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.)

OmniFocus 2.8 for Mac is now available!

by Dave on January 3, 2017

Happy New Year! After a quiet couple of weeks, we are back in the office today and releasing OmniFocus 2.8 for Mac, which includes one of our most requested features: Global Search.

In OmniFocus 2.8, basic search works the same way it has since 2014: Click into the Toolbar Search field or hit ⌥⌘F and type the string you’re looking for. The outline and sidebar are filtered to show just items in your current view that contain that string (if there are any). The part that’s new in 2.8 is that instead of being limited to just searching the current view, you can click the magnifying glass icon in the search field and expand the scope! The three search scope options (Here, Remaining, and Everything) mirror the search options available in OmniFocus on iOS.

A Screenshot of OmniFocus 2.8

OmniFocus adds much more than Global Search, of course; the rest of the highlights of the release notes include full support for macOS Sierra’s tabs, a better Attachments window, a bunch of usability improvements and features to aid in troubleshooting, and as usual, a large number of bug fixes. We hope you’ll download the new build via software update or the App Store and check it out!

We’ve got a lot more planned in 2017 for OmniFocus! Next out will be v2.18 for iOS, which you can sign up to help us test. For the rest, Omni CEO Ken will reveal more in his annual roadmap post later this month. Thanks as always!

Touch Bar Support Added in OmniPlan 3.6

by Derek Reiff on December 7, 2016

Hot on the heels of Touch Bar support in OmniGraffle, today we’re happy to announce the same in OmniPlan!

OmniPlan 3.6 is packed with the usual bug fixes and improvements, but made even better with features just for Apple’s brand new MacBook Pro.

Project Planning With the Touch Bar

OmniPlan and Touch Bar

When we first saw the Touch Bar demoed on stage a month or so ago—specifically as a scrubber for Final Cut Pro X—we knew that investigating a Gantt chart control would be worth our time: your entire project, right there above the keyboard as primary input, with dynamic scrubbing.

But as well as being a Gantt Chart scrubber, you can customize the Touch Bar with everything else you’d find in the toolbar: leveling, rescheduling, Publish & Update, and more. When a specific task is selected, scroll through your resources to quickly assign them to said tasks.

Changing Touch Bar configuration

Free Trials on the Mac App Store

So that we can offer free 14-day trials, OmniPlan for Mac is now available as a free download on the Mac App Store. OmniPlan will continue to operate as a read-only viewer when the trial is over, too. (It’s exactly like the free trial that debuted with OmniGraffle 7.)

If you’re downloading OmniPlan 3 from the Mac App Store for the first time, you’ll have 2 weeks to demo, and switch between, Standard and Pro. Once it’s over and you’re ready to purchase, just use the In-App Purchase option via the OmniPlan menu bar. (If you own OmniPlan 2, you’ll be offered discounts; upgrading is quite easy.)

If you choose Standard, you can always upgrade to Pro later for the difference in price.

Plus a little bit more

In addition to Touch Bar Support and free trials through the Mac App Store, we’ve added a new chapter about Touch Bar in OmniPlan’s Help (plus a new chapter on menu commands and more exhaustive explanations all around), cell highlighting to indicate the row you’re currently editing, and new Preference icons! Full release notes here.

Open for Feedback: the OmniOutliner 5 Public Test

by Derek Reiff on November 16, 2016

Let’s talk about OmniOutliner! After a few months in private testing, we’re excited to open up OmniOutliner 5 to a broader audience—specifically, we’re looking for feedback about its new Pro features and updated interface.

How we got to 5

We released OmniOutliner 4 for Mac in early 2014 with several new highlights: a modern design, a brand new outlining framework (which happens to be, more or less, house cleaning and code cleanup), document zooming, the new resource browser, theming, and more.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve added interface updates based on OS changes, row linking to reference other sections or documents, extra export options, and customization when printing.

Our goal is to continue along the path that has made OmniOutliner an app you trust to make you more organized and productive. And now we have something new to share.

A call for early feedback on OmniOutliner 5 for Mac

Much like our Public Test for OmniGraffle 7, we want to make sure we’re still heading in the right direction with cheers—or meaningful and constructive jeers—from a larger audience.

In this release, we’re looking for feedback on:

  • OmniOutliner’s new sidebar design and functionality
  • Rebuilt Inspectors
  • Row Filtering
  • Full Screen improvements
    • margins
    • auto-hiding sidebars and inspectors
  • Keyboard Shortcuts panel
  • .ooutline file format
  • Password Encryption (coming to a build soon!)

Wait, why haven’t you referenced Standard here?

Standard isn’t actually included in the initial test period! We’re still working on it, so right now you won’t be able to switch down to the Standard set of features.

More on that down the road.

And if you’re using OmniOutliner for iOS…

You’re going to need to sign up for TestFlight. Though we’ve built in support for the new file format we’re using with OmniOutliner 5, we haven’t yet started working on OmniOutliner 3 for iOS. If you do run into any problems with opening, saving, or using any of the documents you create, let us know!

Downloading the preview build

We’ve opened up the floodgates over on our Preview page. From there, click the download button and start using the new, better than ever, OmniOutliner Pro.

How’s everything feel? Did you find a bug? Or, do you have a suggestion on filtering or Distraction-free mode?

If you’re interested in chatting with others, we put together a special category over on Discourse for discussion; we’ll be there, but if you really want to make sure you’re heard, email us. (And email us if you have any questions about functionality, too.)

Cheers!

OmniGraffle 7.2 for Mac adds Touch Bar support

by Dan Walker on November 10, 2016

Looking for apps that support the Touch Bar on your new MacBook Pro? Add OmniGraffle to your list!

OmniGraffle 7 is easier than ever to use, but at its heart are a lot of features. Apple’s new Touch Bar allows us to surface the most common tools used for the work you’re doing. For instance, you’ll see text controls when editing labels or manipulation controls when working with shapes.

Touch Bar state when nothing is selected

We think the Touch Bar provides a great opportunity to help people discover the app. Without anything selected on the canvas, the Touch Bar options are focused on adding content: add a shape, a stencil, or an image.

Touch Bar state when a shape is selected

When something is selected, the Touch Bar buttons follow along. You’ll get the most common actions for that type of object, something mechanical keys could never do. By default you’ll see fill and stroke controls, shapes, vertical and horizontal flip, rotate, bring to front and send to back.

Touch Bar state when choosing a color

Some controls take it a layer deeper and offer ways to interact with and adjust your content directly from the Touch Bar. The color controls allow you to slide your finger across the Touch Bar while watching the color change on screen. Tap the mini slider with the checkerboard (on the right) to expand the transparency slider and use you finger to dial in just the right effect.

Customizing the Touch Bar

Like Toolbar buttons, you can customize what controls you see in the Touch Bar. Look for “Customize Touch Bar…” in the View menu to drag in or remove buttons. Also like the Toolbar, controls are automatically disabled when they don’t apply and invert or swap actions when holding the option key.

OmniGraffle 7.2 with Touch Bar support is a free upgrade for existing OmniGraffle 7 users. If you don’t have a license yet, you can try OmniGraffle’s Touch Bar controls and all the other OmniGraffle features by downloading our free 14 day trial. We’re excited to see how OmniGraffle and the Touch Bar can work together to maximize your productivity!