Fifteen Years of OmniFocus for iPhone and the iPhone App Store

Screenshots from the original OmniFocus for iPhone, showing the perspective list, a project, and the Nearby view. The backdrop includes the original icon (a checkmark over an index card) and the original tag line (“Achieve Your Goals”).

Fifteen years ago today, on Thursday, July 10, 2008, Apple launched the iPhone App Store. And we launched the first app we ever built which could fit in your pocket, OmniFocus for iPhone.

We saw our app go live at 3am, and at 3:45am we excitedly sent out a press release. At 7:38am, the Top Apps list was showing:

  1. Super Monkey Ball
  2. At Bat
  3. Cro-Mag Rally
  4. Enigmo
  5. Texas Hold’em
  6. Band
  7. OmniFocus
  8. Bomberman Touch
  9. Moto Racer
  10. Bejeweled 2

Imagine our amazement to see OmniFocus at #7 on the list—the only productivity app in the top ten! By 9am, more of our team were in the office and by 10am we’d accidentally sent a few more copies of our press release. (Can you tell we’d been pulling all-nighters?)

At 10:25am, I received congratulatory email asking if I’d noticed that OmniFocus was the 3rd most popular paid app in the App Store. I thanked them for letting me know, and noted there were a lot of smiles around Omni that day!

That weekend saw the launch of the iPhone 3G with the App Store, and 11,000 people bought OmniFocus that first weekend alone.

We thought it was important to get our app out to the press for review, and in the past we’d always done that by sending out free “Not For Resale” copies of our apps. We had press asking us for demo copies—but the App Store was an adaptation of the iTunes Music Store. At its launch, there weren’t any mechanisms for free copies of paid apps: no promo codes, no TestFlight, no trials or in-app purchases. What to do? The next morning, we went to the local Apple Store, bought a bunch of iTunes gift cards matching the price of our app, scratched the backs of each one to get at their codes, and then emailed out all those codes to potential reviewers. (Linda wrote, “Ask me how fun it is scratching off gift cards to get at the codes! SO FUN!”)

It might not have been fun, but it worked! We got our app into the hands of reviewers, who helped get the word out about our new app. (One of those reviewers thanked us and said, “For what it’s worth, you’re the first to solve the ‘how do we do an NFR from the iTunes store’ dilemma.”) And, fortunately, Apple soon contacted us and asked if they could include a demo copy of OmniFocus on their demo iPhones at the Apple Store—and of course our answer was “Absolutely!”

Tens of thousands of developers applied to develop apps for the launch of the iPhone App Store. We were fortunate to be one of the 4,000+ whose applications were accepted, and to be able (with a lot of effort) to ship one of the 500 apps which were ready on launch day—the app which became the #1 top-selling productivity app for the opening weekend of the App Store.

We may not be pulling all-nighters anymore (thank goodness!), but we’re still as passionate as ever about building productivity apps to serve as bicycles for the mind. It’s amazing to see how much more capable these pocket devices have become over the past 15 years later, enabling a great new upgrade for OmniFocus which is in TestFlight now (at TestFlight’s capacity limit of 10,000 testers). This time we won’t have to scratch gift cards, and this time we can ship OmniFocus 4 across Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch simultaneously. We look forward to sharing it with you all later this year!