Omni Roadmap 2018

by Ken Case on January 26, 2018

Welcome! Each January, we like to pause and reflect on the past year’s accomplishments and to share a roadmap of our plans for the coming year. There’s a lot to share this year—particularly about our plans for OmniFocus in 2018—so let’s dive right in!

Looking back at 2017

Last year (our 25th!), our 2017 roadmap talked about switching our App Store apps to free downloads to let us offer trials and upgrade discounts, and shipping OmniOutliner 5 for Mac. It also talked about bringing more of the power of the desktop to our iOS apps—introducing powerful JavaScript-based automation, and reducing the number of taps it takes to do things by updating our app designs to take advantage of the iPad’s larger screens.

OmniOutliner 5 for Mac

With OmniOutliner 5 for Mac, we wanted to help people discover and understand the benefits of a general-purpose outlining tool: it’s the tool that helps us capture a bunch of chaotic, abstract thoughts and put them together into an organized, coherent whole. We started by rolling together the old functionality of the old Standard and Pro editions into a new, lower-priced and more capable than ever Pro edition with new support for advanced filters, encrypted documents, and JavaScript-based automation. We also introduced a low-cost ($9.99!), easy-to-use Essentials edition for beginners who want to get a taste of what outlining is all about. (And by offering the app as a free download in the App Store, we were able to give people a free two-week trial, as well as offering existing customers a 50% discount on the upgrade.)

OmniGraffle 3 for iOS

When OmniGraffle 3 for iOS shipped, it gave iPad customers a first look at our new slide-in pane design. Rather than tapping to open an inspector every time you want to change a shape’s attributes (and then tapping again to close it before you can return to work on your canvas), you can just open the slide-in inspector and leave it open while you work. On a large 12.9” iPad Pro you can go even further, leaving open a persistent navigation pane on the left at the same time as your inspector pane is open on the right. (Of course, you can also dismiss either pane with a tap whenever you want to eliminate those distractions to focus on your document’s content.)

These slide-in panes have made the app much more efficient to work with, so we brought them to OmniPlan 3 for iOS last year in a free update (v3.6, which also introduced a Dark theme) and will also be bringing them to OmniOutliner and OmniFocus very soon. (But that’s getting ahead of myself: I still have more to say about 2017!)

iOS 11 updates: Siri, Drag and Drop, Files and more

It turns out we weren’t the only people thinking about how to bring more of the power of the desktop to iPads last year. In June, Apple unveiled iOS 11 at their Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), and they added support for all sorts of great productivity features, including Siri integration, system-wide support for Drag and Drop, and centralized document management. We had free updates to OmniFocus, OmniGraffle, and OmniPlan ready to take advantage of these new capabilities on the day iOS 11 shipped.

We rounded out 2017 with updates to our JavaScript-based automation for OmniGraffle 7 and OmniOutliner 5, a public TestFlight of OmniOutliner 3 for iOS, and a first hint at our plans for OmniFocus 3. (Oh, and we started a little podcast called The Omni Show, where you can get to know the people and stories behind our apps. We’re also now on Slack.)


Looking ahead to 2018

Yes, yes, last year was great. But that’s the past! What’s next for the Omni Group? When will OmniOutliner 3 be shipping? And what’s this about OmniFocus 3?

OmniGraffle for Mac: 7.6, 7.7, 7.8, …

We’re kicking off the year with a free OmniGraffle 7 update for Mac, v7.6—also known as “The Big Stencils Update.” You can now place the Stencil Browser in the left sidebar of your document, so it’s available while you work on your canvas and inspect other objects. (You can also place it in the right sidebar, or a popover, or open the whole browser—or even just individual stencils—in their own floating windows.) And it’s easier than ever to customize lightweight stencil collections by dragging objects from the canvas right onto the stencil browser (rather than having to open the stencil in a separate editing window).

Customers have been writing to tell us how much more efficient 7.6’s updated stencil design is for their workflow; if you haven’t tried it yet, I hope you’ll do so and let us know what you think! (Again: if you already own OmniGraffle 7, this is a free update. If not, we have a free two-week trial available!)

Right on the heels of 7.6, we’ve already started the public test for 7.7, which focuses on improving our support for importing and exporting SVG. And after that, 7.8 will be focused on diagramming improvements—so if you have any diagramming needs you’d like us to be thinking about, we’d love to hear from you: please email us at omnigraffle@omnigroup.com!

OmniPlan 3.9, 3.10, …

OmniPlan for Mac’s first release of 2018 will include two popular feature requests: a new “Project Summary Inspector” that offers quick access to project total values (like total cost and total duration), and a new timescale feature for customizing Dashboards created in OmniPlan Pro.

Looking further into 2018, we are excited about our plans to refine and enhance OmniPlan Pro’s publish & subscribe sync functionality. We also plan to bring the powerful JavaScript-based automation that has already been introduced in OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner to OmniPlan for Mac and iOS.

