In January, Ken Case of The Omni Group shared the company’s plans for 2020, which included the release of OmniPlan 4, the expansion features for OmniFocus for the Web, simplified app license management on the web, along with OmniFocus collaboration and improved in-app workflows. Omni Automation has shipped as part of all of the company’s products and OmniPlan and simplified licensing will launch soon. However, the combination of the global pandemic and announcements of WWDC has caused Omni to adjust its remaining plans, though its goals remain the same.
As Case describes it:
Our roadmap itself isn’t changing dramatically. We’re going to continue working on OmniFocus collaboration, and we’re going to continue improving the flow of using our apps. But the latest news from Apple has inspired us to take this work even further.
Omni has historically been at the forefront of adopting new Apple technologies. The company was an early adopter of the Cocoa frameworks and was among the first to develop a pro-level app for the iPad. With that in mind, Case announced that Omni would reevaluate its apps, considering how they can take advantage of Apple’s new frameworks:
as we redesign our apps, we’re going to leverage the latest technologies. We’re not going to completely restart our development from scratch—but we are taking a step back to think about how we would design and build our apps if we were starting again now, building on the latest technologies and taking into account everything we’ve learned from our customers – you! – about how you use our apps.
As Case notes, this is a very big undertaking. Users may need to wait a little longer for the next big update to some of their favorite apps, but taking the time to make the transition now will hopefully mean Omni’s apps will remain relevant for years to come.
A few weeks ago, we released the latest product under the MacStories Pixel brand: MacStories Perspective Icons, a set of 20,000 custom perspective icons for OmniFocus Pro. You can find more details on the product page, read the FAQ, and check out my announcement blog post here. The set is available at $17.99 with a launch promo; Club MacStories members can purchase it at an additional 15% off.
As part of the release of MacStories Perspective Icons (which, by the way, takes advantage of a new feature in OmniFocus 3.8 to install custom icons with a Files picker), I wanted to write about my perspective setup in OmniFocus and explain why custom perspectives have become an integral component of my task management workflow.
Let me clarify upfront, however, that this article isn’t meant to be a primer on custom perspectives in OmniFocus. If you’re not familiar with this functionality, I recommend checking out this excellent guide over at Learn OmniFocus; alternatively, you can read The Omni Group’s official perspective documentation here. You can also find other solid examples of OmniFocus users’ custom setups around the web such as these two, which helped me better understand the power and flexibility of perspectives in OmniFocus when I was new to the app. In this story, I’m going to focus on how I’ve been using perspectives to put together a custom sidebar in OmniFocus that helps me navigate my busy life and make sense of it all.
Today, I’m thrilled to announce MacStories Perspective Icons, a set of 20,000 icons for custom perspectives in OmniFocus Pro.
Here’s the short version of this story: our brand new Perspective Icons offer 400 unique glyphs with two distinct icon shapes available in 25 different colors, for a total of 20,000 icons included in the set. Yes, you read that number right. The icons can be easily installed in OmniFocus Pro for Mac, iPad, and iPhone using Finder or the Files app; all the icons and colors have been optimized for OmniFocus and designed to look like native additions to the app.
For a limited time, you can get the set at $17.99, down from the regular price of $24.99.
As per tradition, The Omni Group has shared its product roadmap for the year ahead. Though these plans are always subject to change, especially pending new OS updates Apple will announce this June, the roadmap still gives a solid idea of where apps like OmniFocus, OmniOutliner, and more are heading.
Included on the roadmap is the launch of OmniPlan 4, expansion of OmniFocus for the Web features, simplifying licensing so you can authenticate your purchases with a sign-in rather than using activation codes, and automation improvements. Check out the full list of planned work here.
One section of the roadmap that stood out to me:
We’re also continuing to improve the flow of using our apps—particularly on iPad and iPhone. We want easy navigation, so everything in the app feels like it’s right at your fingertips—whether your fingertips are using the mouse, touch screen, or a hardware keyboard.
While this is a passing comment in the broader post, it’s also something that many developers fail to consider. Optimizing an app for different platforms, and those platforms’ respective strengths, takes a lot of work and careful thought. Devices like the iPad in particular can suffer from a lack of optimization – do developers optimize for touch input or that of a keyboard? In the age of the iPad Pro and iPadOS, the correct answer is “both.” I look forward to seeing what The Omni Group does in this area.
Ken Case, writing for The Omni Group:
In 2019, we think it’s time to retire our custom document browser in favor of using Apple’s built-in document browser—and with our iOS 13 updates this fall we’ll be doing just that. Instead of seeing our custom file browser, you’ll be presented with the standard iOS document browser—just like in Apple’s own iWork apps. Using Apple’s browser, you’ll be able to store and sync your documents using Apple’s built-in iCloud Drive, or third-party commercial options like Box—or even in cloud- or self-hosted collaborative git repositories using Working Copy.
Syncing through OmniPresence will still be an option, but it will no longer be the only integrated option. In fact, it might be the least privileged option: since OmniPresence isn’t its own separate app, it won’t be listed in the document browser’s sidebar where you find your other document storage solutions. Instead, it will present itself on iOS much like it does on Mac—as a folder of synced documents. We’re not trying to drive people away from using OmniPresence—but in 2019 we don’t think it makes sense to push people towards it either. OmniPresence is not a core part of our apps or business, and in 2019 there are lots of great alternatives. Seamless document syncing is essential to our apps—but exactly where and how those documents are synced is not!
