One great app, three editions: which OmniFocus is right for you?

As you may know, we now have three different editions of OmniFocus: OmniFocus for Mac, iPhone, and iPad. Our hope is that these options give you the right set of task management tools, so you can use whichever is right for your circumstance, wherever you are. You know, so you don't have to try and hammer a nail with a screwdriver. Because screwdrivers are for screws, and … uh, nails need … those nail-poundy whatsits, and—

Okay, that metaphor got away from me a little bit. OmniFocus: It's a Nail-Poundy Whatsit When You Need a Nail-Poundy Whatsit doesn't really roll off the tongue.

Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to talk with some OmniFocus users who are running the software on more than one device. I was curious to see how folks balance their task management when they're in different modes, how each version supports the work they do, and see if those who have all three versions really do use all three. Some of you may be wondering which versions you need, and I hope some of these stories will help give you a little more insight into what might work best for you.

One of the questions I asked was whether people used the app differently on one device as opposed to the other. (IE, is the way you interact with OmniFocus for iPhone the same as how you use it on a Mac?)  I also asked if they had a clear favorite, or if each version serves separate but equal needs.

I apologize in advance for the length of this post (seriously, you might want to get some coffee and maybe take a bathroom break first), but I received so many great responses I wanted to share as many with you as possible. Without further ado, let's hear from the OmniFocus users:


I keep the Mac version open at all times and use it to collect most my tasks, because I'm frequently by the computer. Whenever something needs action, I fire up the quick entry window, write it down and forget about it. Then while working I go through tasks by context. If I need to work on wireframes, or am just in a meeting, I now carry the iPad with me and collect/process through the new app for the iPad - there's no real reason to carry the laptop anymore.  If I'm not at work or if I'm outside for any reason, I use Omnifocus on the iPhone. When mobile, I use it to collect ideas, process my shopping list, and review projects. 

I would have to say that the Mac version is the one I use the most, and the one I can't imagine myself without. The iPad version is still too new for me to consider an essential part of my workflow (to blame is the lack of multitasking on the iPad, that makes it hard to switch between other apps and Omnifocus to collect actions).  — Fred, Developer and User Experience Designer 


I use the iMac primarily when I need to do heavy duty input.  (Also, I use the iMac if I am studying to input items that come to mind or that come up while studying.) I use the iPad version for the Review process, for quick reference when using iMac for other reasons, for quick input/review when I am in waiting situations, for reference/input to notes when in committee situations, when focusing on tasks in particular contexts.  I really do not use the iPod Touch version very much. The biggest use I have for it is if I am going into a store where a shopping list is needed. 

The iPad version is my favorite.  The Mac version is more efficient for input, the iPad version for reference/review. — Doug, Minister


I use the desktop versions for inbox processing, labeling, clipping, etc. Creation of action items happens here. I use the iPhone app to focus and get things done away from the computer.  The iPhone app is really a companion to the desktop, it is not a go-to because I spend numerous hours in front of the computer at work and have easy access to my iMac at home. 

The iPhone is great for course correction and minor tweaks, and truly makes the system "air tight" when you come up with that next action over happy hour. — Jarrod, Accounting Manager


I typically schedule a 15 minute "brain dump" where I sit in front of my Mac Mini and use the OmniFocus for Mac.  Then I usually sync with iPhone. However, after purchasing the iPad version, I have neglected the Mac version and just sit in my sofa while adding all of my tasks to my inbox. I also love the new "Forecast" feature on the iPad. I don't take my iPad outside of the home (I have the wi-fi version), so I usually sync with my iPhone. Even though I really love the iPad version of OmniFocus, I feel that the iPhone version is my most used device. It goes with me everywhere I go and gets more mileage than the other two devices.  So, the way I see it, both OmniFocus for Mac and iPad are used primarily as input devices for brain dump and some organizing and the iPhone version is the one the gets to go out and actually get things done and has the satisfaction of getting that "check" to accomplish all tasks. 

