First Look: Inspiration for the Pocket PC

A new version of Inspiration brings world-class mind mapping capabilities to the Pocket PC PDA platform.

Inspiration, a mind mapping program for Mac OS X and Windows, has also been available for a year or two in a PDA version, but only for the Palm OS. So as a devoted user of Compaq’s iPaq handheld, I was delighted to see that Inspiration Software recently launched a version for the Pocket PC operating system.

In this first look review, we’ll take a look at the most notable features of Inspiration for the Pocket PC, and why it’s a worthwhile tool for users of Pocket PC-powered PDAs.

The program interface

The user interface of Inspiration for Pocket PC is a marvel of simplicity and efficiency. Like most Pocket PC applications, the screen is dominated by a vertically-oriented workspace. Text and icon menu bars at the bottom of the screen contain the program’s most commonly-used commands. Like the desktop version of Inspiration, this Pocket PC version enables you to work in either diagram or outline view, with toolbars specific to each operating mode. The toolbar can also be hidden, to give you a bit more work space – a nice feature!

I was pleasantly surprised to see how much of the desktop version of Inspiration made it to the Pocket PC platform. For example, one of my favorite features of Inspiration has always been its RapidFire brainstorming mode. When you’re in this mode, Inspiration separates each item with a small red marker, and then automatically inserts each topic into a separate symbol. you can simply type in an idea, hit the enter key, type another idea, hit enter and so on, quickly populating your map with a wealth of ideas, without the program getting in the way of your creative “flow.” Fortunately, this RapidFire feature has been implemented on the Pocket PC with a toolbar button that toggles on and off, and functions just like it does on the full-sized version of Inspiration.

Adding and manipulating topics

There are several ways to add new topics to your map on the Pocket PC. First, you can use the “add a topic” button on the toolbar that looks like 4 boxes arrayed around a central topic. Like the desktop version of Inspiration, this button is actually 4 buttons in one, and allows you to add a linked topic above left, above right, below left or below right of your current topic. I found it a bit hard to accurately press the proper quadrant of this tiny button, but was still impressed that the developers incorporated this feature into the Pocket PC version.

You can also click on a symbol shape icon and add a free-floating topic, or (here’s the amazing part) you can draw ovals, rectangles and other symbol shapes directly on the screen with the stylus, and Inspiration for Pocket PC will convert them to a finished shape – very cool!

Once you have added topics to your map, you can easily tap and drag them around the workspace. If you want to select multiple topics, you can tap and drag a lasso around them. This is a quick, easy way to change the style or shape of multiple topics at once. In fact, it’s the only way, since Inspiration for Pocket PC doesn’t seem to have the Windows equivalent of a CTRL-click function to select multiple items.

Linking made easy

Connecting symbols is also easy. You simply tap your stylus to select the symbol where you want the link to start, tap your stylus on the “link symbols” button in the toolbar and then tap the symbol to which you want the link to point, and Inspiration creates the link. Like the desktop version of Inspiration, you can also select a symbol and drag the stylus from one of its connection points to another symbol to create a link. If you don’t like the link’s location, you can select it, and then tap and drag its originating or ending point to another location on the symbol.

Navigation features

Inspiration for Pocket PC includes several navigational features that enhance its usability. For example, you can easily zoom in and out on your map. If you’re working at one edge of a large map, the “fit to window” command works perfectly to center your map horizontally and vertically on screen.

Another valuable feature, if you’re working on a large map, is the “go to symbol” command. This command displays a dialog box containing a list of all of the topics in your map. Tap on the title of the topic you want to go to, tap the “OK” button and Inspiration displays that topic, centered on screen – very slick!

One other feature is worthy of mention: When you zoom out on a map, the symbol text can quickly become so small that it’s impossible to read. Fortunately, Inspiration’s developers anticipated this problem. If you want to be able to view the text of a symbol, you simply tap on it to select it, and a small horizontal window opens at the top of the screen to display the text in a larger, legible font.

A capable outliner

Like its big brother, Inspiration for Pocket PC also comes with a capable outliner. Its context-sensitive toolbar enables you to add topics at the same level or as a sub-topic to the currently-selected topic, move existing topics, add text notes and change the prefix labels of your outline. In addition, you can rearrange items in your outline by dragging and dropping them.

A text input caveat

To get the most out of Inspiration for Pocket PC, you really need some way to input text, other than the virtual keyboard at the bottom of the PDA’s screen. I have an iPaq 4350, the only model that has a keyboard built in, so I found it easy to work with Inspiration for Pocket PC. Unless you own a PDA with a built-in keyboard like this one, I strongly recommend that you invest in an external keyboard, if you haven’t already done so.

Sharing your map with others

Inspiration for Pocket PC gives you a number of options for sharing your map with others, including:

  • Exporting it to a Word or TextMaker document
  • Transferring it to a PC using the Pocket PC OS’s ActiveSync feature
  • Beaming it to another Pocket PC user

You can open a map created on the Pocket PC in the desktop version of Inspiration for Windows, but you must upgrade to Inspiration version 7.6 – which includes support for this level of integration.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Inspiration for Pocket PC 1.0 is a very impressive debut for Inspiration on this platform. It is a very well-designed program that makes the most out of the limited screen real estate of the Pocket PC. It does a nice job of adapting features from the desktop version of Inspiration in a PDA format, like the RapidFire brainstorming mode, and the ability to lasso multiple topics and manipulate them as a group. It’s clear that the developers went to great lengths to ensure that this program would replicate the experience of using the desktop version of Inspiration as closely as possible. And I’m happy to say have succeeded admirably. If you like Inspiration for Windows, you’re going to love the new Pocket PC version!

Single copies of Inspiration for Pocket PC be downloaded from the Web site or ordered on CD for $29.95. An Inspiration Companion Bundle, which includes Inspiration for Pocket PC and Inspiration 7.6, is also available for $89.95.

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