Omni Roadmap 2021

by Ken Case on January 21, 2021

For the past decade, part of our January routine has been to publish our roadmap, reviewing the progress we made in the past year and sharing our plans for the upcoming year. Last year was anything but routine: our lives were turned upside down by the global pandemic. We truly hope that each of you, wherever you are, remain safe and well.

The pandemic forced us to close the office and work as a distributed team from our homes, rethinking and reinventing a lot of our own processes for collaboration. Some changes we made may only be temporary, but undoubtedly some may become permanent. And all these changes have made us more reliant on technology than ever. (We still have the same meeting schedule as we had before, but all of our meetings are now held over video.)

We do look forward to getting together in person again, but it’s clear that remote collaboration will have a permanent place in this changing world. Remote teamwork is more important than ever, and this experience has inspired us to think hard about how teams might best leverage our apps to work together. (I look forward to sharing more about that in a future roadmap update!)


Last year, we finished adding Omni Automation to all our apps, providing support for plug-ins and scripts which can run on Mac, iPad, and iPhone. These scripts can integrate with other apps and services, and customers are already using Omni Automation to do things like synchronize their Jira tickets with their OmniFocus database. (Looking ahead, we plan to make these plug-ins even easier to build with: new APIs to store credentials and other data, new APIs to integrate with native reminders and appointments, TypeScript definitions for improved editor integration, and so on.)

We shipped OmniPlan 4 for Mac, building on OmniPlan’s already-powerful features by adding some of the top-requested features from our project manager customers: interval cost and effort tracking, recurring and manually scheduled tasks, and more.

We improved the licensing process for teams and eliminated some tedium by eliminating license codes from our online store. Rather than asking customers to keep track of license codes for each purchase (resulting in hundreds of codes for some teams), each person can simply sign in to access their license. Team administrators can see all the seats their team owns, and can add and remove team members at any time. We’ve seen great adoption from teams using this feature—and some of our larger customers are even using their own “single sign-on” servers to centralize their team management.

For customers who prefer to pay for software month-by-month (or year-by-year) rather than paying up front for a major version of the app, we now offer both individual and team subscriptions as purchasing options alongside those traditional up-front licenses. Up-front licenses still offer the best value in the long term; but for short-term needs, $12.49 for a month of OmniGraffle Pro is a great value.

We added enhanced Scribble support to OmniOutliner on iPadOS 14, and customizable OmniFocus widgets on iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

We added custom perspectives and Quick Open to OmniFocus for the Web, making it easier to focus your attention on the things that need doing right now and to tune out the things that can wait. (Next up: sidebar drag and drop, and more keyboard shortcuts!)

The year ended on a high note for the Mac, with new M1-powered Macs beginning the transition to Apple silicon. We were honored to take part in Apple’s launch event for Apple M1, with OmniGraffle and our other apps specifically called out alongside Adobe’s, and we had our entire Omni Productivity Suite ready and available for M1 and macOS Big Sur on the day they shipped—with new updates to OmniFocus, OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner, and OmniPlan. (And these new M1-powered Macs are just amazing. Apple has only updated their entry-level Macs, with the new MacBook Air and Mac mini—but they’re able to compile and build our apps faster than the latest Mac Pro! Our latest updates run incredibly well on these new Macs, and we’ve already purchased new M1-powered Macs for our entire team.)


The releases I describe above are just the visible aspects of our work. The transition to making our apps native for M1-powered Macs was an easy step, but only because of the quiet, behind-the-scenes investment of significant effort each year to keep our technical underpinnings up to date with Apple’s latest platform updates—for all four of our product lines across all three operating systems for the Mac, iPhone, and iPad. That’s millions of lines of hand-written code to maintain—not a trivial task!