OmniOutliner 3 for iOS

We’ve been working hard on OmniOutliner 3 for iOS for the past year, and we’re just putting the finishing touches on it now before submitting it to Apple for their approval to distribute the app on the App Store. We’ll have a lot more to say about OmniOutliner 3 when it’s shipping next month, but let me just note that this will bring both the Essentials and Pro editions to OmniOutliner for iOS for the first time: Essentials with its clean, simplified outlining experience, and Pro with its advanced feature set (including saved filters, encrypted documents, and powerful JavaScript-based automation). Upgrade discounts will be available—but it’s also worth noting that anyone who has purchased OmniOutliner 2 within the last year(!) will get a free upgrade to the Pro edition of 3 when it ships.

OmniFocus 3, for iOS and Mac

OmniFocus is now ten years old! A lot has changed in those ten years: when we first shipped OmniFocus, our primary use case was centered on the Mac. OmniFocus didn’t have a way to sync your data between devices; there were no third-party iPhone apps. No notifications. No iPad. No Siri.

Fortunately, there were some fundamental things that we worked hard on for v1.0 which have stood the test of time. Like how to tackle large problems by breaking them down into smaller pieces. How to indicate that some tasks won’t be available until other tasks are completed, so we don’t prompt you to work on something you can’t actually work on yet. Focusing on an important folder or project or context and hiding everything else to reduce distraction. Periodically reviewing (and potentially dropping or archiving) your projects to make sure that what your system is keeping track of is relevant, not noise. The strength and stability of those fundamentals has helped OmniFocus succeed through the past decade—and, of course, it also helps that with each year we’ve continued to update OmniFocus to take advantage of new technologies that have become available. But if we were to design OmniFocus all over again, knowing everything we know now (especially from the many thousands of conversations with you, our customers), there are definitely some things we would do differently.

Well, it’s time: 2018 is the year we’re shipping OmniFocus 3—and it’s a great opportunity to revisit our original design and assumptions.

Goodbye, contexts. Hello, tags!

One of the design inspirations for OmniFocus was David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, presented in his bestselling book by the same name. For people who were already practicing GTD, the idea of assigning a context to a task to help you know when and where to work on it was very familiar. When planning your work you’d break things down into small, actionable steps, and for each step you’d identify the context in which you were going to perform each of those steps, so that when you found yourself in that context later you could efficiently see the list of things you needed to get done there.

This system of contexts works well enough, but OmniFocus was never intended to be limited to a GTD audience—and as our customer base has grown over the years we’ve seen a lot of confusion over just what these “contexts” are and how people ought to make use of them. The term that makes more intuitive sense to most people is tags: you can tag an item with a tag—or multiple tags—and later you can look at that tag to see all the items assigned to it.

The ability to apply tags without replacing existing tags opens up all sorts of possibilities. You can have a set of tags representing locations (#home, #work, #grocery-store), and an orthogonal set of tags representing things you might want to tackle based on difficulty or energy level (#tough, #easy, #routine). You can track priority (#urgent, #important) or people (#tim, #molly), or even use tags to track a list of things to do #today. Tags are incredibly flexible, letting you organize things in whatever ways make the most sense to you.

In our design for OmniFocus 3, tags are also more clearly an optional feature: just because you can assign a tag to something doesn’t mean every task needs a tag. The end goal of placing tasks into OmniFocus isn’t to curate those tasks into a perfectly groomed and organized collection; the goal is to get those tasks done so you never have to worry about them again. Our hope is that making it possible to organize things in whatever way you wish will serve that goal, rather than becoming a goal in and of itself.

Manual Sorting

Speaking of organizing things as you wish, many customers have asked over the years why it’s only possible to reorder their tasks within projects and not when looking at those tasks within a context. If I’m planning my day and looking at a context’s list of tasks, I might want to place those tasks into a particular order—but right now in OmniFocus 2, tasks either appear in their original project order, or in an automatically sorted order (say, alphabetically or by due date).

OmniFocus 3 solves this issue by letting each tag track its own independent ordering of tasks. If I’m planning a run to the grocery store, I can look at my #grocerystore tag and drag those items into whatever order I prefer, without changing the order of those tasks in the project list or in other tags. And if I’ve tagged a bunch of tasks to do #today, I can reorder those tasks in whatever way makes the most sense to me.

Flexible Scheduling

Dates are an essential element of any task management system. OmniFocus actually tracks five dates for every task, but when it comes to scheduling there are two dates which are particularly key: when a task becomes available, and when it will become due.

Those two dates are pretty easy to manage for one-off tasks: you can just assign some dates (if you need any) and you’re done. But the interactions of those dates start to get complicated when tasks repeat: if a task is supposed to happen again after three months, does that mean three months from when it was last due (e.g. filing taxes) or three months from when it was last completed (getting a haircut)? And, beyond what was possible in OmniFocus 2: should the next repetition be scheduled for the same numeric day of the month (e.g. always on the 15th), or is its schedule based on weekday patterns (e.g. the second Tuesday of the month)?

For OmniFocus 3, we wanted to add more flexible scheduling, but we also wanted to avoid overwhelming anyone with a bunch of decisions that they might not care about. To solve this, we turned to a design principle called progressive disclosure: we ask you to make simple decisions up front (like checking the option “does this repeat or not”), and as you proceed through the interface we progressively disclose more and more options based on what we already know about the task. (For example, there’s no need to ask whether you want to repeat from your due date if you’ve never assigned a due date.) This lets us provide all of that flexibility for those times when you need it (like when you have a task due before a meeting that’s scheduled for the second Wednesday of every quarter)—but when your needs are simpler, you won’t have to worry about all that detail.

