Welcome! Each January, we like to pause and reflect on the past year’s accomplishments and to share a roadmap of where we’re headed in the coming year. Not that we always get where we’re headed by the end of the year—the future is never certain!—but even if we don’t quite make it there, I think it’s always useful to understand the direction we’re headed in.
Looking back at 2018
We had a lot of ambitious goals in our roadmap for 2018. Over the course of the year, we shipped around 90 updates to our native apps. If those releases had been distributed evenly across the whole year, it would average about three updates per month for OmniFocus, an update every few weeks for OmniGraffle, and updates every month for OmniPlan and OmniOutliner. Of course, the distribution of those releases wasn’t even, so some months (or weeks) saw more updates than that—and I’m also not including all the TestFlight and public test builds that led up to our big product releases of the year: OmniOutliner 3 for iOS, OmniFocus 3 for iOS, and OmniFocus 3 for Mac.
Looking beyond all the product releases, one of the most interesting things about 2018 at Omni is that for the first time in our 26-year history we’ve been working on making a product for something other than an Apple (or NeXT) platform. In our previous roadmap I noted that we were working on building OmniFocus for the Web, and at the end of July we invited people to sign up to help us test it. Over the next three months, we pushed out frequent updates to the web service and sent out nearly 10,000 invitations before opening the doors wide so anyone who signed up would get an instant invite.
When planning each year’s roadmap, we reserve some time to adapt to changes in the platforms we develop for. Apple gave us a lot of great new technology to work with over the summer, with Siri Shortcuts for iOS and Dark Mode for Mac—and then gave us even more in the fall, with Apple Watch Series 4. We adopted all of these, with several updates shipping the day Apple shipped those features and most others coming within a few weeks. In the case of adopting the latest 10.14 Mojave features, this did mean saying goodbye to support for 10.12 Sierra—which made for a good opportunity for me to write a forum post explaining how we determine system requirements.
We also spent some time last year on site licensing, making it easier for businesses, schools, and other organizations to license and deploy our iOS apps. In December, we shipped OmniGraffle 3.9, the first of our apps to support site licenses on iOS.
For those interested in a peek behind the curtain at Omni, our podcast “The Omni Show” really came into its own in 2018, going from 4 episodes to 30 (now 32 as of this week). It truly has been a great way to get to know the people and stories behind our apps—I’ve certainly learned things about my coworkers that I hadn’t known before! It’s also been a good place for us to discuss our roadmap, to explain design decisions or the ramifications of new features (like tags or revamped custom perspectives), and even to talk about implementation details like how we built OmniFocus for the Web. And for those who need prefer or need to read (or skim or search) rather than listen, I should note that we provide a written transcript of each episode.
While we did get a lot done last year, we didn’t finish everything I hoped to get done! As I noted at the top, our annual roadmaps are a statement of direction, not timing. Last year, I mentioned both OmniFocus Automation and OmniFocus Collaboration in the roadmap, with the caveat that I didn’t know the exact timing of when those features would ship—other than that they wouldn’t be in the initial OmniFocus 3.0 release. Well, it’s true, they weren’t in the initial 3.0 release. Neither were the new repeatedly-prompting notifications—or for that matter, Mac notifications of any sort. But while the timing was unknown, the direction was sound! Everything on that list is still very much a part of our plans—and this seems like a good point to transition over to talking about our plans for 2019!
Looking ahead at 2019
We’ve kicked off 2019 by shipping OmniFocus 3.2 for Mac, bringing rich support for custom notifications to the Mac. We’re also very close to shipping some updates to OmniGraffle for Mac and iOS which improve text handling—including the ability to wrap text to the edges of arbitrary shapes, a feature I’ve wanted in OmniGraffle since we shipped its first version nearly 18 years ago.
But our primary focus now is shipping OmniFocus for the Web, along with the optional OmniFocus subscriptions which are needed to support that web service. OmniFocus for the Web is currently in a wide-open public test period, and—other than billing—all the features we planned for the initial launch are now in place! What features are those? Well, quoting from last year’s roadmap:
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.
Now, I really shouldn’t undersell what’s already there—in fact, I’m quite happy to report that most testers giving us feedback have been impressed with the level of functionality and polish we have in place, which goes beyond the initial goals listed above. But for this initial launch, most of the work we’ve been doing has been less focused on features, and more focused on providing a scalable, reliable service which works on a variety of browsers and which can be used by thousands of people at once.
Assuming this foray into completely new territory goes well, we certainly do look forward to bringing additional features to the web app! We’re already starting to think about how to implement other features our native apps have, like the built-in Forecast view and synced custom perspectives. And, of course, we’re looking at localizing the web app into a dozen languages—just like we do with our native apps. What comes first, though, depends at least partially on feedback: we look forward to hearing from our subscribers about the things that matter most to you!
So we do have some new features coming this year. But while 2018’s roadmap was almost entirely focused on new features (with tags and manual sorting and flexible scheduling and flexible notifications and batch editing), the overall theme of our work for 2019 across all our product lines will be to improve the flow of using our apps. We’ll be reviewing the ways customers navigate our apps—making them easier to navigate on small touch devices, more efficient to use from a keyboard, and more accessible to the sight-impaired. We’ll be improving integration between our own apps (such as linking tasks between OmniFocus and OmniPlan), between our apps and others (such as OmniGraffle’s import and export of Visio and SVG files), and with the rest of the system. We’ll be tracking down and fixing rare crashes and other bugs. And we’ll be taking a hard look at performance issues, so our apps respond to your input faster.
We do love building new features. (We’ve done a lot of that recently!) But we’re also dedicated to making apps of the highest quality—and to accomplish that we think it’s important to take a step back from time to time, to make sure that all the features we’ve already built are as polished and useful to everyone as they can be!
(Feedback? I’d love to hear from you! You can find me on twitter at @kcase, or send me email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)