Wherever you go, there you are: location reminders in OmniFocus

by Brian on October 14, 2011

Howdy, everybody! With a new release of iOS and new iPhone hardware, there’s been a ton of excitement and news this week; fun times!

In addition to all the cool new stuff Apple’s released, we’ve been able to build a few things using their toys that we hope will also be pretty exciting; I wanted to take a few moments and tell you about one of them. Specifically, the new location-based notifications we’ve added to OmniFocus for iPhone 1.12 and OmniFocus for iPad 1.4!

One of the first things we added to OmniFocus was time-based reminders; it wasn’t too long after that that folks asked for location-based ones as well. In fact, the first request we got for location-based reminders was back in May of 2007, before we’d even shipped version 1.0 of the Mac app! Over the years, we got more requests, especially once OmniFocus for iPhone and iPad appeared - wouldn’t it be great if the device you were carrying around in your pocket could tell where you were and remind you of the things you needed to do?

The first couple versions of iOS mostly made use of location data on maps. It was useful - you could create a context for a pharmacy you used, add the address, and see a dot on the map if any actions needed doing. You had to remember to look at the map screen, though. With iOS 4, it started to look like the pieces we needed to add the feature were coming together - that version of the OS had the ability to monitor location information and notify an application when the device was in a certain area. We did some preliminary work towards implementing location reminders; the feature worked and didn’t use much battery charge, but it became apparent it wasn’t as fast or as accurate as we hoped. We decided to pause work on the feature.

We were pretty excited by some of the changes Apple made in their recent hardware, though; they found a way to improve the accuracy of location monitoring without using more power. Specifically, the iPhone 4 (and 4S) include a feature called “region monitoring”, which lets them track the devices’ location via GPS without running down the battery. iPad 2 models with 3G also have this capability. Unfortunately, devices released before then don’t have a low-power way to monitor their location as accurately, so they won’t be able to use this type of reminder in OmniFocus. (The Reminders app included in iOS 5 has the same limitation.)

Still, if you have a device that supports it, the location reminders can give you an extra nudge, helping you to complete actions you might otherwise forget. Because battery life is a top priority, though, it’s important to remember that the location is only being checked from time to time. If you pass through an area quickly (by driving past it on the highway, for example) you may not get an alert. It’s also important to note that the regions being monitored are fairly broad - the smallest “distance” setting still corresponds to about one city block, and things get more broad from there. Hopefully in the future we’ll have never-fail pinpoint-accuracy location monitoring, but we’re not quite there yet.

Since we shipped this feature, we’ve gotten questions from some customers that are seeing the “your location is being monitored” indicator more often than they used to, and it’s true that it’ll show up more often. As long as you have an available action in a context with a location attached, OmniFocus will stay subscribed to location information, activating that indicator.

The folks that are concerned by this are usually worried that their battery will be drained more quickly, and in previous versions of iOS, that would have been the case. In iOS 5, though, you shouldn’t have to worry as much. Behind the scenes, iOS 5 is handling things. We can’t know the exact details of how it works, but Apple’s stated goal was to be reasonably accurate while minimizing battery drain. The location monitoring indicator is mainly to help you manage your privacy; avoiding battery drain was a useful side-effect. But in iOS 5, the device is better able to conserve the battery.

It may also be helpful to know that OmniFocus’ map view also shows the indicator: that view determines your location more precisely than the location reminders do - you will see some battery impact there. In fact, shortly after shipping the iPhone update, we discovered that the Map view doesn’t remember to stop monitoring your location after you close the view; that actually can cause battery drain! Thanks to the folks that reported this problem - we’ll get an update out that fixes that as soon as possible.

For more details on location reminders, check the new help pages; they’re accessible from the Settings screen in each app. In the meantime, I hope this post helps you decide if location reminders will work for your purposes. Have ideas, suggestions, or concerns? We’d love to know what you think! Drop some comments here, or email our support ninjas; you’re also welcome to ask questions in our forums or on Twitter. Thanks, everyone!

OmniPlan v2.0.1 released!

by Skwirl on September 14, 2011

OmniPlan v2.0.1 is a free update to licensed OmniPlan v2.0 users. This release is focused on addressing bugs and usability issues found in v2.0. Some of the areas we worked on include importing & exporting, publishing & subscribing, printing & imaging, filtering, and overall stability. If you'd like to check out the full release notes, click here

We love hearing from you! You can reach us by tapping using the Send Feedback feature in OmniPlan, sending email to omniplan@omnigroup.com, tweeting to @omniplan, or calling 1-800-315-OMNI or +1 206-523-4152.

