Instaviz [rating: 4.5/5]
The best way to describe Instaviz for those who don’t know about it is the description on the company’s own website :
Instaviz is an iPhone and iPad application that turns roughly sketched shapes and lines into beautifully laid-out diagrams. Instaviz uses Recog, a new shape recognition engine. Trained on over 2,500 sketches drawn by real users, Recog uses advanced fuzzy logic and sophisticated geometric algorithms to recognise what the user sketched in a split second.
Instaviz also uses Graphviz as its automated graph layout engine. The industry standard for automated graph layout, Graphviz represents over 20 years of AT&T Information Visualisation Research.
The first thing I did with Instaviz was open up a blank worksheet and draw lots of circles, squares and other shapes and try to join them all together with increasingly convoluted lines and squiggles. Impressively most of the time the app managed to interpret the type of shapes, and the logic flow I was trying to create. A few minutes later with my insane Christmas Tree of numbered shapes and lines complete I got to work actually reviewing Instaviz! One day Touch Reviews will give me a game to review. But for a while Instaviz was quite fun, even though that’s not what I was supposed to do with it, and definitely not what the designers intended it for either I am sure!
Instaviz is a Universal app, which means that it can be installed on the iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad as a single download from the App Store. It is in essence what I would call a flow chart creator. Some people call it a “diagram sketching app”. But its focus is on arranging geometric shapes (which can contain wording or simply numbers) into a logical tree or flow chart. So I find the use of the word diagram a little confusing. It would be hard work, for instance, to make a technical drawing with it. But it’s a piece of cake to design the flow of logic for a piece of code, or perhaps one of those graphs you see on a web site where you can decide if you should buy an iPad or not, or ask a girl out.
Instaviz’s impressive strength is the way that it intelligently rearranges your flowchart for an optimal layout, on the fly, as you add and remove new components. Watching boxes and lines reorganise when you’ve got your flowchart into a jumble, by not planning ahead sufficiently, is quite cathartic. I wish I had a widget to do that with C++ sometimes.
The iPad version of Instaviz allows users to sketch on the larger display of the iPad, and edit settings with the new popover controls available as part of the iPad’s enhanced iPhone OS. On the iPhone and iPod Touch you still have those controls, but they are in separate windows that slide over the main view intelligently when required. Unfortunately they then obscure your workspace. But both apps have the same basic features. What the iPad version does though is make good use of the newer more fully featured User Interface elements it has.
Having used Instaviz on the iPod and then compared it to the iPad version I can say that going back to the iPod is hard. This is not Pixelglow’s fault. The app works very well on both platforms. But you really appreciate the extra screen real-estate of the iPad, and the convenience of popover controls floating over your workspace, which allow you to see your graph while you update its components.
Instaviz allows you to create your flow charts from Ellipses, Circles, Rectangles, Squares, Diamonds and Triangles. It decides what shape you meant from the outline of a finger drawn sketch you make on the iPad’s screen. It rarely gets confused if you draw your shapes reasonably. But in any case it is simple to delete a wrong choice and redraw it. Most times I got “wrong shapes” was when I drew a wonky rectangle and it thought I wanted a diamond!
Joining shapes together with an arrow is as simple as sketching a line from one to the other. You can make those lines quite squiggly too. I tried to make several drunken bypasses around my congested city of rectangles, and Instaviz deftly did some town planning for me, and hey presto I had a flow chart that made sense again! Watching the shapes and lines animate into position smoothly almost makes you want to make bad designs so you can enjoy the animations.
To augment / edit shapes, and lines, you simply double tap on them to bring up a popover which you can use to label, number, add text, colour, change the outline, or change the orientation of any element where appropriate. So you can have squares with rounded edges, and a different fill colour. Or you can change the style of a line, or its direction. There are lot of options for colours, fonts, sizes, line thickness / stippling etc.
Instaviz starts up with some “Help” Graphs in the workspace menu which are a novel way to provide an in-app tutorial. You can see, and read about most features of the app in the style of the very flow charts it makes. A very elegant (but simple) way to get things across to the user, and also introduce the interface for navigating them
Instaviz works seamlessly in landscape or portrait. A must for this kind of app in my opinion. Any app I get that doesn’t do this gets a paddington hard stare from me these days. Be warned app developers. It also has nice pinch to zoom, as well as autoscaling features to make the best use of the screen space to show your entire graph, or parts you want to focus on. Again, on the iPad you simply have more space before you have to employ pinching and zooming.
Making new graphs is as simple as tapping a “+” button on the app’s main screen. It is equally simple to duplicate Graphs and share them as a Photo, Email or Export document. Duplicate is a nice touch, as you can easily try two or three different idea branches from a base project without having to repeat layout work, or export and then import.
Importing, or exporting, offers a plethora of options including box.net, iDisk, and http or https service access to transfer files in our out of the device.
There are also several formats supported for exporting graphs; Graphiz GV, Acrobat PDF, PNG or Visio VDX.
And the pricing is right. I wish more app developers would start looking at this kind of price range.
App developers take note : If you produce a quality app there is no reason that you can’t charge $9 or $10 for something like this.
Instaviz is well worth its sticker price. Heartily recommended. Even if you just want to make mad logic Christmas trees! I jest. I actually used Instaviz this weekend to flow chart a complex landscape scrolling algorithm for one of my own iPhone apps. And for that one serious application it has already paid for itself in my book.
- Updated iPad User Interface is awesome.
- Graphviz & Recog engines organising your flow-chart on the fly.
- Lots of options to customise your graph objects and text.
- Lots of options for export and import.
The Not So Good
- iPad version makes iPod and iPhone version feel cramped.
- Export and Import options for http and https require some setup: Would be nice to have a pre-defined URL that you can share to your desktop computer.
- It is possible to confuse Graphviz & Recog sometimes.
Price: $9.99 (iTunes Store Preview)
Updated: Apr 01, 2010
Reviewed Version: 1.6
Size: 3.2 MB
Languages: English, Chinese, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish
Seller: Pixelglow Software
© 2008–2009 Pixelglow Software Pty. Ltd.
Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iPhone OS 3.0 or later.