Without that investment, our apps would quickly become dated—as you can see when you use an older version of an app on the latest version of an operating system. Technically, you can still use our older OmniGraffle 6 release on Big Sur—but you’d be missing out on many years’ worth of maintenance. You might think that that would simply mean that the app was frozen in time, that you’d simply be missing out on the many improvements we’ve made over those years. And if you’re still running macOS 10.11 “El Capitan”, you’d be right! But the operating system has changed in many significant ways since El Capitan—with Sierra, High Sierra, Mojave, Catalina, and now 11 Big Sur—and we’ve spent years updating and tuning OmniGraffle 7 to work with those changes. OmniGraffle 6 doesn’t just miss out on the new features we’ve introduced each year; it also runs significantly slower on recent operating systems than it did when it originally shipped (on macOS 10.8 “Mountain Lion”).

Trying to run older versions of our apps on the latest operating system is similar to trying to run a classic automobile on modern unleaded gasoline: technically, you might be able to do it—but it’s not going to give you the great experience you would get if it were running on the fuel it was built to use!


While making sure our apps stay current, this past year we’ve also been focusing a lot of thought on how to make our apps’ user experience more elegant and smooth, and how to continually reduce friction.

In July’s roadmap update, I shared that our behind-the-scenes work this year would go even deeper than usual. We’ve spent the past 20 years working with macOS 10, writing millions of lines of code. With macOS 11, we now have quite a few new technologies which weren’t available just a few short years ago. Frameworks like SwiftUI make it easier to design and build an app which behaves consistently across all of Apple’s platforms, while adapting behavior to leverage the strengths of each platform.

As I said in that update: if we were building a new app today, the best way to invest in the future of our products would be to take full advantage of these new frameworks rather than continuing to build on older technology. And if we want our products to stay relevant for another twenty years, I believe that adopting the latest technologies is the right move for them as well.

Since writing that back in July, we’ve taken 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 about how you use our apps. One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned is that each person uses our apps differently. Some want to go deep in just one specific area, but want to use the rest at a lighter level. It’s important to keep our products easy to approach for those who don’t need to go deep.

Using SwiftUI, we’ve started creating new outline views for OmniPlan and OmniFocus—bringing even more of the power we’ve come to expect from our Mac apps to our iPad and iPhone apps. With these views, you will be able to edit your task outlines in place (rather than constantly shifting between viewing the outline and editing in an inspector), and you will be able to collapse and expand items at any level—all with full keyboard support, making edits as fluid on iPad keyboards as they are today on the Mac.

OmniPlan outline


Since our world is constantly changing, a roadmap is never a perfect prediction of the future—but I hope this gives you some sense of our direction: where we’ve been, what we’re working on today, and where we’re headed next.

Redesigning and rebuilding our apps based on the latest Apple technologies is the primary focus of all of our teams right now, and I can’t wait to share the first fruits of that labor with you as we ship new builds of each of our apps—starting with the new outline view coming in this month’s TestFlight builds of OmniPlan 4 for iPad and iPhone.


(At the Omni Group, we make powerful productivity apps which help you accomplish more every day. Feedback? I’d love to hear from you! You can find me on Twitter at @kcase, or send me email at kc@omnigroup.com.)

OmniFocus Essentials: Back to Basics

by Ken Case on January 15, 2021

OmniFocus can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make it. It’s essentially an outline of tasks that can be tagged and filtered in different ways. This makes it incredibly flexible—much like paper—which lets it grow with your needs.

What does OmniFocus do, and how does it actually help you get things done? I know this is a tautology, but for something to be called a “to do list” it has to include (drumroll, please) a list of things to do! That list is the starting point for any tool that helps you stay on top of the work you need to get done.

OmniFocus starts with that basic functionality: it provides an Inbox where you can list things to do. It also provides lots of easy capturing mechanisms to help you get things into that Inbox:

  • You can add tasks by asking Siri to add a reminder.
  • You can forward email to your OmniFocus mail drop.
  • With a single keystroke you can open Quick Entry to create a new inbox item. Simply write down what you need to do, then press Return to capture that task and dismiss the capture window—returning to whatever you were working on without undue distraction.

When you open OmniFocus, you’ll can easily see all those captured items in your Inbox. You can drag them around (or use convenient keyboard shortcuts) to reorder them into your preferred order, and you can check them off to mark that you’re done with them.