Flexible Notifications

It’s great to have more flexibility around task scheduling so things become available and due at the right times. But what happens when those times are reached?

OmniFocus 2 supports two types of notifications: time-based notifications that fire when a due date is reached, and location-based notifications that fire when you approach a context that has an associated location. When OmniFocus 2 wants to notify you about multiple tasks at once, it ends up showing you a notification that says something like “… and 3 more” and you have to follow up by opening the app to see the full list. That may have been acceptable when OmniFocus 2 shipped, but devices have become much more capable in the last five years and we can do better.

OmniFocus 3 will still coalesce related notifications (so that you won’t receive lots of different alerts when an entire project’s remaining tasks become due at once), but it will show you a lot more detail and context for that notification as part of the notification itself:

Screenshot of rich notifications

In the screenshots above, the left notification is showing the details for several tasks all at once. The right notification shows a map to the nearby location that triggered it, along with listing the tasks that OmniFocus is reminding you to do there.

That looks great. But the thing that really bothers me about OmniFocus notifications is not how the notifications are presented, but how the app doesn’t remind me about a task until it’s already overdue. That’s too late!

Beyond improving the way notifications are delivered, OmniFocus 3 is adding a lot more options for what type of notifications you’d like to see. You can change the default notifications so that you’re told when a task becomes available. Or you can be notified when a task reaches its “latest time to start”, calculated from the time you said it would take to do a task and its due date.

You’ll also be able to add multiple custom notifications to individual tasks—so you could say, for example, that you’d like a reminder one week before something is due, then one at two days, with a final notification at two and a half hours.

Finally, for those cases where there is something that really absolutely must get done now, without delay (like taking your medication), we’re adding a new type of repeating notification that will keep reminding you about a task every few minutes until you tell OmniFocus that you’ve completed that task.

Design

At the Omni Group, our mission is to make great software. We spend a lot of time thinking about design, and we think it’s one of the most important components of a really great product.

In the case of OmniFocus, we’ve created something very powerful—but that doesn’t mean it needs to be complicated. We want people to be able to open the app and start using it without any special training. We want its features to be easy to discover and use (even when the features themselves may be incredibly flexible). And we want the actual experience of using the app to be a delight.

We also think it’s very important for an app to fit in well with the design aesthetic of the platform. When we were redesigning OmniFocus for version 2 five years ago, we switched directions midstream to follow the dramatic shift in direction Apple made for iOS 7 (with its emphasis on deference, clarity, and depth). That course correction was an important one for a platform and ecosystem that had embraced skeuomorphism—but it was somewhat extreme, relying heavily on conveying a sense of place in an app by using subtle font cues and line art icons. Where we had previously been distracted from the fundamental use of an app by focusing on its choice of wood grain, we were now struggling to find visual cues in a sea of white.

Fast forward five years. Apple hasn’t reembraced skeuomorphic design by any means, but we’re starting to see a return of contrast and shading and other useful visual cues. And with OmniFocus 3, we think it’s time to do the same. We can design our icons to stand out better and be easier to scan, without making them overwhelming or distracting. We can make better use of indentation and other subtle cues in the interface to help guide your eyes to see the underlying structure we’re trying to represent. And, as noted above, we can use progressive disclosure to show you additional details about things when you’re ready for them rather than overwhelming you with everything up front.

With those goals in mind, here’s what we’ve done so far:

Screenshot of the OmniFocus task list with multiple items selected

Note that in this screenshot, two items are selected—that’s why they’re both highlighted in blue. When multiple items are selected, you can tap the (i) button in the toolbar to open them all at once and make changes that will affect all of those items at the same time. You can also drag them all at once to add them to another project or tag (or, on an iPad, even drag them all to another app).

When you open items to look at their details, OmniFocus 3 will no longer present you with an overwhelmingly busy list of every possible bit of information for that item. Instead, we’ll show you the fields people most commonly want to see—but if you ever want more detail, you can get to the remaining details with a single tap. (You can also customize which fields are visible and hidden, if for example you always want to see completion dates but never want to see due dates.)

We haven’t finished the redesign process yet, but we hope you like where we’re headed!

Powerful Automation

From its very beginning, OmniFocus has had great support for automation. The AppleScript support in version 1.0 was powerful enough to support a Ruby on Rails web interface to the app, letting you view, create, and edit your tasks—all from a script. But AppleScript doesn’t exist on iOS, so when we brought OmniFocus to iOS those capabilities were left behind. You could still do all of those things on a Mac, of course, but as more and more of our customers primarily interact with OmniFocus through their iOS devices we realized we needed something more powerful that would work on all devices—and not just for creating new content (which you can do now using the Workflow app, by way of our URL automation).

For OmniFocus 3, we’ll be adding powerful JavaScript-based automation much like what we’ve already shipped in OmniGraffle (Mac in v7, iOS in v3) and OmniOutliner (Mac in v5, iOS coming in v3). This will enable dual-platform scripts which can be used to manipulate tasks in all sorts of ways, such as filtering, reporting, or creating content based on templates.

