When it comes to brainstorming are you a doodler or a documenter? In a meeting, do you instinctively reach for the dry-erase marker and head on up to the whiteboard – with lines, boxes, and stick-figures soon littering the entire space? Or do you prefer to sit down in front of a monitor and list out all the steps, nuances, and points of your idea? Whatever your preference, you are in luck when it comes to collaborative brainstorming apps on mobile devices.
First – for you doodlers out there – a plethora of apps are available on the marketplace. At the most basic level there are apps that are drawing specific with just sketching in mind. Autodesk’s SketchBook Mobile is an example of this. The goal of the app isn’t necessarily brainstorming or collaboration, but they can easily be leveraged to do so. If you are really into drawing out your ideas you may find these apps work best for you.
There are also a whole host of ‘whiteboard’ apps on the marketplace. They range from the cute, with virtual dry-erase markers, to full-featured that including text and image import capabilities. Just do a search for whiteboard in the marketplace and you’ll find plenty to try. The ability to import images, allows users to make additional annotations to the image. For example, Skitch and FreeNote, provide this functionality. Annotating existing images can be productive for a wide range of use-case scenarios – web design, presentations, etc. There is even an app under development, DisplayNote, that will allow you to do this style of free-form annotation directly with Microsoft Office Documents.
As well, whiteboarding with a mobile device takes the experience to a new interactive level. There are several whiteboard apps out there that are purpose-built for collaborative sharing. This allows you to draw with others in real time; no more waiting to be handed the pen. SyncSpace provides this functionality. There are improvements that could be made, but it takes the experience of a virtual whiteboard out of the realm of the PC. You no longer have to be sitting at your desk for that anytime, anywhere virtual whiteboard experience. It can take place in a conference room, or from across the world during your bus commute home. One last practical point about doodling – since I use the Galaxy Note as my device I have the added benefit of the stylus (did I just write that a stylus is a good thing?!) to draw in a more refined manner than the bluntness of a finger.
Next – for those of you with a more left-brained temperament – there are more relational approaches that you can take to brainstorming with your team. For a quick and dirty method, you could leverage a list or note based approach. There are many well-known cloud based apps that allow for shared notes. For a more traditional brainstorming approach, you should try a mind map app. One example of this is Mindjet. If you’ve never used a mind map, they are a relational approach to organizing ideas that branch from a central concept. Topics have sub-topics that all tie back to your central idea. Mind map apps allow for expanding and collapsing of topics which make consumption much easier. As an aside, many of the mind map apps look fantastic on my monitor when my phone is connected. They are crisp and easy to navigate around.
Mobile devices are very well suited to capture ideas and thoughts. They are powerful notebooks that we carry everywhere in our pockets. In the future, when it comes to collaborative brainstorming on a mobile device, perhaps the most useful apps will have the best of both worlds – a whiteboard/sketch program that allows for relational connections. There are some apps that are starting down that road today. This would give you the flexibility to draw and organize lists at the same time! Whatever your particular disposition towards collective brainstorming, you’ll find that mobile devices are the new way to get your ideas ‘out on paper’! What is your preferred way to brainstorm? I’ll let you guess which suits me best.
Benjamin Robbins is currently a Principal at Palador, a firm that focuses on providing strategic guidance to enterprises in the areas of mobility, apps, and data. You can follow him on Twitter. Mr. Robbins resides in Seattle and blogs regularly at http://www.remotelymobileblog.com