I would say that my favorite right now is the iPad version.  Omnigroup has done a great job with the app.  It may just be that I'm in a "honeymoon" stage, so I would have to see how I feel a month from now to see if I still enjoy it as much as I do now.  The iPhone version is great for its portability.  It goes everywhere I go and I always have my tasks with me (though I don't know if that's necessarily a good thing – especially on vacation). — Mauricio, Church Teacher 


I used the iPhone app more when I was out and about, but since I was using it on an iPod Touch and wasn't always near wifi, it wasn't that effective. And I found it slow and hard to navigate on the small screen. I don't think I really use the Mac and iPad versions all that differently.  If I used something other than wifi for connecting, I guess I might be more likely to use the iPad (or iPod) while I was in the car, but as it is, I use OF generally at home or if I'm at the office for pretty much the same tasks. Though I think I've traditionally done more task entry on the Mac version, that's starting to shift. 

The new iPad app is fantastic.  It's now become what I think of as the home device for my task list.  I still use both laptops, but I strongly prefer the iPad version.  One thing, though, that is easier on the laptop version is setting specific dates. So, clear preference for the iPad and they all serve pretty much the same need with a few minor differences. — Robin, Faculty Member


OmniFocus Mac: I use OmniFocus for the Mac primarily for two reasons.  The first is to be essentially an OmniFocus server that has OmniFocus open all the time and captures emails I send myself, so they can be converted into tasks.  This is done on my Mac Mini sitting at home.  The other is when I need to do a really thorough review, like my quarterly review, where I know I may need to do some mind sweeps or serious reference file cleaning, which I'd do on my MBP.  

OmniFocus iPad: This has become my almost de facto review and entry method.  I've been trying to do as much work digitally as possible during the day by using my iPad as a replacement for the typical day planner/folio I've carrying around for years.  I'll have my iPad with me during the day and use it to capture tasks from a meeting or conference call.  

OmniFocus iPhone: This is my mobile task list manager when running errands, out on the job site, or capturing quick ad-hoc tasks in places I may not have my iPad with me.

I use OmniFocus for iPad for a majority of my time inside OmniFocus, but each version has its importance to me depending on when/where I'm interacting with my lists.  My overall workflow for handling/processing my lists really requires all three versions for me. — Jason from MyGeekDaddy 


How I use OF depends a bit on where I am. When in the office, I use OF in conjunction with Evernote. I keep extensive notes in Evernote, but anytime an action item comes up, I use clippings or quick entry to add a new item to my inbox. Then, I go through my Inbox periodically throughout the day to move items to projects and add context. I also try to retain 0 items in my email inbox, and I use the mail clippings feature to keep track of those emails that require action by me.

When I'm home or out of the office, the iPhone becomes my main device. I will refer to context lists depending on where I am, but mostly I am consuming/completing items from my iPhone rather then entering new items. If I do happen to have my home machine up and running, I will use it to review existing projects or add new items as they come up. Obviously, I depend heavily on synchronizing all of this data among my three devices.

I can't say I have a clear favorite because the two versions serve different needs. I would never want to be without the other. — Dave


I use OmniFocus on my iPhone mainly for quick reviews or quick entries if something hits me. Since I always have my iPhone with me I can always do a quick glance at what’s going on or remind myself self of where I’m going (direction in life). The use iPad version more now than the MacBook one because of easy portability but I still use the Macbook version when I take some time to sit down and do a full review of everything going on. The beautiful part of it all is all my devices sync perfectly through MobileMe. 

Probably the iPad (is my favorite) because it still has that new toy feel to it. — Dewey, UI/UX/Interaction/Graphic Designer 


I use each product in a slightly different way:

1. OmniFocus for Mac. When I need to do a lot of list work, I rely on the desktop version of OmniFocus. With a 24" monitor, I can quickly see and work through multiple lists. This is my favorite version and I use it everyday to get organized.

2. OmniFocus for iPad. With the smaller screen, I use it primarily for reviewing/tweaking individual projects. I also am really enjoying the new Review and Forecast modes. This version gives me most of the power of the desktop version, but with more convenience and portability.

3. OmniFocus for iPhone. I use it for "on the go" data collection and reference. It's my back-up brain. I no longer carry a Moleskine for data capture since I always have my phone with me.