Collaboration

OmniFocus was designed as a tool to help people manage their own personal work. But for many of us, our work involves collaborating with other people: we might have tasks that we can’t do until someone else finishes something, or we might have tasks that block other people from completing their work.

We don’t think OmniFocus is the best tool for coordinating large interdependent project schedules (we make OmniPlan for that), and we think that giving multiple people access to the same database would be confusing—but we do think there’s a place for automatically relaying status updates for specific tasks between people.

For OmniFocus 3, we’re adding support for linking tasks between unrelated databases. The idea is that I can send you a task (with its notes and attachments and due date) and propose that our tasks be linked, and you can choose whether to accept the link or not. While our tasks are linked, we can each see updates to the status of that specific task. But in each of our databases, that task can live wherever we want: so I can turn my task into its own project with a number of subtasks, while you might have that task as one step in a sequential project.

This approach of sharing linked tasks will let people continue to manage their own personal work however they wish, while making it easier to communicate shared status with collaborators.

TestFlight

OmniFocus 3 isn’t done yet—otherwise it would be shipping—so some of the features described above haven’t been written yet. Automation and collaboration are coming, but won’t be part of the initial 3.0 release: and without knowing the future, it’s impossible to say for certain that everything will turn out as described. But this is a roadmap blog post: the time and place where I describe where we think we’re headed, so you can decide whether you’d like to join us on that journey.

That said…

Many of those features are already written, and we’re getting ready to start a TestFlight of OmniFocus 3 for iOS. Would you like to join us? If so, sign up now for the OmniFocus 3 TestFlight!


OmniFocus for the Web

Over the last decade of customer feedback, one of the common refrains we’ve heard is that customers love OmniFocus on the Apple devices where it’s currently available, but that those aren’t the only devices they use—that they really wish they could have at least some basic access to their task list on other platforms. Sure, we do provide Mail Drop now, and that’s useful for adding new tasks. But sometimes it would be nice to just view their active task list when sitting at the big Windows desktop they’re required to use at work.

For all our customers in that situation, I have good news to share: we’re building OmniFocus for the Web. It will be greatly simplified from the OmniFocus you know: it won’t have custom perspectives or notifications or maps. It won’t have Review. It won’t let you set up new repeating tasks (though it will correctly handle repeating tasks that are already set up). Its capabilities will be a lot more like what we shipped in our very first iPhone app: you’ll be able to see the lists of tasks in your Inbox, Projects, and Tags, with their associated notes and due dates. You’ll be able to edit basic information about those tasks (checking them off, assigning a due date, changing a title or note) and of course you’ll be able to add new tasks.

OmniFocus for the Web will not be offered as a standalone service: it will only be able to sync with existing databases set up by the OmniFocus app. Since this is another version of the app that we’ll be maintaining as a constantly available online service, we’ll be charging a subscription fee for access.

But when you’re stuck using that big Windows desktop at work, you’ll be able to access your task lists using OmniFocus for the Web.

If you’d like to be notified when OmniFocus for the Web is available for testing, sign up for our newsletter.


(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 Roadmap 2017 — Q4 Update

by Ken Case on October 18, 2017

Each January we like to reflect on the past year’s accomplishments and to share a roadmap of our plans for the coming year. Our 2017 roadmap talked about switching to free downloads for all our products; shipping OmniOutliner 5 for Mac; and introducing OmniGraffle 3 and OmniOutliner 3 for iOS with slide-in information panes and powerful JavaScript automation.

This year’s roadmap also talked about our plans for OmniFocus. About how its new sync format lets us make fundamental improvements to the data it keeps track of—enabling faster syncing of databases with large attachments, supporting multiple tags per item (replacing contexts), and improving the system for notifications and repeats. And how our iOS app can take some design cues from the Mac app to make it easier to see the information you care about and work with multiple tasks more efficiently.

As always, though, our roadmap for the year isn’t the same as the actual journey we end up taking! It indicates the direction we’re headed in, but the future is never certain—and if we actually want to get where we’re trying to go, our plans need to adapt as circumstances change.

This year, iOS 11 gave us a huge opportunity to make all of our apps much better, with strong support for Drag and Drop between apps, Files app integration, and—of particular interest to OmniFocus—Siri integration. With Siri support, we were finally able to add things directly to an OmniFocus list by saying things like “Add dry cleaning to Timely Actions in OmniFocus,” and later to check them off by saying “Mark dry cleaning complete in OmniFocus.” So we put our other plans on hold, worked our tails off, and had some great updates to our apps ready to go the day iOS 11 shipped.

OK, so, what next? Now that our iOS 11 work has shipped, where does that leave us with respect to our roadmap for the rest of the year?

  • We’re still planning to ship OmniOutliner 3 for iOS this quarter; it will start its public TestFlight within the next few weeks.

  • The OmniFocus features discussed in this year’s roadmap will debut next quarter (Q1, 2018) with the public TestFlight of OmniFocus 3 for iOS.

We’ll have a lot more to say about OmniFocus 3 as we get closer to that public TestFlight, but for now let me just reassure anyone who’s contemplating a purchase of OmniFocus that if you purchase version 2 today (for either iOS or Mac), you’ll receive a free upgrade to version 3 on the same platform when it ships. (And, as usual, anyone who already owns OmniFocus will be eligible for a 50% upgrade discount.)


