Step Verification.

Note
Attached documents are stored in the mind map file in their native format. So the source file travels with the map when sharing it.
The recipient can then work on the mind map as well as on the attached documents and send them back both.

Topics with attached documents are marked with small icons pointing to the source application. Use ‘Tap and Hold’ to open the document within iThoughts or use ‘Open in’ to further work on the attachment.

Further information is available under

iWork and iThoughts

Creating from text

Tap on any topic or select any piece of text within a map and one of the options presented will be an internet Research. Research will take the text and ‘Google it’ – using the built-in browser of iThoughts. Once you are on websites, press and hold on images, text and links on the page and have them turned into topics in the map. This makes it easy to quickly collate information from the web – without requiring a whole load of copy/switch app/paste operations.

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If you mark parts of a text within the built-in browser of iThoughts or any other app you can insert the text a topic, or several topics (if the the text is outlined) or a note. All formatting attributes are automatically stripped off.

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Sometimes it’s useful to collect ideas on the go with simple text editors like ByWord or PlainText. An outlined text then can create topics and subtopics if pasted into a map. To generate subtopics the text line must be indented by at least 4 spaces.

Creating Websites

iThoughts can generate (and email/upload) an associated HTML page. It contains what is known as an Image Map.
This tells the browser to treat different parts of the image as clickable Hotspots. iThoughts will automatically associate a hotspot with each topic – then associate that hotspot with a hyperlink (if the topic has one.)

This makes it simple to publish a static, clickable mindmap webpage.

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As an example – take a look at the following link – generated by iThoughts and uploaded to Dropbox then made publicly visible – essentially using Dropbox as a website hosting provider.

Mind Map Webpage

The process is as follows:

  • Create your map – adding links to topics as appropriate.
  • Select ‘Send Map To Cloud’ and choose the Website.zip export format.
  • Choose a folder to upload the file.
  • Once uploaded, use the Dropbox ‘Copy Public Link’ option (from your desktop) to get the public web address of the uploaded HTML file (you may need to make the folder public/shared.)

That’s it – your map is now published as a clickable web page. If you’re using Dropbox then you can use the built in iThoughts sync to refresh the image/HTML as your map changes.

Image maps on websites act as attractive navigators. People are much more about to retrieve information than with traditional link lists.

Map Recovery

iThoughtsHD automatically saves your work every 60 seconds (or when the app is closed/suspended.) It also creates a ‘snapshot backup’ (copy) of your map each time it is modified then closed. It keeps 10 previous snapshot versions (of each map) on disk – any one of which can be recovered.

In the menu under the ‘gear’ toolbar button is an option called ‘Save Archive’. This will take all your maps and zip them up into a single archive file then send that archive over into another app. Typically you would use this to send the archive into your Dropbox app – or perhaps your Evernote app. Those apps will then take care of uploading the archive into the cloud – and most importantly – off your device.

iThoughts will nag you each week to save an archive in this way.

The archive file is simply a zip file containing a folder structure of .itmz files. To recover a map, unzip it on your desktop, locate the map and send it back into iThoughts.

You can recover all the maps within the archive in a single operation by sending the zip file itself back into iThoughts. The contents of the archive will be restored into a new folder – your existing maps are not overwritten.

In addition to the above, each day (of use) iThoughts will automatically create an archive. By default, it will store the last 5 archives (days.) You can pull these archives over onto your desktop if necessary. This can be useful if you want to recover a deleted map.

Save, Export, Share

File formats of mind mapping tools are unfortunately not standardized. Each developer of mind mapping tools knows this. However none of the many tools pay attention to this fact by implementing adequate options to save a map in all the well-known file formats of other tool, except iThoughts.

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If you want to become a mapper you should register on BIGGERPLATE.com to access more than 50k mind maps and to upload your own maps to this work-wide largest mind mapping platform.

Using iThoughts you should know something about compatibility of the different file formats actually supported by Biggerplate as of June 2014. These are:

Application File format
iMindQ (DropMind) DMMX
ConceptDraw CDMZ
XMind XMIND
Mindjet Manager MMAP
iMindMap IMX
Mind Genius MGMF

When downloading a map from Biggerplate you get the best results within iThoughts if the original map was uploaded in MMAP (Mind Manager) format.

You can find further information about compatibility on Craig’s website

iThoughts FAQ, Compatibility

In addition to the above iThoughts can also import AND export OPML which is a relatively standard format for documenting hierarchical data (although it doesn’t support positioning, colours, shapes etc.)

Note
If you use the PDF or PNG format your map is automatically resized independent of the actual display on your device. Collapsed and expanded topics appear as on the screen. Complex maps need much space so that you have to limit expanded topics to the most important ones. Otherwise details will be too small to perceive. As an alternative iThoughts allows to export single topics and you may use this feature to seamlessly display important parts with a suitable resolution.

An extended keyboard

It’s in the line of Craig’s sophisticated coding to add useful features to Apple’s standard keyboard for writing and formatting text in shaped topics.

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You don’t like onscreen keyboards and prefer a BT keyboard?
Well, here is a table with all supported shortcuts

FAQ, Keyboard Shortcuts

Doodles
How to doodle

A doodle is a simple finger drawing tool within iThoughts. It is ‘vector based’ which means each line can be manipulated individually and continuously. Doodles can be attached to topics and exported as PDF, SVG or PNG files.