Each version is slightly different which allows me to think about my work in different ways and "see" my work in different ways. I can easily find stray actions or dead contexts by using different versions. The trio of products helps me keep my lists up to date and my mind distraction free: everything I need to remember is in OmniFocus. Which version(s) of OmniFocus you need depends on your work style and the gear you carry with you. All three versions help me manage a busy work life, and even more importantly, they allow me to not work all of the time. OmniFocus quietly remembers all of the details while I'm outside enjoying our very brief Minnesota spring and summer. — Dave C.


I mainly use the desktop version of OF on my home iMac and my MacBook Pro.  The databases sync via my mobileme account, and i have had zero problems with that.  This is key, when my laptop was in the shop, it was simple to set up OF on a borrowed machine and sync it.  I was up and running in minutes.

While I do have the iPhone version, I rarely use it.  On my 3G it just didn't open and sync fast enough, though the quick entry feature was nice for capturing thoughts on the go.  Now that i have the iPhone4, I need to revisit if OF for iPhone is useful for me.  I don't have an iPad, yet.

Desktop is my clear favorite, by far. — David, Apple Certified Technical Coordinator


On the Mac: I generally still do my inbox processing here. In part, this is because I've mentally associated a specific place and time for inbox processing and that's something I already find difficult to do elsewhere (so the portability of the iPad isn't as much of a win). It's also because drag-and-drop still wins for speed when I'm working through an inbox.  Further, if I'm digging through other notes or tools for items that need to be processed, having multiple windows open in a "traditional" desktop environment lets me get that stuff into OmniFocus more efficiently than it does on the iPad. 

On the iPhone: The phone has some advantages and disadvantages that make it's place in my use very specific. The three aspects of the device that matter the most are physical size (both a pro and a con), it's almost always with me (big pro) and painful multitasking (con). Even with the iOS4 model, it's simply too heavyweight to switch around between apps, which means that any heavy-duty cross-referencing activity or inbox processing is right out. Additionally, anything other than a short text entry is kind of unpleasant just by virtue of the small physical dimensions. All that said, the fact that, in a pinch, I can basically do *anything* I could do with the bigger versions of the app is a Huge Deal. That's really the key to making OmniFocus work for me. Anything I might need to do, I can, and with a device that's almost always with me. 

On the iPad: This is  very new, of course, and I expect my use will evolve, but it has largely replaced the Mac version for the bulk of my use. In particular, the Forecast and Review modes are enormous wins and are straight up my preferred ways to see what's coming up and to do my weekly review across all three platforms. Much of the rest of the reason why the iPad is so fundamental to my workflow is because of the extra portability the iPad affords me with minimal compromise on how much I can see at one time. Yes, I find certain tasks easier to do in isolation on the Mac version, but the fact that the iPad is *so* much lighter and easier to carry with me than my Macbook trumps that most of the time. The "in a pinch, I could do anything here" effect still holds on the iPad, but it feels less like a compromise than on the iPhone. I could imagine a future in which I work almost strictly from the iPad version, with the iPhone as companion. I don't think it's there yet, but it's certainly plausible.

As to a favorite, I don't think I have a clear one. I think I could go without the iPhone and Mac versions for the longest, but I think that without the ubiquity of the phone and the power-user aspects of the Mac that my integration of the tool into my life would start to fracture long term. I'm pretty danged pleased with the iPad version though. Especially Forecast and Review, which really seem elegant and useful to me. — Josh


Of course, the OS X version is the most functional and is my primary client. When syncing was added, I was able to easily switch between my work and home computer (before that I kept the database on a flash drive). I purchased the iPhone version the day it was released so that I could have all my precious tasks with me while I was in a meeting or out and about. The iPhone version was good for reviewing and updating things, but the onscreen keyboard kept creation or significant modification of tasks to the desktop. Running 2x mode of the iPhone app on the iPad helped, but the native iPad version narrows that gap significantly.

As it stands, there still are some things the desktop version does that cannot be found elsewhere. The two primary are the notes field which supports rich text on the desktop (as compared to plain text on iPhone/iPad) and the totally useful Clip-O-Tron 3000 which I have begun using quite extensively to process mail and some related clippings. The interaction between mail clippings and (having the relevant section in the notes with a link to the original message for additional context or to reply).

