Looking back at Omni’s 2013, and looking ahead to 2014

by Ken Case on January 8, 2014

One year ago, I talked about our plans for 2013. Whenever I do this, I worry—particularly about the stress I’m putting on our team. They know better than anyone that these plans can and will change, sometimes causing trouble for customers who were making their own plans based on what we previously shared. But if I don’t ever talk about where we’re headed, it’s difficult for you all to know whether you want to join us on that journey.

So, here I am talking about our plans again, and I hope you’ll understand that this is a statement of direction—not a prediction of exactly when we will get to each milestone along the way!

Let’s start by reviewing those plans from last year: OmniFocus 2. OmniOutliner 4. Automatic document syncing. Sandboxing. Accessibility. Visio and Microsoft Project compatibility in our iPad apps. Upgrade pricing from Mac App Store apps. How did 2013 actually play out, compared to those original plans?

In Q1, we posted a first look at OmniFocus 2 and began private testing of OmniFocus 2, as well as testing OmniOutliner 4 and testing OmniPresence. We shipped several hundred test builds of those apps over the next few months, and in May we shipped OmniPresence.

Through June, as you can see, everything was going pretty much according to that original plan. We even managed to slip in a bonus update to OmniFocus for iPhone which added support for location-based background syncing and for emailing actions.

In June, at WWDC, Apple announced the new OS X Mavericks, and went on to announce an entirely new design direction for iOS 7—asking all app developers to rethink their iPhone and iPad apps to fit in with it.

We decided to spend one very focused Q3 building three new apps for iOS 7, with team members canceling their vacations and working late nights and weekends to get things ready in time. And while we had to make some hard decisions along the way (like delaying OmniFocus 2 for Mac and discontinuing OmniGraphSketcher), the end results were that we were ready on iOS 7 launch day near the end of Q3 (September 17) with three apps our team can be quite proud of:

  • OmniOutliner 2 for iPad refreshed the visual design for iOS 7, of course, but also added templates, style themes (with a dark theme mode), external keyboard support with dozens of keyboard shortcuts, folders, background syncing, and export to Word documents.
  • OmniPlan 2 for iPad added support for importing Microsoft Project documents, as planned in our original roadmap, and updated its interface for iOS 7, but we didn’t stop there. We also added support for viewing a task’s scheduling influences, for highlighting the critical path, and for using iOS 7’s AirDrop to share HTML and PDF documents with nearby devices.
  • OmniFocus 2 for iPhone added background syncing, but the real story was its complete design refresh, for which it received rave reviews. It was one of the top selling apps during the launch weekend of iOS 7 across all categories, and is considered by Apple to be one of the Best of 2013.

Of course, just because we shipped new version 2 apps didn’t mean that we should just abandon our version 1 apps, so we also quickly shipped free updates for each of those so they would also be compatible with iOS 7.

At this point in the story, those of you who were quite familiar with our iOS app line-up might well have been scratching your head: Why were we shipping major iOS 7 redesigns for OmniFocus, OmniOutliner, and OmniPlan—but not OmniGraffle?

Fortunately, you wouldn’t have had long to wonder about that, because we answered that question the very next week, when we shipped a huge redesign for OmniGraffle for Mac with all kinds of great features. (Briefly: A totally redesigned interface, resource browser, image masking, nondestructive shape combinations, artistic styles, Retina-awareness, Photoshop export… so much stuff!)

These four new apps were the first paid upgrades we’d shipped since we started distributing apps through the App Store, and they were huge commercial successes, leading to two months of the highest sales we’ve experienced throughout our 21-year history.

But they brought us right up against one of the App Store’s big limitations: its lack of support for upgrade discounts for people who purchased previous versions of an app. We’d been pointing out this issue for a while, and proposed a solution for the Mac App Store in our 2013 roadmap which we implemented in Q3 when we posted OmniKeyMaster—but within a week we learned that approach wasn’t allowed. This felt discouraging, but we kept exploring alternative ideas and in Q4 we finally found an approach which Apple would approve, letting us offer limited upgrade discounts to OmniGraffle 6 through the Mac App Store.

Building these new apps meant writing a lot of new documentation, which inspired us to think about how to make our documentation more relevant and accessible, and in December we shipped the OmniGraffle 6 User Manual in the iBookstore. Feedback has been very positive with over 2,000 downloads in its first month, so we’re looking forward to continuing to use the iBookstore for more of our manuals in the future.

In the end, 2013 turned out to be quite a great year at Omni, with plenty of critical acclaim and commercial success—even if things didn’t go exactly as we originally planned! (And during our vacations, we even found a little time to update OmniDiskSweeper for Mavericks as well as posting new 64-bit test builds of OmniWeb 6.)

So where does that leave us now? What are we planning to do next?

Well, while we’ve done plenty of testing (with tens of thousands of active testers!), we still haven’t shipped either OmniOutliner 4 or OmniFocus 2 for Mac. We made significant progress with accessibility in 2013 (in OmniOutliner 2 for iPad and OmniFocus 2 for iPhone), but we still have more work to do across the board. And we still have two apps which need to be redesigned for iOS 7: OmniFocus for iPad, and OmniGraffle for iPad. (Right now, they’re both looking rather dated next to the rest of our line-up!)

So, let’s start!

In one week, we’ll be shipping OmniOutliner 4. Stay tuned!