Instaviz Review

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In a post comment last week Wayne referred to using a mindmapping application on his new iPhone. Fact is, mindmapping is a great way to brainstorm and organize your thoughts and the iPhone lends itself to this technique surprisingly well. On the iPhone my mindmapping app of choice is Instaviz. It is a powerful, yet easy to use app that can’t help but impress.

Let’s take a look and, if you like what you see, you could win one of five copies we are giving away this week.

Developer’s Notes:

INSTAVIZ is diagram sketching for your iPhone. When you were young, the grown-ups used to catch you doodling little circles and lines on the back of your exercise books or paper napkins, instead of paying attention to what they said. They didn’t realize that you need to sketch things out, how they relate to other things, in order to get them into your head and other people’s heads. Much later, you learnt the grown-up names for the sketch a mindmap, concept map, semantic network, org chart, flowchart, social network, genomic hierarchy, E-R diagram…

Sketch out a rough shape. Instaviz magically transforms it into a neat ellipse, circle, rectangle, square, diamond or triangle. Sketch a link between two shapes. Instaviz quickly redraws the diagram with the most pleasing layout. Scroll the diagram by dragging with two fingers. Zoom in and out by pinching with two fingers. To edit the label, color or style of a shape or link, double-tap on it. To change the shape, sketch the new shape over the old one. To delete a shape or link, tap on it and shake the iPhone.

To export the diagram, double-tap on the diagram background then choose Export Graph. You can export the diagram to, iDisk (MobileMe) or any WebDAV server, in Graphviz DOT/GV, PDF, PNG and Visio VDX formats. You can also Preview the diagram to the Camera Roll or Saved Photos, or Email the diagram to any iPhone or Mac user. To import a new diagram, tap on the Import button at the main graphs list. You can import the diagram from, iDisk (MobileMe) or any website, in the Graphviz DOT/GV format. Instaviz is a whiteboard in your pocket.

Throw away the exercise books and paper napkins, Instaviz will figure out the diagram for you. Brainstorm and conceptualize like you use pencil and paper, without a pesky interface getting in your way. Then with a couple of taps, share your diagrams with friends and colleagues through email and websites. Trained on over 2,500 sketches drawn by real users, Recog uses advanced fuzzy logic to recognize what you just sketched in a split second. Instaviz uses Graphviz as its automated graph layout engine. The industry standard for automated graph layout, Graphviz represents over 18 years of research work at AT&T and won two Apple Design Awards in 2004.

My Review:

I’ve used “mind mapping” for brainstorming and organization on and off for the past few years. While I remain convinced that this technique works best with a TabletPC or (gasp) paper and pen, it has its place with a more traditional keyboard and mouse setup too. While I would never have thought to try it on an iPhone due to the limited screen real estate available, Instaviz has shown me that it is not only possible but that it can work well too!

Here’s a look at the app in action…


When you first start the app you’re struck by the fact that it’s exceptionally simple and graphically “plain Jane”.

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The app’s UI is, at best, boring. Turns out, the developers didn’t put their energies into making a “pretty” app but, instead, put their energy into making a powerful app that more than makes up for the UI once you begin using it. You start a graph by tapping the upper right hand side of the screen. You then add your main topic by taking your thumb, placing it toward the top of the large white screen and drawing circle. The application immediately creates a circle with the number 1 inside.

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Tapping the circle twice brings you to the detail screen. Here you have the option to change the name, change the border, change the thickness of the line, change the corner shape and more. Tapping the “done” brings you back to the main screen.

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You can then add a triangle by tracing the shape on the screen. Tapping the triangle with the number 2 lets you change the name. You then repeat the process as many times as you like, making different shapes to distinguish on kind of information from another.

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From there you connect the shapes by drawing a line from one object to the next.

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That’s all it takes to create a simple graph or “mind map” you can also resize the image using the iPhone’s multi-touch.

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When you’re done you can snap a screenshot of the graph and e-mail it to yourself, use the “export” function to export it to mobileme or download the free companion software for exporting your graph to both Mac and Windows machines.

I’m impressed by what the developers have accomplished here. The engine driving the application is as amazing. The application really works and a recent update makes exporting and sharing your graphs easier than ever.

Instaviz is an impressive app. At $9.99 it isn’t cheap but if you mind map, get organized best through visual means it is definitely worth a look.

You can get it HERE in the App Store. In addition, we have five copies to give away. For a chance to win one, just leave a comment telling us one of the more “unusual” ways you might find it useful.

Categories: Reviews


8 replies

  1. this has at least 2 almost invaluable uses to me. 1- I can mindmap out DVD projects before sitting down to author them. 2- I can look like I have something going on in my life, which I don’t.

  2. 1. Your asked to speak on very shot notice, you can jot your thoughts in a map very quickly.

    2. Your out shopping. You have multiple stores you need to visit and various items you need to purchase, at different parts of the city. While your still in the car, map it out making sure you get everything the first time and you don’t forget anything anywhere. This is more effective than a linear 2do list.

    I use Mindjet’s Mindmanager everyday. I think it could be useful to have it on a phone.

  3. I try to travel light on short trips and have been giving clients a copy of a sketched diagram, then emailing a mindmap or diagram when I get back. Now, I can travel light & give them a something more professional when I leave. And they’d stop comparing my “art” to the UPS guy on TV…

  4. I could use it to map out where i actually ended up going and what i did in a day versus what i started out to do. Mapping out each chosen location and then mapping from that all that i got there. It could be quite fun to see what i buy and get done versus what i thought i would. In short a bunny trail of bread crumbs :)

  5. I use MindManager everyday in my job, brainstorming with teammates or clients. There are times when a session will arise out of a conversation in a meeting that didn’t necessarily start as as a session. I am torn between firing up the tablet or just taking paper notes (yuk). With this software, I could in seconds begin a mindmap and not lose any piece of the conversation worrying about capturing the information needed. With the export, I am assuming I could get the translation between the Instaviz and MindManager, continuing my work without a hitch.

  6. Great app. I could use this in a couple of ways.

    I’m a SharePoint Admin and we are always mapping out process workflows – fill out a form, route it to Manager A for approval, then to Manager B – account for Manager B being on maternity leave etc.

    Additionally, being able to map out web site structure – sub webs, different web parts and functions etc.

    The ability to choose different shapes for the nodes would really help in differentiating functionality etc. Very cool

  7. I’m a UNIX sysadmin type, so I try to avoid meetings when I can. That said, a large part of my work involves engineering various systems (consisting of many hardware and software components) and explaining to others how this widget talks to those servers and this other storage and that thing in the closet that the janitor unplugs on occasion. Around this point, my sketch usually has them smiling and nodding and wondering what I’m talking about. An app to lay out projects like this simply and clearly would do wonders for me.

  8. It’s entirely possible that I may *need* the app to map out how I’ll use it.

    (Ok, how about saving my staff from the whiteboard and needlessly complex Visio diagrams?)