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

OmniOutliner 5 is now available!

by Ken Case on April 5, 2017

We’ve been talking about OmniOutliner 5 since last November, and I’m pleased to announce that the day has finally arrived: OmniOutliner 5 is shipping!

When an app has been in open development for months, it’s easy to wonder what there is to say about it that hasn’t already been said—in our original announcement of the public test, or our annual roadmap update, or in our introduction of OmniOutliner Essentials.

Well, perhaps nothing… but perhaps it’s all worth saying again in one place!

OmniOutliner now comes in two editions: Pro and Essentials. The Pro edition has all the power that we’ve always brought to OmniOutliner, with support for multiple columns, attachments, focus, automation, and so on—and for version 5 we’ve added even more, with advanced filtering, word count, typewriter mode, customizable keyboard shortcuts, and so on. (See the release notes for details!)

For the new Essentials edition, our goal was to introduce the joys and benefits of outlining to a much broader audience than our core Pro customers. Our focus for this edition was on making OmniOutliner much simpler, and much more affordable.

As I said in the blog post which introduced Essentials in February:

With that background, I’d like to introduce you to OmniOutliner Essentials: a svelte, focused, and extremely affordable outlining app. In OmniOutliner’s new Essentials edition, your entire focus is on your own content: there are no distracting sidebars or panels. You can choose to work in a window or in a distraction-free full-screen mode, selecting from a set of beautiful built-in themes. As you write, you’ll be able to see some key statistics about your content so you can track progress towards your goals. But our goal is to help you focus on your content and whatever task you’re working on—not on the tool you’re using.

With the Essentials edition, we’ve lowered OmniOutliner’s entry price from $49.99 to an extremely affordable $9.99. And since we want our upgrade price from Essentials to Pro to be $49.99, the new list price for Pro has been lowered to $59.99:

OmniOutliner 5 pricing chart

As I said before, anyone who upgrades from any previous version of OmniOutliner (even those free copies Apple bundled with all those Macs a decade ago) is eligible for a 50% discount—so you can upgrade to the new Essentials edition for $4.99, or to the new Pro edition for just $29.99. And anyone who purchased OmniOutliner Standard within the last few months will get a free upgrade to OmniOutliner 5 Pro. (If you purchased directly from us, please check your email!)

Thank you all for your support through the years. And welcome to OmniOutliner 5!

Introducing OmniOutliner Essentials: An Outliner for Everyone

by Ken Case on February 22, 2017

At the Omni Group, one of our inspirational touchpoints is a quote from a 1990 interview with Steve Jobs, filmed shortly after he launched NeXT:

I think one of the things that really separates us from the high primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing, about a third of the way down the list. It was not too proud a showing for the crown of creation. So, that didn’t look so good. But, then somebody at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And, a man on a bicycle, a human on a bicycle, blew the condor away, completely off the top of the charts.

And that’s what a computer is to me. What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.

Steve’s notion of a bicycle for our minds—a tool which we can leverage to dramatically increase our mental effectiveness—inspires us to build the apps we build here at Omni. Computers can only empower us to do whatever they’ve been programmed to do, so as developers of productivity apps it’s our role to design and build apps that empower our customers.

While all of our apps share this common goal, the way in which our apps empower customers are easier to explain for some apps than others. OmniGraffle helps communicate ideas visually. OmniPlan helps schedule complex projects. OmniFocus helps manage your personal tasks. And OmniOutliner helps you… well… outline things.

In many ways, OmniOutliner is the single app of ours that comes the closest to Steve’s vision of a “bicycle of the mind.” But in much the same way that it wasn’t always easy to explain the value of computers to people in the late ’80s, it can be difficult to explain the value of OmniOutliner to people who have never had the experience of working with a really great outlining app. We can talk about specific ways customers have used OmniOutliner, of course: to organize their class notes, write technical books, track characters in works of fiction, write screenplays for movies, track budgets and expenses, and organize doctoral theses. But a list of examples misses the point: OmniOutliner is a general-purpose tool which helps you think. It’s the app I turn to whenever I need to capture a bunch of chaotic, abstract thoughts and put them together in an organized, coherent whole.


So when we started thinking about the direction of OmniOutliner 5 for Mac, the problem of helping people discover and understand the benefits of an outlining tool was very much on our minds. And, naturally, we started thinking back over OmniOutliner’s long history. We shipped the first beta of OmniOutliner while Mac OS X was still in beta, and doing so introduced us to a passionate community of outliners who had been using great outlining tools like MORE for over a decade. In response to all their feedback and requests, we quickly iterated with version 2—and it was around this time that Phil Schiller discovered OmniOutliner, leading to Apple paying us to bundle OmniOutliner 3 with every Mac as Apple made the transition from PowerPC to Intel. With Apple shipping millions of Macs a year, this introduced OmniOutliner to a much broader audience—large enough that for many years after Apple launched iWork and stopped bundling third-party apps, we still had more people actively using the bundled copy of OmniOutliner than any of our other apps.

