Last week, I was one of the many who joined the OmniGroup as Ken Case, Liz Marley, Merlin Mann and David Sparks offered a preview of what’s to come with the upcoming version of my current task manager, OmniFocus 2.0.
Like any self-respecting OmniGeek, I cannot wait to get my hands on it and look forward to the reactions. Since my hands are not yet on it, here are few hands-off/eyes-on opinions…
The latest version brings four features:
- A new design that’s more in line with their popular iPad app.
- A new sidebar that incorporates the Inbox, Projects, Contexts, Forecasts, Flagged and Review.
- It brings the Forecast view and Review mode from the iPad to the Mac.
- It introduces a more affordable standard edition while still offering a pro version for geeks such as myself.
Let’s talk about them all…
As someone who has never tweaked the default design of the current version of OmniFocus (despite the fact that it leaves a lot to be desired here), I’m excited. Not only do I believe the application will be far friendlier to new users, but it will also be a welcome improvement for those who have been living in it, but lack the design skills to improve it on their own.
Shawn Blanc really nails why the improvement to the design of OmniFocus matters:
Never underestimate the power of good, delightful, UI design. In the case of OmniFocus, I think it’s crucial that the next version be as gorgeous and delightful as it is powerful and fearful.
[I]f it’s true that we use something more when we enjoy using it, then it’s also fair to say that a little bit of delight can go a long way in increasing usability.
Early indications seem to show that the OmniGroup is taking all the right steps to balance polish with power. I’m excited, even as a power user, for the delight and improved usability that I expect will come along with the improved design.
I’m very excited about this (yes, I know it’s sad to be excited about a sidebar. But I am. So there!). A minor annoyance of mine has always been the inability to be in project mode while sorting by project. As you can see from an initial screenshot offered up by the OmniGroup, this is now possible in the latest version. In addition to my own selfish wants, I have a feeling that the new approach to the sidebar will make for a new, intuitive experience for new users while still working well for geeks such as myself.
The Forecast and Review
Considering the fact that I’ve never been a big user of the iPad version of OmniFocus (more a matter of my lack of iPad use than any issues with the app), I’m glad to see these two features make their way to the app that I spend most of my time in.
The forecast mode offers a nice way to peek at your day, but I’m still likely to stick with the Emergent Task Planner for attacking my day. In a related/unlikely fantasy: I’d love it if OmniGroup eventually breaks Forecast mode off into a more powerful day planner that integrates with OmniFocus. I like the direction that Forecast mode is heading and it will serve as a great “at a glance” option, but without the ability to create a daily schedule, paper still still beat out technology for me here. In my fantasy, there’s also menubar drop down that lets me rearrange my daily schedule, quickly add tasks and complete finished tasks. It’s wonderfully unrealistic.
The few times I’ve used it, I’ve loved the Review mode on the iPad and it looks as if the Mac version will be just as polished. Reviews are often one of the most overlooked aspects of a well maintained task list (and life for that matter). This new feature should make it far easier for new and existing users alike to stay on top of the bigger picture.
The Standard and Pro
OmniFocus for the Mac has always been geared towards power users. The iPad version was far more intuitive, but it was also limited by iOS. Geeks such as myself count on various perspectives to keep us sane and use AppleScripts to hone our own workflows. This makes OmniFocus a powerful tool, but it also makes it a more complicated one.
The OmniGroup seems dedicated to serving both the power user and those who are new to task management (or at least new to OmniFocus). With OmniFocus 2, they plan to accomplish this by splitting the app into two. The exact details are still up in the air, but at the moment, it seems the only omissions between the Pro and Standard versions are the ability to create what are known as custom Perspectives (read: views) and the ability to use AppleScript in order to add functionality to the app.
Steven Hackett voiced some concern that:
Perspectives are a key component of OmniFocus for many users, and while I’m sure that the lower price point will bring many new users to the product, I dislike the stripping of such a great feature just to hit a price point.
While I understand the concern, I’m not sure I agree. I don’t believe this was a decision about price point, I believe it was a matter of diminishing the learning curve. My entrée into task management was not through OmniFocus, it was from Things, an app that is more affordable, had a better design and, even though it offered a more limited feature set, it was far easier to get started. For a while I worked happily in Things, but inevitably found myself limited by its approach (and as this was before they offered proper cloud sync, I often found myself losing data between my devices). When the pain became great enough, I decided to make the investment of both time and money in order to get over the initial OmniFocus learning curve. With the standard version, which will offered at a far more palatable $39.99 – half the price of the “Pro” version – this entire process can now happen within OmniFocus.
Steven is right, perspectives are a useful part of the OmniFocus experience, but between Review mode, Forecast view, a more powerful new sidebar and an emphasis on the Focus mode (which is now prevalently featured in the toolbar), a new user will have more than everything they need to get started. They’ll also find less that will cause them to run away screaming.
OmniFocus will be making it possible to upgrade from “Standard” to “Pro”, so new users can look to become power users when the time is right. This will also make the transition from average user to power user a lot smoother. It was disruptive when I moved from the more basic Things to the more robust OmniFocus. Not only did I need to buy an entirely new application, I had to learn it, set it up and manually migrate my data. With “Standard” and “Pro” versions, users will only need to upgrade and be willing to learn a few new tricks.
We’ll have to wait until OmniFocus 2 is available, but I believe the omission of Perspectives and AppleScript will not be a challenge for the majority of entry level users. I also believe it will simplify the first impression just as much – if not more – than the new and intuitive design. And even though a reasonable price should not be an issue for the right tool, the new “Standard” version of OmniFocus 2 will let new users get up and running on the iPhone, iPad and Mac for under $100
Are there new features I’d like? Sure. Was I hoping there’d be one super secret “one more thing…” feature? Of course. But here’s the thing: the current version of OmniFocus works for me. It – like every application on the planet – has its shortcomings, but overall, the app works for me as is. I don’t struggle to create tasks, organize them into projects and create views that help me actually get said tasks and projects done. Once OmniGroup has accomplished their goal of getting “Back to the Mac” I do hope they will set their sights on new features including collaboration tools and improvements that in some way address the changing nature of contexts.
I won’t lie… when I initially heard about the “Pro” and “Standard” versions, I was a bit concerned. OmniFocus has always been a power user tool that helps me get things done and while I’m happy to see it improve and become a more intuitive application, I don’t want it to get watered down in order to appeal to a newer customer with simpler needs. You also have to consider that this shift mean that OmniFocus will have to think about improving, maintaining and servicing two versions of the apps rather than one. With a lower price point and a significant feature set, I can see a world where the “Standard” version is popular enough that it could diminish the focus on power user features.
After a few drinks, a good night’s rest and a one-on-one conversation with OmniGroup CEO, Ken Case (which you can get by subscribing to Mike Techniques), I’m confident that the OmniGroup will be there for new and power users alike. We will have to wait impatiently until later in the year when OmniFocus 2 is released, but when it arrives, I’m confident that both users will find everything needed to get started or to just get back to work.
For a more detailed look at the latest announcements, I suggest you read the full announcement on the OmniGroup blog or check out Sven Fechner’s comprehensive thoughts on the upcoming release of OmniFocus 2.
Note: I spoke at The OmniFocus Setup and was compensated for doing so. I was not asked to write this post and I hope I’ve earned enough of your trust that you know these opinions are not influenced by that fact.