The Mac AppStorm Mind Mapping Apps Showdown

With the new year coming up, Mac AppStorm wants to make sure you get introduced to apps that will make you more productive in 2013. Mind mapping apps just may be the type of tool you need to boost your productivity in the upcoming year. From project management to presentations to brainstorming, mind mapping apps are flexible tools that assist users in storing and processing information of all types.

This review includes two apps that take a more minimalist, simplistic approach to mind mapping—MindNode and SimpleMind—and two apps that take a more power user approach—XMind and NovaMind. Read on to find out which app may best fit your needs.


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The Minimalist Approach

The two apps included in the minimalist category will not knock your socks off with their feature sets, but they do include all of the basic features a mind mapping app should have. Oh, and they are very easy on the eyes.

MindNode

MindNode has the shortest feature set list among the apps reviewed here and the pro version is priced at $19.99. But whatever MindMode lacks in features, it makes up for in simple elegance. This app has all of the basic features you expect to see in a mind mapping application: free floating nodes, customizable colors and fonts, cross connection lines, expanding and collapsing topics, import and export OPML files and so forth. However, it also lacks a few other features many users will deem as essential. For example there are no callouts, notes, or boundaries. MindNode does have a dedicated iOS client that uses DropBox for syncing.

MindNode has a clean interface and a native OS X app look and feel.

What Sets MindNode Apart?

The minimalist design and complete OS X interface and feel are what set MindNode apart. The app is incredibly easy to use and it gets the job done without a lot of distractions. Furthermore, it is the most up to date with OS X design standards if that is important to you. This is one of those apps that you open up and instinctively know how to use. Of the apps considered in this review, MindNode feels the most like a native Mac app.

This is the same map as above with the topics filled instead of branched.

SimpleMind

The SimpleMind approach to mind mapping is a little bit different than other apps and goes for $29.99 (there is also a limited free version). Rather than saving mind maps as separate files, the maps are stored and managed within the app for both the iOS version and the Mac version. This means that all of your mind maps are easily accessible in the left hand window pane. I found this a little strange at first, but I realized it makes sense especially if you are using the app as a project management tool. Having easy access to different maps and the ability to make links between the maps is more convenient than managing several different files. Like MindNode, SimpleMind has all the basics, plus notes for topics, the ability to attach files to topics, and several import and export options (in the full version).

This is SimpleMind’s default theme. Notice the list of maps in the left hand pane.

I did run in to a few problems using SimpleMind. This app is the least keyboard friendly mind mapping app I have tried. The shortcuts are just not intuitive. Another problem I encountered is that maps created in SimpleMind do not auto format. For example, if a longer topic ends up covering another topic, the app does not auto correct this. The user has to manually move the topics.

What Sets SimpleMind Apart?

As described above, SimpleMind’s file management approach makes this app unique. Additionally, this app’s beautiful, pre-set themes make it easy to create good looking maps without messing with a bunch of options.

One of SimpleMind’s many pre-set themes.

The Power User Approach

The next two apps in this review will knock your socks off with their feature sets. These apps include not only the basics, but also all the features even the most demanding power user will be pleased with.

XMind

The first thing most Mac users will notice about XMind is that it does not look like a standard Mac app (free, $79.99, $99,99). However, users who can get past this will find that the app is very powerful, but still easy to use. In addition to all the features listed in the minimalist apps, XMind also includes callouts, boundaries, labels and summaries (see the screen shot for an example of some of these features). With XMind, topics can also work as tasks with priorities and progress markers.

This map shows many of XMind’s visual features.

XMind also has a handy feature that makes it simple to extract elements of a mind map to create custom themes. This is one feature I appreciate because after setting up a mind map to look just how I want it, I know that I can recreate that same look for future maps with just a couple of clicks. XMind also has templates for organizational charts, tree charts, and fishbone charts.

I think XMind does the best job of presenting notes for topics.

What Sets Xmind Apart?

In a word, features. Features set XMind apart. In this comparison review, XMind is the only app that allows users to “drill down” or focus on just one portion of a mind map. It is also the only app that supports tabs, allowing users to have multiple maps open in a single window. Tabs can also be used to browse the web so you can easily research while constructing your map. Perhaps the best thing about XMind is the presentation mode. I have used this to make presentations and in many ways it is better than a traditional presentation app. The audience is able to visually see how ideas relate and build upon one another. Plus, presenting with XMind is a breeze—just use the arrow keys to navigate through the map.

