Omni Sync Server: Beta no more!

by Brian on March 5, 2012

Howdy, friend-os! Today, I get to do something we’ve been looking forward to for a while now: announce that the Omni Sync Server is coming out of beta.

We’ve had the server up for almost two years now - it launched way back in April of 2010. In that time, the server has been scaled up from a Mac mini here in our offices to a collection of machines in our colocation facility, all working together to help you move your Omni apps’ data back and forth between your OS X and iOS devices, as well as to store backup copies of that data just in case things go totally diggstown and you need them.

When we launched the server, it was an OmniFocus-only affair, but we’ve added support for the server to all of our iOS apps. On the Mac, OmniFocus and OmniPlan have built-in support for the server as well. (The Mac apps that don’t already include support will get it in the future.)

So, to the tens of thousands of folks out there that have been storing your data on the server this whole time: thank you very much for being willing to sign up and help us build this thing. There’s always a seat for you on our little red wagon. To everyone else: if you were interested in using the server but didn’t want to sign up while it was in in a testing phase, we’re rolling out the red carpet for you. Head over to omnigroup.com/sync and set up an account.

Oh, and did we mention that you can have this all for the low, low price of zero? One of the things we learned is that we can build and run a service like this without needing to charge for it. Consider it a delicious after-dinner digestif you get whenever you buy one of our apps. Enjoy!

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!

OmniFocus for iPhone v1.9 is now available!

by Brian on February 24, 2011

Now available on the App Store, OmniFocus for iPhone v.1.9 improves the basic workflow by offering immediate access to View settings that display Next, Available, Remaining, or All items. It also improves the experience of choosing dates and setting up repeating items, and contains many other improvements to the interface.

A detailed list of changes is available on our forums; as always, we'd love to know what you think! Drop a comment below or on the forums; if you need help, give us a call at 800.315.6664 (OMNI) or email our support ninjas and we'll be happy to help. Enjoy, folks!

Macworld 2011 Presentation Videos: Uploading!

by Brian on February 9, 2011

Weren't able to make Macworld this year? Came to the show, but weren't able to check out that one presentations you were totally into? The hour of your rejoicing is at hand! We're uploading the videos to our Vimeo page as we speak. Several of the videos are up now; the rest should be up in the next day or so. (Once we upload them, Vimeo's data-crunchers have to "process" them. We don't know exactly what that entails, but we assume the result is something smooth and creamy. In our experience, smooth and creamy is good.) We know folks are really looking forward to these, so we figured we'd give folks a heads-up now, rather than wait.

We want to give a special shout-out to Merlin Mann and David Sparks, who were both kind enough to prepare and give presentations, despite, you know, not actually working here. Service above and beyond the call of duty, gentlemen; thanks very much!

Touching on something from the last blog post: this is the first time we've done screencasts "live" like this, and it turns out that the Macworld show floor is a pretty challenging place to capture audio. Our video camera was completely overwhelmed, so we ended up recording the audio separately, then synching it up and filtering as much of the background noise out as possible. Needless to say, we learned a lot that'll help for next years' videos. 

In any case, enjoy the videos and we'll see everyone next year!

We’re hiring!

by Brian on September 24, 2010

If you've been reading Ken's iPad or Bust! posts, you know just how busy it's been around these parts lately. We've got a couple more products on the way, so we'd like to bring some folks on board to help spread the work around. New jobs means hiring, which means new posts on our Jobs page! Head on over there for information about the positions and on how to apply. Thanks, everyone!