The best way to answer (which my favorite is) is to ask if there were only a single product, which one would I take? That would have to be the OS X version. The iPad is close second but the 1.0 version isn't quite there yet. Don't get me wrong, I use it daily both at home and at the office. The addition of reviews means I could live with the iPad version only, but it would be a compromise. With your desire for improvement I'm sure that every update will have me re-evaluate that decision. — Michael, IT Technology Manager 


The iPhone is my primary capturing device. When I'm on the road, in a meeting, on the train, I use OmniFocus for iPhone for capturing ideas and tasks to my inbox. When I'm travelling by car, I specially appreciate the audio note feature. Since iOS 4, I started using reminders on that device as well. 

On the Mac, I do the capturing in my home office, the organization of projects and actions. The integration with mail and the system in general is a great help. Doing a review on the iPhone is not very comfortable and I nearly never did that. So - before the iPad version was available - I did my weekly reviews on the Mac. At work, I had my MacBook on my side and did the capturing there. As I usually don't have a mac at my clients sites, the main reason for carrying my MacBook around was OmniFocus (and DEVONThink) and the more comfortable way of data entry and organization compared to the iPhone.

The release of the iPad version did a great thing for me: I now carry around my iPad. Doing a review on the iPad is very comfortable, even way better than doing that on the Mac. And I can do it wherever I want, i.e. on my balcony watching the sun dawn over the swiss alps or in the train, when I'm on my way home from a meeting in Zurich. Organizing is still not as intuitive as on the Mac, but it's possible.

As a conclusion: I could live without OmniFocus, I could even live without GTD. But I don't want to live without them. I am using OmniFocus on a regular base on my iMac, my MacBook, my iPhone and my iPad. If someone's not in a Mac Environment and wants to to GTD in an effective and efficient way, I do recommend buying an iPhone and an iPad and start using OmniFocus on both devices. With the iPad, there's no longer a strong need of the Mac version. You can do everything on the iPad as well. But if someone already got a Mac, I'd go for iPhone and Mac. I can go on like that for a while, because every combination is better than not having OmniFocus. The only thing, I'd not recommend, is having OmniFocus only on the iPhone. It's pretty hard to do the important organizational stuff on the small screen.

Currently, my clear favorite is OmniFocus for iPad. If I could only have one of the OmniFocus products, I'd definitely choose the iPad. It's more portable than the MacBook and OmniFocus for iPad is more comfortable to use than OmniFocus for iPhone. So it's the best of both worlds. In my opinion, if you have all devices (iPhone, iPad and Mac), you should buy OmniFocus for all of them. It gives you some more convenience and saves time. At a pricepoint of less than $150, it pays for itself. For me and most of my clients, it's equal to less than an hour of our work time. — Boris


I find the Mac and iPad versions the quickest when it comes to getting the information inside, especially with a bluetooth keyboard on my iPad. I'm a little more used to the Mac version but I love the look of the UI in the iPad version.  I really love the Forecast feature of the iPad version and I really hope I can test that feature in the beta Mac version soon.  I always have my iPhone with me so I never forget what groceries I need to buy or the dimensions of something I need at the hardware store. 

I don't have a favourite.  I need my iPhone version because it's more portable.  The Mac and iPad versions fill similar niches but, at the moment if I had to choose, I'd take the iPad version over the Mac because of the better looks and the Forecast feature. — Darcy


I now use OF on iPad the most. It's nice to be able to break away from the computer and sit somewhere more comfortable to review and organize. I have mail forwarding set up on my desktop, so I am constantly sending email from my office PC to land in my inbox. It shows up on my iPhone and iPad very quickly. The iPhone version is useful for it's mobility, but I really just use it now as a last resort if I don't have my iPad with me.

They serve different needs, and I'm glad to use all three, but I'd say the iPad version is my favorite. — Ben Smith


iPhone: The iPhone is essentially a glorified inbox collector for me these days. The most important GTD step is to actually write everything you think of down immediately so you don't waste your energy remembering it until you get home. I always have my phone with me, so OmniFocus iPhone is perfect for that. I'll also check on due/flagged items from my phone to help plan my day a bit.