This is what XMind looks like in presentation mode. It is hard to get a feel for this feature in a screenshot, but it is one my favorite features in XMind.

XMind and NovaMind do not have OS X clients, but do not fear, with iThoughts HD you can view and edit your Xmind and NovaMind maps on iOS.

NovaMind

With four versions, NovaMind likely has a version that will suit your needs (free to $149.99). In terms of feature set, NovaMind is right up there with XMind. Although when it comes to usability, XMind has the edge.

NovaMind uses an inspector to access more advanced features.

What Sets NovaMind Apart?

Just like with XMind, it is features that set NovaMind apart. NovaMind is a much more thorough task manager than XMind—with features like due dates and iCal sync. NovaMind also has by far the most complete image / icon library of the apps included here. If you want a mind mapping app that doubles as a full featured project manager, then NovaMind is the option for you. NovaMind also has a presentation mode, but I was unable to test this feature with the version I used for the review.

With over 3,000 icons and images, NovaMind has a very comprehensive image library.

Conclusion

All of these apps are well designed and I have no hesitation recommending any of them. If I had to choose one minimalist app and one power user I app I would choose MindNode and XMind. The reason I would choose these apps over the others is usability. After using all of these apps for a while now, I think that MindNode and XMind have a slightly smaller learning curve.

This review is not an exhaustive list of mind mapping apps for Mac. I know FreeMind has quite a following and MyThoughts seems to be another good option. What is your go to mind mapping app? Do you use one of the apps listed here or something else? Let us know in the comments.


  • Phillip Gruneich

    Just my impression or there’s an application missing? You know, that Omni one.

  • http://mindnode.com Markus Müller

    Reid, thank you for finding such positive words about my app MindNode in your showdown!

    I have one small correct, MindNode doesn’t support syncing via Dropbox (only import/export), but it fully integrates with iCloud on Mac and iOS.

    • Reid Leamaster

      Thank you for the correction Markus!

  • http://www.christophergrant.net Christopher Grant

    +1 for OmniGraffle

    As well, while Curio may not be a dedicated mind-mapping app it does have a basic set of mind-map tools that might be worth looking at.

  • Luna

    How do links to DevonThink work in Simplemind?
    I have MindNodePro and there linking from Finder works as it should but linking from DevonThink pastes the whole text of the document in the node. And it’s not even collapsable.

  • Peter Tucker

    iThoughtsHD blows all of these away but is iPad/iPhone only. I am constantly amazed at what it is capable of.

    I use MindManager on my Mac but would love to see iThoughtsHD on my Mac syncing through iCloud.

    • Reid Leamaster

      I agree. iThoughtsHD is a great app. I have found it plays nice with XMind. How does it do with MindManager?

  • Liam Gandelsman

    I use Inspiration, from Inspiration Software (http://www.inspiration.com/Inspiration). I do wish it had a better interface and was retina optimized, but it has so many features and keyboard shortcuts, not to mention it’s cross platform and has an iPad app, that I just can’t let it go.

    • Reid Leamaster

      I did not know that Inspiration had a Mac app. This was the only mind mapper I ever used in my Windows days.

  • Kevin

    FreeMind does everything I need it for (and a little more) and it’s FREE!

    • Sam

      +1 for FreeMind …. and it plays nicely with iThoughtsHD …
      and it also runs on Windows (if you want to have that flexibility).

      MindView is another to add to the list, which seems to get very good reviews on Mac forums, but it a bit more expensive.

  • Pingback: Rejections from the World of mind mapping | Fantastic Four

  • http://eclipsenow.wordpress.com Eclipse

    I wish Freemind looked like Mindnode. Mindnode curves are generally more attractive and less ‘twiggy’, less sharp and nasty looking. But I do wish Mindnode had symbols & notes & the other *functionality* of Freemind. While practical, I just find Freemind *looks* (both in the controls and end product) a lot like… Open Source. I love the idea of Open Source… I just wish it didn’t look and behave so ‘clunky’.

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