To start using the new version, you can use the built-in software updater in OmniPlan v2.0 or you can download it from our website here.

Indie Interaction Design

by Kris on September 9, 2011

Welcome to another installment of our Use Case Profile series, wherein we highlight OMNI APPS—IN ACTION with real working professionals.

We’re always delighted to receive email from customers who’ve experienced unbridled productivity with their favorite Omni app. Every now and then a story like this comes along and we get all giddy about sharing it. Having undoubtedly maxed-out our “this is why we do what we do” affirmations with our loved ones, we figure our blog might be a better outlet for inspiring others to unlock the potential of the Omni productivity suite.

Today’s contribution comes from Libby Donovan, a freelance designer from Los Angeles, whose enthusiasm about OmniGraffle prompted her to develop a ‘Wireframing with OmniGraffle’ class for Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts.


She writes,

I spent ten years working for Microsoft in Redmond, mainly on a PC using Visio for Information Architecture and other work that OmniGraffle would have been perfect for. In 2010, I moved back home to Los Angeles and began looking for work for both myself and my start-up design agency, Mercyluxe Design Group, and found that 90% of the open job descriptions out there required OmniGraffle skills, as it was looked at as what would soon become the industry standard within the IA community. When I began working at MySpace as an independent contractor, I was told that while I could use any program I wished to use, their preference was OmniGraffle as they had already amassed a large set of stencils that were shared amongst the IA and Design teams who were working on the redesign together. The fact that OmniGraffle had taken such a hold on the design and IA communities in LA told me that this was a program that at the very least I needed to seriously investigate.

Larry Asher, who runs The School of Visual Concepts in Seattle is an acquaintance of mine, and we were talking about OmniGraffle and I was (loudly!) singing its praises - specifically discussing how my move from Seattle to LA necessitated me to learn the program. “You just can’t get work down here with out knowing OmniGraffle, Larry, it’s the future, it’s coming!” is pretty much what I told him. Since I moved to LA I’ve been, what I call “OmniGrafflin’ my tail off” for folks like MySpace, Disney and Will >Smith (yup, THAT Will Smith!) :)

Woah! I can only imagine the focus it must have taken to produce AI and UI mockups for Mr. MIB himself. Personally, I couldn’t resist the temptation to create a Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song flow chart, but clearly Libby can get jiggy with discipline.

While working with each client, I have found that OmniGraffle allows me the freedom to build upon each of my design principles and concepts in an almost organic way, bridging the gap between the idea and expression of that idea other programs just don?t >allow.

For example, my desire to find a perfect balance between Swiss design principles and maximum color effectiveness would have faltered under the rigid guidelines of Visio and its inability to work alongside today?s top design programs. During the Will Smith project, however, OmniGraffle showed its chops by allowing for effortless compatibility with Adobe?s Creative Suite, allowing me to fuse Visual Design, Interaction Design and Information Architecture. The finished comps were, looking back, about 80% OmniGraffle, 20% Illustrator and Photoshop. I?ve found [OmniGraffle] allows for such quick mock-ups and edits that you can prototype rapidly – really at the speed of the design conversation.

She goes on to explain which OmniGraffle features are most helpful in her workflow:

I love the ability to draw from my giant collection of stencils, templates and icons, with the ability to add more from the community with ease. The OmniGraffle UI and feature sets also allows for very rapid prototyping, something that other programs just don’t allow for.

One of the first things I do when I start a new project (after putting on my official OmniGraffle kick off song, “Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys – true!) is a quick inventory of my stencil collection to see if I have everything I need to get started. Most of the time I don’t – I’m in need of a particular UI element like a slider, and it has to be a certain kind of slider, a UI element from a particular brand of mobile device, or even just the right radio button, I’m off to Graffletopia to comb through their huge stencil collection to see if they have what I need. Most of the time they do, thanks to the awesome community mentioned above. When they don’t, that’s when I head back to Photoshop or Illustrator to create something original that matches the style I’m using and easily import it into OmniGraffle when I’m ready. Doing it old school.

And which Stencil is her favorite?

I am very fond of the Konigi set, it’s my absolute favorite and I use it pretty much daily. I love how clean it is and how it lends itself so neatly to almost any project that can be imagined. There’s also a unicorn stencil included. What else do you need? Well, maybe the ability to use those stencils to create wireframes while you’re out ‘n’ about, right? First, that OmniGraffle for the iPad EXISTS is a big win, making the program extremely versatile and the very nature of agile. The iPad app feels very much like a natural extension of the Mac version. I like how I can use my stencils from the Mac on the iPad making adjustments to a project or coming up with quick interactions studies for example while on the go that much easier. In addition, the freehand option is also very nice for those high-tech “cocktail napkin” times. Since they both work together so well, it’s not possible to pick one over the other, especially as I use them both for very different purposes – the desktop version for my main Grafflin’ and the iPad for quick mock ups, changes on the fly and presentation with room for experimentation and augmentation right then and there.