We’ve designed OmniFocus to be a flexible and powerful system that can grow as your needs grow, helping you focus on what matters as your list outgrows that simple Inbox. But if your current workload is simple, you can stop right there! Capturing things in your Inbox and checking them off as you do them are all you need to know to start accomplishing more every day using OmniFocus. (Install OmniFocus, and begin your free two-week trial today!)


(Feedback? I’d love to hear from you! You can find me on twitter at @kcase, or send me email at kc@omnigroup.com.)

Omni Productivity Suite Now Available for M1 and macOS Big Sur

by Ken Case on November 12, 2020

The Omni Group creates productivity tools that are as powerful as you—designed for Mac, iPhone, and iPad—and we love the Mac! We’ve been developing for the Mac since 1989 (via its NeXT lineage), and over the years we’ve gone through many CPU transitions—from the Motorola 68030 to the PowerPC to 64-bit to Intel.

We were thrilled when Apple announced that the Mac will transition to their own Apple silicon. Apple has a decade-long history of making steady year-over-year improvements to the Apple silicon that powers other Apple products, including iPhone and iPad. We can’t wait for those same improvements to benefit all of our Mac customers. Our Mac customers are some of the most productive people in the world, and we know that many of you will be eager to start using M1-powered Macs.

Compared to previous transitions, this one has been a snap—because most of our code had already been ported to run on Apple silicon iPhones and iPads. By the time we received a Developer Transition Kit, our apps were quickly ready to test!

We’re very pleased to share that our app transition has been smooth and seamless. All our apps—including our free apps OmniDiskSweeper, OmniPresence, and OmniWeb—are now available as native Universal apps on M1-powered Macs, and can be either downloaded from our website or found on the Mac App Store.

Of course, we’ve been using these apps ourselves as we test to make sure they’re working well! Here are some ways that I’ve personally been using our apps:

With OmniPlan, I’m exploring different possibilities for our product roadmap. As I consider different options, everything is smooth and responsive.

With a plan, I bring my personal task list into OmniFocus. My data is securely synced between Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch using private encryption keys that never leave my devices—so I know that my tasks are always with me, but never exposed to anyone else through the cloud.

As I work through those tasks, I use OmniOutliner to compose my thoughts and ideas. All of this works perfectly on an M1-powered Mac.

And when I need to visualize something, whether for myself or to share with others, I have OmniGraffle at my fingertips as well. Shapes slide smoothly into place on an M1-powered Mac.

We have some great updates planned for the next year; support for M1 is just the start. We believe the future of the Mac platform is Apple silicon—and that future has never looked brighter!


(Feedback? I’d love to hear from you! You can find me on twitter at @kcase, or send me email at kc@omnigroup.com.)

OmniFocus for the Web Adds Support for Custom Perspectives

by Ken Case on October 27, 2020

Many busy professionals choose OmniFocus because of its power and flexibility, helping them tame the chaos and focus on the right tasks at the right time. We have some exciting news to share today for OmniFocus for the Web users, but first I’d like to talk about where we started and our progress to date.

When we launched OmniFocus for the Web, we included the core set of built-in perspectives from our first iPhone app. These built-in perspectives let you work with task lists from your inbox, project lists, and tag lists, giving you different ways to slice and dice your tasks.

We also included basic support for filtering those lists, so you could focus on:

  • your remaining incomplete items,
  • available items (that aren’t blocked by an earlier task or a defer date),
  • the first available items from each project (so you can see the next action that will move those projects forward), or
  • the entire list (including completed and dropped tasks) so you can view the full history of a project.

After launching OmniFocus for the Web, we immediately turned our attention to adding our trademark Forecast perspective, which displays upcoming tasks on a calendar so that you’re not surprised when a due date arrives.

We’ve done several other minor updates since then, but today marks the moment many of our web customers have been waiting for—the day we take the web app beyond those basic features and add support for our most important Pro feature.

OmniFocus for the Web now has support for viewing custom perspectives!

