iPad: The external brain

Anthony Caruana
4 December, 2010
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We hear lots of different opinions about the iPad. Comments like “it’s a consumption device” are common – mainly from people who have never used an iPad for more than a few minutes, if at all. Perhaps the onscreen keyboard isn’t the best for typing thousands of words, but the multi-touch display and iOS 4 are brilliant for creating graphics.

Creating business diagrams and showing them off is a great application for the iPad. This month we look at a couple of these apps.

iThoughts HD ($12.99)

Mind-mapping is a very popular technique for capturing and representing information. We’ve seen it used for everything from project planning to taking meeting minutes. Although there have been plenty of programs for doing this on a Mac, a mouse-driven system isn’t as easy as drawing on a whiteboard – the traditional way of drawing and sharing in corporate boardrooms.

iThoughts HD is an easy-to-use app. Although mind-mapping is quite a free-form tool for organising thoughts and ideas, most of the ‘rules’ applied in modern mind-mapping were created by British psychologist Tony Buzan.

iThoughts HD supports these rules with the use of different colours, text in boxes and the ability to easily move objects around the screen for better organisation. However, it’s not possible to label connecting lines.

There were a few little quirks like the way colour inheritance works between boxes. However, once we worked those out – the excellent documentation is presented as a mind-map – we were able to easily create several maps.

One of our favourite features was the ability to create a map and show the process on a big screen using Apple’s $39 Dock Connector to VGA Adapter. iThoughts HD supports video out.

When broadcast, the video output dedicates the entire output just to the map. Each branch of the mind-map can be collapsed and then expanded as needed, making iThoughts HD a presentation tool as well as a convenient way to organise ideas.

iThoughts HD is a bargain at $12.99.

Omnigraffle ($59.99)

With its multi-touch interface, large screen and VGA output, the iPad is an excellent tool for creating and sharing flowcharts, technical diagrams and schematics.

OmniGraffle is a powerful tool. There are shapes and stencils for creating a huge variety of different types of diagrams. But using it effectively requires some work as the power results in complexity. However, the online help and documentation is very good.

We created several different diagrams. Using the table feature, it was possible to create cross-functional diagrams and there’s also support for creating a variety of UML diagrams such as Entity Relationship Diagrams and other software design tools.

Connecting boxes and objects in diagrams is straightforward. As well as being able to manually select and place shapes and connectors, OmniGraffle supports a rich array of gestures for selecting and moving multiple objects, zooming, panning and a variety of other functions.

A desktop version of OmniGraffle can be used in parallel with the iPad version. For those who need to share work with Windows users, the desktop version can open and save MS Visio files. But there’s a hefty price.

This article originally appeared in the November issue of Australian Macworld magazine.

[Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_caruana]

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