Use your finger to draw lines (known as ‘strokes’.) To move the canvas itself you must drag it with 2 fingers. This differs from the rest of the app, where a single finger is used to drag the canvas. If you accidentally draw a line when intending to drag the canvas (as I STILL do) then you can hit UNDO to remove it.

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The numbers in the image above are described as follows:

1 Tap on a ‘stroke’ to select it. When selected it will have a blue ‘glow’ around it. Once selected, any changes to thickness, dashed’ness or colour (#3, #4, #5) will apply to the selected stroke(s.) Tap on a selected stroke to see Cut, Copy, Paste type options (including options to ‘Send to Back’) Drag a selected stroke to move it.

2 Press and hold SHIFT whilst tapping on strokes to select/deselect multiple stokes. SHIFT then drag the canvas will create a ‘selection marquee’ to help select multiple strokes more quickly. SHIFT then drag an already selected stroke(s) will duplicate the stoke(s)

3 Set the stoke thickness. If a stroke is selected then it will apply to that stroke. If no stroke is selected it will become the default for any new strokes.

4 Set the stroke to be ‘dashed’

5 Set the stroke colour.

6 Share the selected strokes or whole doodle (typically in an email attachment.)

7 There is no ‘eraser’ type feature – you can only delete whole strokes by selecting them then tapping on the waste bin icon in the lower corner (or dragging/dropping the stroke onto the bin.)

Text Formatting

A gift from heaven Craig, Rich text support everywhere.

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Visualized information still needs text to understand the content. With the new version of iThoughts visualized accentuations now can also be done within textual information.

Linked Folders (sync)
How To

Your maps can be synced automatically between iPad, iPhone and desktop (Mac or Windows) by using Dropbox and iThoughts Linked Folders.

I’m a wretched failure when it comes to creating videos. So have a look at Craig’s screencast (5 min) which demonstrates the usage of Linked Folders.

There are some caveats to be aware of when syncing:

Syncing only happens if a device is connected to a WiFi network (by default) except you turned on Mobile Data Syncing in the iOS Settings.
By default local changes are synced 30 seconds after the app is closed.
Remote changes are checked for when the app starts (but no more frequently than every 10 minutes).

Improved Context Menus

I’m an old man but I also heard young people complaining about wavering hands causing a perfect disaster when arranging objects on a touch screen. So here is just one example of iThoughts’ improved context menus which let people think you are in full control of your fore limbs.

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There are many more new features implemented in the context menus which increase seamless usage.

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Just explore them.

Settings

Now Settings are accessible directly within the app. Thanks a bunch!
Have a look on the many options you have to customize the app.

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Please don’t ask me for explaining all the options. Just try them out or request for a fixed-price offer if you want me to do it for you.

Some cons …

Nobody is perfect and it’s surprisingly also valid for Craig.

  • Due to iOS 7 the new version is not as responsible as the old version. If you use multitasking it takes some time to wake up the app from suspended mode. I used an iPad 3 running on iOS 7.1.1 and I think it would run much smoother on an iPad Air with its 64-Bit processor.
  • An outlined collection of links still cannot be inserted as topics. The links are there but not activated. They are interpreted as normal text.

You remember the words of Craig “The roadmap for iThoughts is pretty much driven by customer request”. Don’t panic though. Let an email wing its way to the tech guy Craig with a severe reprimand and your suggestions. I’m sure he will take care but you should give him some time. Beside bills to pay and kids to feed there are some more things to be done, e.g. Christmas shopping, ironing, washing-up, and more.

Version history …

iThoughts was completely redesigned. So it’s obvious that there are bugs to be fixed and features to be added.

Feel free to download a regularly updated overview of iThoughts’ version history.

Application File format
Adobe Reader PDF
Apple Pages/Microsoft Word DOCX
iThoughts ITMZ

Some examples …

I created these maps with the predecessor or iThoughts and downloaded them from my Dropbox account into the new version.

Tap an image to zoom in.

Summary …

iThoughts is still the best mind mapping tool for Apple’s mobiles and the actual version is a quite significant step forward into Apple’s new design philosophy.

Related links …

About the new version …

iThoughts migration

About the predecessor …

iThoughts for the iPad

More about features …

iWork and iThoughts

Non-Linear Presentation

About a competitor …

Inspiration

About mind mapping …

Mind Mapping (1)

Mind Mapping (2)

Mind Mapping (3)

Mind Maps + Concept Maps

Thanks for visiting iNotes4You.


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4 responses

23 05 2014
Colin Horner (@ColinHorner)

Hi Thomas I’m an avid user of iThoughts and Craig has done a great job. Many thanks for this detailed review and demo, you have helped me get even more out of the app

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23 05 2014
iNotes4You

Thanks for your kind words, Colin.

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23 05 2014
Andrew Wilcox

That’s a big review. iThoughts also seems to have a time travel feature. It’s still May here but the first map in your blog states it was made in June 2014!

Off to get the new app.

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23 05 2014
iNotes4You

Thanks for your comment, Andrew.
I fixed what you called the ‘time travel feature of iThoughts’.
Well, it’s not a feature of iThoughts but of the author always trying to look forward.

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