Mac: This is where I organize all my tasks. If I need to process a bunch of inbox items, it's faster for me to just sit down and do it on the Mac. Most of my tasks have to be done at the mac anyway (writing code, sending emails, paying bills online, etc) so it's very nice to have the app around.

iPad: I'm not exactly sure where iPad fits in yet. The OmniFocus app there is so new I don't have anything set in stone yet. I've been using it for weekly review (which is great!) and to check in on all my tasks in bed at night. I'll do some inbox processing there too just to get peace of mind before I go to sleep. Again, it's so new I don't have a routine yet. I'd imagine if I go back to a full-time job where I couldn't use a Mac, I'd bring the iPad in just for OmniFocus.

I've been using the Mac version since beta so it's definitely my favorite just due to my comfort level with it. However, if I was new to the OmniFocus world, I'm guessing the iPad might take the cake here. I do love the iPhone version, and am impressed it launched alongside the app store. However, it'd be interesting to see the UI get a bit of a redesign to match some of the great improvements in OmniGraffle/OmniFocus for iPad. I think a new user would be fine with Mac + iPhone, or iPad + iPhone. You need the iPhone for collection out in the world, but need iPad or Mac for the heavier duty work. — Will, Developer 


Each version is very different from its siblings, and I use all of them differently. The iPhone app lets me bring my list with me, so I use it when I'm out running errands or visiting a client. It's also the place that I capture most of my ideas for things I need to do, which I'll leave in the Inbox until I get back to the office or home. I use the Mac version for what I call heavy lifting. Either reorganizing a project because facts on the ground have changed, or entering a lot of information, either with copying and pasting, typing notes, linking documents, or linking emails.

I use OmniFocus on the iPad probably the most. Every morning I wake up and scrub through my list at the kitchen table while drinking coffee to plan what I need to get done for the day by marking those items flagged. The new Forecast feature and the improved Review feature make this really easy, not to mention I find the touch interface more viscerally pleasurable to use. Then throughout the day, I get work done on my computer, and check things off on my iPad which sits on my desk in its stand. I really like being able to have my work and my to-do list on two separate screens. I always found command-tabbing between the two to be a pain.

OmniFocus on the iPad is easily my favorite. As I mentioned above, the touch interface is just a joy to use, and I find it far easier to plan my day and my projects when I'm away from my desk.

I do think each version serves a separate need. If pressed, I could get by without OmniFocus on iPhone because I could use the Notes app as an Inbox. I could probably also get by without OmniFocus on the Mac because I mostly use that version for heavy data entry, which is possible, but less convenient on the iPad. That said, I do think that if OmniFocus works for you and you can afford it, it's worth having a version for each platform you own. The different wireless sync options makes it so easy.

For someone who wanted to check out OmniFocus, I'd recommend the iPad version. OmniFocus is powerful on all three platforms, but I think the iPad version retains the easy navigability of its Mac sibling without being as intimidating as the Mac version can seem to new users. — John W., Lawyer


I think I use OmniFocus about the same way on my Mac, iPhone, or iPad. I toss ideas and quick tasks into the inbox so I don't have to break my concentration, then I organize it all later when I have some downtime. I love the keyboard shortcuts on my Mac, of course, because it's such a low-friction way of getting an idea out of my head and into an app where I won't forget it. But I use the iPhone and iPad versions the same way. They make it super convenient jot down ideas while on-the-go without having to lug my comparatively clunky MacBook Pro everywhere.

I think they all fill great niches. The Mac version lets me work very quickly without ever taking my hands off the keyboard, but the iPhone version is always with me wherever I go. The iPad version is a gorgeous evolution of the interface and workflow though, and it makes me wish I could work 24/7 just on my iPad, so if anything, I almost prefer it to the Mac version. — David Chartier, Associate Editor at


WHEW. I told you this was long. Thanks for all the wonderful responses, folks, and I hope those of you reading along found this valuable. I think it's clear there's no "best practice" recommendation for which of the apps will be most useful for you; it totally depends on your work style and where you are when you need access to your OmniFocus data. I know for me it's all about context, and I'm glad I have the choice to use a tool that suits my needs whether I'm at my desk, on the go, or sitting in a meeting. We hope, ultimately, that's what you feel like you have with OmniFocus: the right toolbox.

Questions/comments? Hit us up in the comments. We always love hearing from you.