With custom perspectives, you can customize your own views in OmniFocus to truly make the app your own. You can set up personalized combinations of filter rules to show you the items you’re most interested in, and those custom perspectives are synced to all your devices. Want to see every flagged task related to work that hasn’t been completed, grouped by when you last edited those tasks? Or perhaps you want to pull up a list of everything you have finished, grouped by completion date? Or see everything in your Family folder tagged with Errand or Groceries, but not if it contains the word “egg” or belongs to a project tagged Birthday?

OK, that last example is a bit ridiculous, I know, but all of these views are easy to define using a custom perspective—and now that custom perspectives are supported in the web app you can access those perspectives from any desktop system.

(I should note that it’s not yet possible to create or edit custom perspectives using the web app: that process still happens on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. We do want to support that eventually, but being able to view custom perspectives everywhere is a much higher priority than being able to edit them everywhere.)

Custom perspectives can be marked as favorites so that they always appear on your sidebar, and can even be bookmarked in your browser for direct access.

Because custom perspectives are much more flexible than the built-in perspectives we were previously displaying, we ended up building a whole new set of back-end APIs to support them. These newer APIs are more flexible, allowing more types of content in the presented outline to allow grouping by date and so on. And they also have much better performance for large databases. Even when testing large perspectives with tens of thousands of items, our new custom perspectives will display results in a blink of an eye.

This update is free for all OmniFocus subscribers (thank you for your support!). If you would like to give OmniFocus for the Web a try, you can start a free two-week trial at web.omnifocus.com. Cross-platform OmniFocus subscriptions are $9.99/month. If you already own OmniFocus for Mac, iPhone, or iPad, add a web-only subscription for just $4.99/month.

Enjoy!


(Feedback? I’d love to hear from you! You can find me on Twitter at @kcase, or send me an email at kc@omnigroup.com.)

Omni Roadmap 2020 — July Update

by Ken Case on July 8, 2020

When I shared our 2020 roadmap back in January, little did I know that we were headed into a worldwide pandemic that would touch each of our lives so deeply. I hope that each of you, wherever you are, are safe and well.

Our world is constantly changing, and each year we have to be prepared to adjust our plans based on what we encounter along the way. This year we’ve had to adjust to working from home during the pandemic, of course—but we’re also accustomed to expect big news about Apple’s platforms in June, and this year was no exception. As usual, there were plenty of great improvements to iPhone and iPad—but from our perspective, this year’s big news was about the Mac platform. After two decades of macOS 10 (originally written “Mac OS X”), the Mac platform is finally moving on to macOS 11—and by the end of this year the Mac platform will also start to transition to Apple silicon.

How does this news affect our roadmap?


Roadmap Review

Before we talk about how the roadmap might be changing, let’s start by reviewing this year’s roadmap and where on that road we are today!

With Omni Automation now available in every app, you can leverage plug-ins and scripts to accomplish more every day, automating routine tasks and integrating with other tools and services. We want Omni Automation to be easy for anyone to get started with, not just software developers, so Sal Soghoian and Rosemary Orchard have been helping us build instructional material and sample plug-ins which you can check out over at omni-automation.com. You’ll find new content posted there nearly every week! You’re also welcome to drop by the #automation channel on our Slack workspace, where we have a community of people asking questions and sharing their own projects.

A long-awaited feature has finally landed in OmniFocus, with support for “floating” time zones. This feature lets items always become due or available at the same local time whenever you’re travelling—though, ironically, everyone is doing a lot less travelling right now. (We hope those of you who have been doing some travelling are enjoying this change.)

A steady stream of OmniGraffle updates have greatly improved: performance, support for reading and writing Visio and SVG files, and support for storing documents on third-party document sync services.

With sign-in licensing (coming very soon), you will no longer have to keep track of license codes: to access purchases, you can simply log into our apps using your Omni Account. A single Omni Account can be used across all devices and platforms: with an OmniFocus subscription, for example, the same sign-in will unlock OmniFocus on Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Web.