But it’s been another decade, and over time that huge audience of Apple customers using the bundled OmniOutliner has waned, even as the size of the entire Apple market has grown dramatically. I find more and more that our potential customers on Mac and iOS don’t really know what an outlining app is or why they might want to buy one.

Which brings me back to planning the direction of OmniOutliner 5. The direction of the Pro edition (currently in public test) was the easy part of this—for that, we simply needed to look at what our core Pro audience was telling us they needed: advanced filtering, word count, typewriter mode, and so on.

But our goals for OmniOutliner 5 were much more ambitious than that. We didn’t want to just reach out to our existing audience; we wanted to introduce the joys and benefits of outlining to a much larger audience. We decided that meant two things: we needed to make the app much simpler, and we needed to make it much more affordable.


So! With that background, I’d like to introduce you to OmniOutliner Essentials: a svelte, focused, and extremely affordable outlining app. In OmniOutliner’s new Essentials edition, your entire focus is on your own content: there are no distracting sidebars or panels. You can choose to work in a window or in a distraction-free full-screen mode, selecting from a set of beautiful built-in themes. As you write, you’ll be able to see some key statistics about your content so you can track progress towards your goals. But our goal is to help you focus on your content and whatever task you’re working on—not on the tool you’re using.

With the Essentials edition, we’ve lowered OmniOutliner’s entry price from $49.99 to an extremely affordable $9.99. And since we want our upgrade price from Essentials to Pro to be $49.99, the new list price for Pro has been lowered to $59.99:

OmniOutliner 5 pricing chart

Since OmniOutliner Essentials replaces the old Standard edition, we’ll be giving anyone who purchased Standard within the past few months a free automatic upgrade to OmniOutliner 5 Pro. And anyone who upgrades from any previous version of OmniOutliner (even those free copies Apple bundled with all those Macs a decade ago) will be eligible for a 50% discount—so you’ll be able to upgrade to the new Essentials edition for $4.99, or to the new Pro edition for just $29.99.

OmniOutliner Essentials will be available in Public Test starting today, and we’re very interested in any feedback you might have—especially from those of you who may be trying an outlining app for the first time. You can learn more and download the app here, and when you’re running the app you can choose Contact Omni from the Help menu to send email to our support humans.

I’m incredibly proud of all the work our team has done on both the Pro and Essentials editions of OmniOutliner 5, and I look forward to introducing a whole new generation to outlining!


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

P.S. — Yes, OmniOutliner Essentials will be coming to iOS (when we ship version 3 later this year). And yes, it supports document syncing.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead—2017 Edition

by Ken Case on January 24, 2017

Welcome! Each year, I like to take a little time to pause and reflect on the past year’s accomplishments, and to try to peer ahead at what I expect we will be delivering over the coming year. The future is never certain, of course! But I think it’s important to talk about where we are now and where we think we’re headed.

OmniGraffle 7 launch day

2017 is an anniversary year for the Omni Group! We’ll be turning 25 years old in September—which means Omni is now slightly older than any of us were back when we started the company. We’ve seen a lot of changes in our industry over those 25 years, but one of the things that has remained constant is our passion for empowering our customers by building great software and offering great support—all done with care, from our offices here in Seattle.

Looking Back at 2016

Looking back at our accomplishments in 2016, there are two big events that stand out in my mind. The first is that we shipped OmniGraffle 7, implementing some of the features most requested by our customers. The second is that we switched to an extensible and encrypted sync format in OmniFocus, which makes it possible for us to revisit some of the design decisions in the data model from lessons learned since we first built OmniFocus back in 2007.

OmniGraffle 7 for Mac

OmniGraffle 7 screenshot

There’s a lot to say about OmniGraffle 7 and I don’t want to overwhelm this post, but I think it’s worth quickly noting that version 7 implements many of the most frequently requested features our customers have asked us for over the years. This includes a number of big features like SVG import (you can paste raw SVG source text onto the canvas and it will turn into native OmniGraffle shapes), custom keyboard shortcuts (with built-in sets for “Adobe” and “Sketch” to make life easier for people who frequently switch between apps), converting text to shapes (preserving the outlines of the text from whatever font you were using), canvas autosizing in all directions (rather than just down and right), and artboards (for easily managing groups of items on a canvas).

But even beyond those big features, one of the great things about OmniGraffle 7 is that it also includes lots of little touches of polish that make common actions just a little better—things like renaming objects by double-clicking in the sidebar, suppressing the selection highlight by holding Command while dragging, and quickly measuring the distance between two shapes by clicking on one and holding Option while mousing over another. (We even restored the visibility of the “Save As” menu item so it’s no longer hidden behind the Option key.)

Again, there’s a lot more I could say about OmniGraffle 7, but rather than overwhelming this post with information about OmniGraffle 7 let me just suggest you check out our new Inside OmniGraffle website.

Improvements to OmniGraffle’s Free Stenciltown Service

Version 7 wasn’t the only big update for OmniGraffle customers last year. With a major update to our free Stenciltown service, we made it easier than ever to share stencils with the rest of the community, submitting them to Stenciltown right from the app on both Mac and iOS. (In fact all of our iOS apps now have a Share button in the toolbar, making it easy to share whatever you’re currently working on with others.)