There you have it, folks - another shining example of OMNI APPS—IN ACTION, and a refreshing testament to our raison d’être.

Thank you, Libby, for sharing your story and samples with us - inspiring stuff, indeed!

If you have a use case that you’d like to share with us, please drop a line in the comments or via email, we’d love to hear it!

OmniGraphSketcher Goes Logarithmic

by Robin on August 29, 2011

“Wow, your customers are nerdy!”

That was a friend’s response recently when I mentioned that logarithmic axes are the number-one feature request for OmniGraphSketcher.

The way I see it, our customers understand that logarithmic scales are the best way to present many types of data and ideas. Stock prices, advances in technology, and many other phenomena tend to change by multiples rather than additions. Logarithmic scales show each doubling as a constant distance, so you can compare percent changes without large differences in absolute size getting in the way.

So I’m very excited to announce that OmniGraphSketcher 1.2 for Mac and OmniGraphSketcher 1.5 for iPad are now available, with full support for logarithmic axes!

Logarithmic axes example

You don’t even need to know anything about logarithms to use this feature. You just turn it on via the axis inspector, for either or both axes. (The resulting charts are sometimes called lin-log and log-log.) There is no step two!

These logarithmic axes are designed to follow best practices in information visualization, and they work seamlessly with all the other features of the app, such as dragging, nudging, snapping, sketch recognition, axis manipulation, and scale-to-fit. And because logarithmic scales are more likely to span many orders of magnitude, we now support much larger and smaller numbers (up to 10300 and down to 10-300), more decimal precision (up to 13 digits), and scientific notation (so you can use numbers like 3 x 10200 without typing 200 zeroes).

Given that the known sizes of physics only range from about 10-35 meters (the Planck distance in quantum theory) up to 1026 meters (the size of the observable universe), we figure that +/- 300 orders of magnitude should be plenty.

At least for now.

As part of these updates, we’ve also refined the algorithms that draw axis tick marks and tick labels. When there is not enough room to label every tick mark, we now consistently label every other tick mark, or every 5th, or every 10th, etc. If we skip a lot, we’ll automatically use major/minor tick marks to make it easier to see which tick marks are getting labeled.

Automatic major/minor tick marks

On logarithmic axes, we show just the first five numbers between each power of ten when possible, then only the powers of ten themselves, and then evenly-spaced powers of ten. OmniGraphSketcher makes all of these decisions for you, so you never have to think about it.

Tick labels from 1 to 50 Tick labels from 1 to 1000 Tick labels from 1 to 10^25

And did I mention that your axis ranges don’t have to end on powers of ten? Suppose your data values fall between 8 and 200. In many charting programs, the best you can do is this:

Axis range limited to powers of ten

But we think logarithmic axes should be just as flexible as linear ones, and we want you to be able to switch between linear and logarithmic scales seamlessly. Again, we’ve done the work so you can get what you’d expect:

Fully customizable logarithmic axis range

Last but not least, we’ve added a really nifty new feature called line interpolation. As you know, OmniGraphSketcher lets you draw lines freehand even if you don’t have exact data to back them up. This is great if you have a rough idea of a trend or want to visualize several possible scenarios. But wouldn’t it be cool if you could also turn your sketched lines into sampled data points for analysis or re-plotting in another program? That’s exactly what line interpolation does. It samples at each horizontal tick mark (x-value) to convert your line into a data series.

The reason we’re introducing this at the same time as logarithmic axes is because it lets you see how the shape of a line differs in linear vs. logarithmic space. Regular lines in OmniGraphSketcher simply connect two or more data points as smoothly as possible, so intermediate values do not necessarily stay the same when you convert between linear and logarithmic scales. Line interpolation solves this by letting you anchor some of the intermediate points. Now you can easily demonstrate, for example, how a straight line in logarithmic space becomes an exponential curve in linear space:

A straight line in logarithmic space becomes an exponential curve in linear space.

Download the latest versions of OmniGraphSketcher from the App Store (Mac, iPad) or from our online store (Mac); or use the built-in software update to download automatically.

And let us know what you think!

(If you want all the details, check out the release notes for the Mac and iPad versions.)