We launched team subscriptions in March, and will be launching personal subscriptions at the same time as sign-in licensing. Subscriptions give you the latest version of our apps, enabling every feature on every platform (including Pro features)—with a lower cost up front and predictable spending in the future. But knowing that subscriptions aren’t the best choice for everyone, we continue to offer traditional licenses as well: traditional licenses are investments which may cost more up front, but save money in the long run.

We’re bringing one of our most powerful Pro features, custom perspectives, to OmniFocus for the Web. With custom perspectives, you can truly slice and dice your task list, making it easier to focus your attention on the things that need doing right now and to tune out the things that can wait. We’re currently testing custom perspectives internally, and will soon be making them available to everyone through our public test site.

Finally, we have our biggest project from this year’s roadmap: OmniPlan 4. I’m pleased to share that OmniPlan 4 is now feature complete, has been approved for distribution through the Mac App Store, and will be shipping very soon! OmniPlan 4 introduces interval cost and effort tracking, new scheduling features like recurring and manually scheduled tasks, and a new assistant to help set up project schedules. In addition to these powerful new features, a wide range of improvements have been made throughout the app, making OmniPlan easier than ever to use for day-to-day project management tasks no matter how complex your project is.

Sounds like a pretty full year already! What’s left in this year’s roadmap?

There are two big new features that remain from January’s roadmap, and both have to do with collaboration in OmniFocus: sharing linked tasks in OmniFocus, and sharing linked tasks between OmniFocus and OmniPlan. We’ve been hard at work at designing and implementing these, and as we’ve gotten deeper into this work we’ve decided to set our sights higher. Our original plan was to simply enable the sharing of individual tasks with one other person, but as we’ve thought through the various way people will want to collaborate we’ve decided it’s important to support sharing entire projects with teams right out of the gate.

Features are important to a productivity app, but designing and building a great user experience is even more essential to delivering a great app—so the other big project remaining in this year’s roadmap was to improve the flow of using our apps, particularly on iPad and iPhone. We want our apps to be easy to navigate, so everything in the app feels like it’s right at your fingertips—whether your fingertips are using a mouse, touch screen, or hardware keyboard. And we want to leverage the strengths of each platform, while maintaining consistency so it’s easy to switch from one platform to another. This isn’t easy to do! But we know the results will be worth the effort.


So how does WWDC affect this roadmap?

Apple announced a host of platform updates this year: from Apple Pencil handwriting recognition, to new date and color pickers on iPad and iPhone, to new Macs built with Apple silicon which can natively run iPhone and iPad apps on macOS 11. (And if Apple follows their usual pattern of launching new products in September, there’s not a lot of time before these platform updates start shipping!)

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.

One of our top priorities is to make sure our Mac apps work well on Apple silicon. In theory we could just let Apple silicon do all the work, taking our existing Intel apps and converting them to run them on the new processor. Depending on how soon Apple is ready to ship their hardware, we may need to do that in the short term. But in the long term, that’s a recipe for apps getting stale and left behind—as so many 32-bit apps were left behind last year when Catalina shipped. The future of the Mac platform is Apple silicon, and we want to be ready to fully embrace that future. (I look forward to working on a Mac platform which gets better every year because it’s built on Apple silicon—much as we’ve already seen happen with the iPhone and iPad platforms!)

But Apple silicon isn’t the only big change Apple announced at WWDC. Along with support for new system hardware, macOS 11 is introducing a new design for the Mac platform—and quite a few new technologies which weren’t available just a few short years ago. With frameworks like SwiftUI, it’s easier than ever to design and build an app which behaves consistently across all of Apple’s platforms, while adapting behavior to leverage the strengths of each platform. The combination of new designs and new cross-platform technologies is a perfect fit with our roadmap for improving the flow of using our apps.