OmniFocus 2 updates

OmniFocus dark mode screenshot

The OmniFocus team has also been busy this past year, adding support for custom font and color choices on Mac (including dark mode), adding “peek” and “pop” 3D Touch gestures on iOS, and switching to an encrypted sync format that means that someone who has physical access to your sync data is no longer able to read it unless they also know the passphrase you’ve used to encrypt it. We’ve made it as easy to automate project creation on iOS as on Mac (some would say it’s even easier), added “New Inbox Item” and expandability to our Today widget, and rewrote our Apple Watch app for much-improved performance and support for flipping between home screen tiles using the Digital Crown. And finally (if you’ll allow me to count releases which were created in 2016 but shipped in the first few days of 2017) we’ve made it as easy to do global searches on Mac as it is on iOS.

OmniPlan 3 for iOS

OmniPlan 3 for iOS screenshot

In February we shipped OmniPlan 3 for iOS, with its network diagram view, Monte Carlo simulations, and support for working with project plans created by Microsoft Project 2016. OmniPlan has been very popular, with an average rating of 4.5 stars. (Thank you!) We’ve also added App Lock to OmniPlan, so you can protect it behind a password or TouchID.

OmniOutliner in 2016

OmniOutliner 5 test build screenshot

The OmniOutliner team started the year making lots of improvements to printing and exporting, and ended with OmniOutliner 5 for Mac in public test, with a revamped interface including distraction-free full-screen editing, a display of your current document’s word count, and advanced filtering options such as the ability to hide checked or unchecked items.

Where We Diverged From Our Plans

As you can see, we accomplished most of the items from the 2016 roadmap we’d planned at the beginning of the year—but plans never completely match up with reality, and I think it’s worth noting a few places where we diverged. We looked at implementing Markdown support for the upcoming OmniOutliner 5, but early feedback indicated that everyone had different expectations for what it would do so we ended up putting those plans on hold. (We’d still love to do it if we can find enough common expectations to make it worth doing. Please email us with yours!) We also wanted to deliver encryption of all documents stored on the Omni Sync Server—but while we’ve made a start on that by encrypting data from OmniFocus, we still have more work to do to deliver encryption support in our other apps.

On a positive note, another divergence was that we finally figured out how to offer free trials and upgrade discounts in the App Store by not charging up front for our App Store downloads (in much the same way as we don’t charge up front for our website downloads). We started this process in October when we shipped OmniGraffle 7, then brought free downloads to OmniPlan in early December.

OmniPlan's Touch Bar support

In Q4, Apple surprised us all with their introduction of the Touch Bar in the new MacBook Pro, and we quickly saw an opportunity to use that Touch Bar to help people make better use of our apps. With OmniGraffle 7.2 we added Touch Bar support for creating and editing shapes, and with OmniPlan 3.6 we added Touch Bar support for navigating your Gantt chart with dynamic scrubbing.

Best of 2016 — App Store

Wrapping up the year, we were incredibly honored to learn that our apps made Apple’s “Best of …” list for the third year running! The trend started with OmniFocus for Mac and OmniFocus for iPad being honored as Best of 2014; then OmniPlan for Mac and OmniFocus for Apple Watch made Best of 2015; and this year we made Apple’s Best of 2016 list with OmniGraffle 7 for Mac and OmniPlan 3 for iPad. We couldn’t have done this without our wonderful customers, so thanks to all of you for your amazing support through the years!


Looking Ahead at 2017

As we turn to looking at the year ahead, let me start by confirming or reiterating a few obvious directions that many careful readers have probably already guessed (or already know) that we’re planning for 2017:

  • We’ll be continuing the process of switching to free downloads across all our apps on Mac and iOS. Beyond the benefits we’ve already delivered (upgrade discounts, free upgrades for recent purchases, and free trials), this will make it possible for us to offer enterprise licensing for our iOS apps with support for volume discounts.
  • We’ll be shipping OmniGraffle 3 for iOS, which will add support for the latest features shipped in OmniGraffle 7 for Mac such as SVG import and artboards. (Anyone who purchases OmniGraffle 2 today will receive a free upgrade to version 3 when it ships.)
  • We’ll be shipping OmniOutliner 5 for Mac early in the year, with advanced filtering options and a distraction-free full-screen mode. We’ll be following that up later in the year by bringing those advanced filtering options to OmniOutliner 3 for iOS. (Anyone who purchases OmniOutliner today—for Mac or iOS—will receive a free upgrade to the next major version when it ships.)

OmniFocus in 2017

This summer, OmniFocus will be ten years old. We’ve improved a lot of things about the app over those ten years, but to maintain file format compatibility there are some things about the way we work with the app that haven’t ever changed. Last year we laid the groundwork for finally changing some of those, when we switched to a new, extensible file format and added encryption. This year, we’re going to make some fundamental improvements to the data OmniFocus keeps track of. Based on your feedback, the database changes currently at the top of our list are:

  • Faster syncing of databases with large attachments (so people who use lots of large attachments no longer have their sync times get longer and longer)
  • Support for multiple tags on tasks and projects (rather than just a single context)
  • More flexible repeats and notifications (such as “third Thursday of the month” and “keep reminding me every ten minutes until I check this off”)

You can see already that it’s going to be a busy year! But wait, there’s more…

Bringing the Power of the Desktop to that Transforming Piece of Glass

Last year, I ended our 2016 roadmap by talking about iPad Pro:

Finally, we’re working hard on making iPad Pro the best platform it can be. When Tim Cook introduced iPad Pro in September, he said: “iPad is the clearest expression of our vision of the future of personal computing: a simple, multi-touch piece of glass that instantly transforms into virtually anything that you want it to be.” I still find that vision as compelling as when we decided to go “iPad or Bust!” when iPad was introduced in 2010, and if we truly want to achieve that vision we still have a lot of work to do to bring more of the power of the desktop to that transforming piece of glass. I can’t wait to share the fruits of that labor with you once it’s ready!