This is an excellent change and one I hope more apps move toward. The document browser in iOS is essentially a special view of the Files app which is used as the root file management UI in document-based apps that adopt it. As Case points out, all of Apple’s iWork apps support the document browser, and several key third-party apps do too such as PDF Viewer, MindNode, and Pretext. The document browser not only enables users to store an app’s files in any file provider they wish, but its other primary benefit is offering a single unified file browsing experience for users on iOS. As more apps adopt the document browser, that unified experience becomes more a reality for iPad and iPhone users.
The timing of the Omni Group implementing the document browser is surely no surprise: this fall Apple’s Files app is being upgraded with support for external storage devices like USB drives, a new Column view, shared iCloud Drive folders, and more. By adopting the document browser in apps like OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle, the Omni Group gets the advantage of having all these new Files features built right into their apps.
The best task manager you can have is the one that’s always with you, no matter which device you’re using. Many people started with paper notebooks or index cards, and nowadays we have iPhones and iPads that can go with us everywhere, and even Apple Watches that can be independent devices if we need them to be.
The web is a ubiquitous platform – it’s everywhere, the framework behind much of what we interact with, and something we nearly always have access to. OmniFocus for the Web is a brand new product that makes the most of the web platform to allow you to manage your tasks on any computer – be that Windows, Linux, or a Mac.
OmniFocus for the Web is intended as a companion product; you need either the Mac or iOS version of OmniFocus 3 in order to use it. You can either pay for access to the web component separately, or if you don’t own OmniFocus on another platform you might choose to go with the complete subscription package, which includes the iOS, Mac, and web applications for the length of your subscription. Sign up is done through the iOS or Mac applications - which means payment runs through Apple’s subscription service.
Next month, OmniFocus for the Web will launch as a subscription service for $4.99/month or $49.99 annually. In a post on The Omni Group blog, Ken Case explains that the subscription is necessary to pay the ongoing costs of the web-based version of the popular task manager:
Running it on our computers means we have to maintain those computers, their network connections, power, and so on, as a constantly available online service, for as long as customers use the product. Running that service costs us money every month, so if we want the service to be sustainable we need an income stream which brings in money every month to cover those costs. In other words, this service model requires subscriptions—an arrangement where customers pay us money each month to keep the service going.
In addition to offering a subscription to the web version of OmniFocus, Omni will offer the Pro versions of OmniFocus for iOS and the Mac as a bundle with the web version for $9.99/month or $99.99 annually. As Case further explains, the subscription is entirely optional. The Omni Group will continue to offer its iOS and Mac apps as separate purchases as it does now.
When a historically paid-up-front app introduces subscription pricing, there’s usually an online dustup of unhappy customers who don’t want to subscribe to the apps they use. Although Omni’s announcement was met with a handful of angry tweets, the reaction has been notably muted, which makes sense because the subscription isn’t required. Users who have already purchased the apps can subscribe to just the web service or subscribe to the service plus the apps. The only combination that doesn’t appear to be possible is subscribing to just the iOS and Mac apps.
Adding subscriptions as an option adds complexity to OmniFocus’ business model, but the upside is choice. Instead of migrating its entire user-base to subscriptions, customers can keep using OmniFocus the way they already do. They also gain the option to subscribe to OmniFocus for the Web when it becomes available in January. The approach strikes me as the right balance for an app like OmniFocus, on which users have relied since the earliest days of the App Store.
If you’re anything like me, you probably remain perpetually dissatisfied with your task management setup. You may have chosen an app and settled in with it, but some of its design choices don’t quite fit with your way of working, so you’re always keen to try the latest and greatest app that comes along. Realistically though, you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that the “perfect task manager” doesn’t exist, and likely never will.
Task management is a tough problem to solve, because every option out there is optimized for specific use cases, resulting in different complexity levels. Some aim to remain simple and user-friendly, while others try to put every tool at your disposal, endearing themselves to power users while scaring off prospective customers who need a bit less. On this complexity spectrum, OmniFocus has historically been the poster child for the weightier end: if you have a lot of complicated projects that need a high degree of structure, there’s no better place to start than OmniFocus; however, for lighter needs, I’ve always found its myriad of options too overwhelming to recommend.
OmniFocus 3, released today for iOS (and later coming to the Mac), adds even more power and options to the app’s existing toolset, yet rather than growing more complex in the process, it’s surprisingly become more approachable. This improved user friendliness is achieved thanks to a new level of flexibility that can, upon tweaking your ideal setup, obscure the app’s complexity in everyday use. In more ways than ever before, OmniFocus provides the tools to make the app your own.
Outside of a lovely new design, where icons and fonts are bolder and everything feels more fresh, my favorite changes in OmniFocus 3 are this increased flexibility, which encompasses a lot of new and updated features, and its excellent iPad improvements. Let’s dive in.
I think in outlines. When I was in law school, that’s how I was taught to break down legal issues and structure the enormous amount of information I needed to know to pass exams. Outlines became second nature – something I still use today to organize research, write longer articles, and organize projects.
I wish I had OmniOutliner when I was in law school. Those outlines grew as the semester wore on, adding complexity that made them harder to edit. Although the word processor I used could handle outlining, it wasn’t optimized for huge outlines the way OmniOutliner is.
Today, my outlining needs are much simpler. I’m not creating 100-page outlines. If an outline is more than a few pages long, it’s only because it’s full of detailed notes. More often than not, all I need is a quick indented list, with simple formatting, and the ability to reorder sections easily.
Perhaps the greatest strength of OmniOutliner 3 for iOS is that it can handle both scenarios. That’s because OmniOutliner 3 isn’t one app, it’s two: OmniOutliner Essentials and OmniOutliner Pro. Essentials includes all the tools you need for basic outlining, and Pro adds extensive customization options, section navigation, automation, and other features.