We see building for macOS 11 as an opportunity, much like building for Mac OS X was an opportunity twenty years ago. When Mac OS X was introduced, it had “Carbon” frameworks which made it possible to build apps which ran natively on X but were also compatible with Mac OS 9. Those frameworks were important to the transition from 9 to X, because the ecosystem of customers and products couldn’t leap to X overnight. But while those frameworks were important—essential, even—they didn’t represent the future of the Mac platform. That future belonged to the Mac’s newer “Cocoa” frameworks. And twenty years ago, those newer “Cocoa” frameworks were what we successfully leveraged to build our products and business (winning a record-setting five Apple Design Awards).

A similar transition lies ahead. We know that not all Mac customers will be ready to adopt macOS 11 the day it ships. And we know that we could continue to build apps using older macOS 10 technology and have those apps continue to run on macOS 11. But we also know that macOS 11’s new technologies represent the future of the platform, and that they have the potential to greatly improve our productivity as developers.

Twenty years ago, I had trouble understanding why so many Mac developers were sticking with Carbon rather than taking advantage of Apple’s newly introduced Cocoa frameworks. Facing a similar transition today, I have a much better appreciation for why that would be: as developers who have been working with Mac OS X for twenty years, we have a ton of code which is written using the old paradigm. We know the old frameworks inside and out, what to use and what to avoid. And it’s almost certain that the new frameworks aren’t fully baked or complete yet; they will have bugs in areas that haven’t been tested yet, and they may be missing some important capabilities. Building new code on a new foundation isn’t nearly as comfortable as building old code on a foundation we know.

But if we were building a new app today, I believe the best way to invest in the future of our products would be to take full advantage of these new frameworks rather than continuing to build on older technology. And if we want our products to stay relevant for another twenty years, I believe that adopting the latest technologies is the right move for them as well.

So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do: 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. We’ll preserve much of our battle-hardened cross-platform application logic—the same business logic that we already share between Mac, iPad, and iPhone. And of course we’ll keep all of the new Omni Automation work we just completed, since our JavaScript-based plug-in and scripting code works well down at that layer with our business logic, aligning perfectly with our goal of delivering the best experience for our customers independent of the Apple devices they use. But when it comes to drawing content on the screen, processing input and commands, adapting to screen changes and so on, we’re going to take a fresh look at today’s technologies to see what we can best leverage as we redesign our apps.

This is obviously a huge undertaking. Can we redesign and rebuild our apps on top of new frameworks between now and September? That seems extremely unlikely! If we’re lucky, I’m hopeful that we might have test builds of new versions of OmniFocus and OmniGraffle ready to use by then. It will take us a while to get where we’re going–but in the meantime, we’ll continue to make sure that our current apps work well on the new operating systems.

With major new upgrades to your apps on the way, should I buy them today?

If you just want to get work done rather than worrying about timing, your best option might be to purchase a subscription! As noted earlier, subscriptions require the least up-front investment and always give you access to the latest version of our apps, enabling every feature on every platform. Team subscriptions are available today, and as noted above personal subscriptions will be available very soon.

But while we’re on the topic of licensing…

Over the last decade, the ways that apps are designed and built aren’t the only things which have changed: market expectations around how apps are bought and sold have also changed. Rather than buying independent apps for each platform (Mac, iPhone, iPad), in today’s market we expect to be able to purchase an app once and use it on every device where that app is available. This is already true for all of our subscriptions (where one universal subscription gives you access to the app on all devices), and as we look to the future we think it’s appropriate to use this model for our traditional licenses as well.

To that end, starting with OmniPlan 4 (but ultimately expanding to include our entire productivity suite), whether you purchase our apps using a subscription or a traditional license your purchase will be a universal purchase which unlocks the app on every device where it can run.


Wrap-Up

I hope this roadmap update gives you a sense of where we’re headed next! When we think about what to focus on next, we think about how to build products that help you, our customers, be your most productive selves. You’re working on big projects, and you’re looking to us for powerful tools to help you with those projects. It’s our job to help you accomplish those projects efficiently and effectively, without wasted effort. As we work to improve our products, we hope that the improvements we’re making will help you do just that.


(Feedback? I’d love to hear from you! You can find me on twitter at @kcase, or send me email at kc@omnigroup.com.)