At that point we’d already done some great work for iPad Pro, introducing freehand drawing of shapes with an Apple Pencil in OmniGraffle, making sure all of our apps adapt well to its larger screen, and adding keyboard shortcuts to our apps to support the new Apple Keyboard. And shortly after that blog post we also shipped OmniPlan 3 for iOS, which was very well-received—making the App Store’s Best of 2016. But when I said we still have a lot of work to do, none of those are what I was talking about.

Now, perhaps I should take a step back. iPad is already a very powerful and productive tool. I use mine every day, replacing the steno pads I used to carry everywhere with my iPad Pro and a few Apple Pencils. (I’m dependent enough on Apple Pencil at this point that I always carry more than one with me just to be safe.) And in their current incarnation, I’m also quite aware that they also have some pretty hard limits: they’re not going to replace my Mac, where I currently have dozens of windows open as I research and write. What I really mean to say is that our apps have just begun to tap into the iPad’s power, and that there’s a lot of opportunity to bring more of the power of our desktop apps to iPad by improving our iPad apps:

OmniOutliner 3 mockup for iPad Pro

One of the ways in which we can do that is to improve the way we interact with the apps to have a more efficient user experience. For example, we can make better use of iPad Pro’s larger screen by replacing some of the popovers in our interface with slide-in panels on the left and right (as in the screenshot above), so you don’t have to keep opening and closing them every time you want to use them. (This will debut later this year in OmniGraffle 3 and OmniOutliner 3 for iOS.)

In OmniFocus for iOS, we can make it easier to see the information you care about while not distracting you with information you don’t care about, as we let you do today on the Mac using custom columns. We can make it possible to select multiple tasks and edit them all at once, as we do in our other iOS apps. And we can make it easier to send information between OmniFocus and our other apps.

Powerful iOS automation

But there’s an even more fundamental way we can bring an efficient desktop-class experience to our iOS apps, and that’s by enabling a completely different model of interaction altogether. One of the most important features that we’ve built into our Mac apps has been user automation, which our customers have leveraged to build great custom solutions for themselves that we would never have anticipated. Solutions which add project templates to OmniFocus, or capture your Safari tab list to your Inbox.

In 2016 we scratched the surface with URL automation on iOS, but in 2017 we plan to roll out user automation on iOS in a big way across all our apps with a much richer set of capabilities. This automation support won’t be limited to a simple set of URL primitives; instead, we’re adding support for running JavaScript code: code that has the same level of deep support for manipulating the data in our apps as we’ve previously exposed to AppleScript.

If there’s any single person who I would identify as the face of user automation on Mac over the past two decades, that person would be Sal Soghoian. Sal joined Apple in 1997 to serve as the product manager of automation technologies, and through these past 20 years Sal has been instrumental in making sure that those technologies continue to evolve to help computers serve the needs of humans rather than the other way around.

Right before the holidays I approached Sal to review the automation work we’ve been doing, and over the past weeks he’s been enthusiastically exploring the boundaries of what’s already possible as well as helping us see what else we need to build before shipping this. He offered that I could share a simple example he created demonstrating this automation in action:

OmniGraffle automation

Now, this is just a simple example: a four-line script which places a green circle on an OmniGraffle canvas. But it’s easy to imagine taking this further. Creating a schema diagram of a SQL database. Building an org chart from a phone directory. Graphing servers in your local network. Or counting how many objects of a particular type are on a canvas (like the one JTech Communications built for AppleScript).

And all of the above are just examples of one type of automation, the type you actively invoke when you want to do something. We’re also adding support for background scripts which can automatically respond to document edits. For example, you could build an OmniGraffle handler script which responds to a resizing artboard by automatically adjusting the layout of all the shapes on that artboard. Or one which automatically updates the area markers on a floor plan. In OmniOutliner, you could make a handler script which automatically adds the values from two columns to produce a third column. Or which turns a row red when its balance column goes negative. Or even a mortgage calculator. And many of these scripts will be able to work exactly the same on both Mac and iOS.

Oh, and did I mention that we’re including support for calling out to other apps by their URL handler? So you’ll be able to tie into the Workflow app and its already great ecosystem of automation. In OmniFocus, imagine the possibilities that open up when you can trigger a workflow just by checking something off!


So that’s a peek at what’s coming from Omni in our 25th year. We already have some great apps, and iPad is already a great productivity platform—but, together, I think we can make the apps and platform even better. I can’t wait to see what you all build using powerful iOS automation!


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