Brent Simmons: You’re listening to The Omni Show. Get to know the people and stories behind The Omni Group’s award-winning productivity apps for Mac and iOS. Music!
Brent: I’m your host, Brent Simmons, and I am massively relaxed today because I just got out of a massage, which is one of my favorite perks of working at Omni. That and the food. Good grief. In the studio with me today is Ken Case, the CEO of The Omni Group. Say hello, Ken.
Ken Case: Hello, Ken.
Brent: Thank you. Today, we’re doing a special episode. We’re looking back at last year, and looking forward to what’s coming this year. So, fair warning, it might be more than 30 minutes. It might be a lot less. It depends. We’ll just see. So, Ken. Last year was a special year, in that it was Omni’s 25th anniversary. Our listeners want to know, was there a cake?
Ken: I’ve forgotten. Was there a cake?
Brent: I don’t even know. Did we have a cake? We do celebrate releases with a game day, often, but there may not have been a cake. Maybe there was. I don’t know.
Ken: I don’t know. There was a graphic on our homepage. That, I remember.
Brent: A fancy graphic, too.
Ken: Nice, pinball-inspired neon graphic.
Brent: Captures the essence of the company very well. I liked that. That was cool. So, what did we get done last year? 2017. 2017. We got done free downloads. We changed the way our licensing for our apps works.
Ken: Yeah, that was kind of a big change, and it was something that we had to think about for a number of years before we finally landed on that solution. And now that it’s done, I’ve almost forgotten about it, because it’s just part of the environment now. But for years, we had been thinking about how we sell our software in the App Store, and we were thinking about the problem of, how do we offer upgrade discounts, how do we offer free trials, how do we offer price protection? So if somebody buys OmniFocus 2 today, and we ship OmniFocus 3 tomorrow, do they have to ask Apple for a refund? Do they have to ask us for a refund? Or can we give them a free upgrade, which is what we’ve always done on our own store.
And so, finally where we landed was, let’s separate the original download cost that’s in the App Store, which we have, where we can only offer a single fixed price, from the cost of unlocking the features of the app. So, we make that now an in-app purchase, and we let you download the app for free, and that lets you do a free two-week trial, and it lets us provide upgrade discounts where you can prove that you own an earlier version, and then we give you a 50 percent discount on your upgrades. And it lets us do price protection, so all the people who have bought OmniOutliner 2 in the last year will now be receiving a free upgrade for OmniOutliner 3 for iOS when it ships next month.
Brent: Ah, so, sounds like a win for everybody, really.
Brent: Was it difficult, engineering-wise, to go through all this in-app purchase stuff?
Ken: There was a lot of detail involved.
Brent: I bet. And testing the different flows?
Ken: Yeah. And suddenly … We try to make it simple from the customer’s perspective, where we show you … two options for buying the app, and then the free trial option. But behind the scenes, those two options for buying the app are actually something like 12 in-app purchases, or 14, depending, for all these different scenarios of, have they already purchased the standard version and now they’re unlocking Pro, and were they a prior owner or not, just all these different variants end up being a lot of complexity. And then we have to test all of those different paths and make sure that they’re all —
Brent: I feel lucky that I personally didn’t come anywhere near any of this. That’s difficult. But, well done. It seems to be working.
Ken: It has helped a lot. There’s still a few rough edges, that I would love to straighten out. In particular, one of the issues that we ran into with in-app purchases is that they are incompatible with the Volume Purchase Program that Apple offers for businesses. So, businesses who are trying to license our apps now can’t use the technique that Apple is steering them towards for buying apps. And so that is an issue that we have yet to resolve. That’s the big one.
Brent: Right yeah. It continues.
Ken: But overall, our customers have been much happier, and feedback has been great, about being able to get the discounts now, or to be able to try our apps before they buy them, and so on.
Brent: Cool. So, last year we shipped OmniGraffle 3 for iOS, which I should point out is my wife’s favorite Omni app. She uses it on her iPad to design quilts.
Ken: Oh, nice.
Brent: So, yeah. All the time. She often asks me, "Oh, how do I …" and I don’t know, because I work on Outliner and Focus, but she loves that app. How did that release go?
Ken: I think it was a really great release. We introduced a lot of big things. So, that was where we brought our free downloads, free trials and so on approach, to iOS. Also, brought the new iPad three-pane experience for the iPad Pro, that we had designed, to OmniGraffle, so now you could work on shapes and see their attributes without having to bring up a popover that showed those details, and then dismiss it, and then bring it up again, and dismiss it as you switch between your canvas and the object details.
Brent: So this is like slide-in panels?
Ken: Slide-in … Yeah. One for navigation on the left, and one for editing the object details on the right.
Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ken: And, ah —
Brent: It is a lot nicer than popovers.
Ken: Yeah. And it’s what we’re moving towards now for, well for Outliner 3 and so on. But that’s a future part — We’ll talk about that later.
Brent: Speaking of Outliner, we did ship Outliner 5 for Mac. Big upgrade. I worked a little bit on that … or quite a bit on that. I don’t remember what Outliner 4 was like, cause I’ve been working on Outliner 5 for quite a while. But I was really pleased with how that turned out.
Ken: Yeah, me too. I think it was a really good release, a lot of features that people have asked for for years and made it into Outliner now, like being able to have persistent filters on your outline, rows that show you certain details, and let you … you can switch between them, you can save them, customize them. And I think you worked with some of that. A lot of great customization options there. As well as adding features like statistics about what you’re writing, so you have word counts and so on — also long requested. And the ability to keep your writing in the center of your window, instead of always … we used to have this problem where you stuck writing at the very bottom of your screen all the time.
Brent: Yup. Yeah.
Ken: And so that was the Pro version for the customers that we already had who had been asking, you know, for new features. But the other big thing that we did in Outliner 5 is we introduced the new Essentials version, a low cost version that’s just $10.00. And that version is much, much simpler and easier to use and we … the hope is that that will give people a nice entry point to outlining if it’s not something they’re familiar with, an application category that they’re not familiar with.
Brent: Outlining always seems to me to be the kind of thing that, if you don’t know about it, and then one day you go to use it, you’re like, "How did I not have this all along?" It seems like a fundamental app that everybody needs.
Ken: It’s one of the apps I live in all the time.
Brent: Yeah, right. Let’s talk about OmniFocus. Last year we did faster syncing with large attachments. Sounds like a small thing, but I’m assuming to some of our customers, that’s a really, really huge issue.
Ken: Yeah. One of the big support requests that we were dealing with related to how long it would take to sync data. And one of the big problems that we had before we made this change to OmniFocus was that if you attached a bunch of attachments, big or small really, but it’s the total size that mattered, from time to time we would coalesce the history of all of the changes that you made into one new … we call it a root transaction, a new starting transaction that represents your database. And whenever we did that, this new transaction would include all of the data that you had written up to that point, including all of these big attachments. So from time to time, we would be writing all of those attachments back to the server all over again and then every one of your devices would have to download them all over again.
And this was a bunch of needless transfer, which, if you’re syncing to a local WebDAV server, then that’s not a big deal. If you’re syncing to the Omni Sync server from here in our office in Seattle and it’s also in Seattle, again, that’s not a big deal. But if you’re syncing to our servers from Europe or China, then that could be pretty slow, or just over a slow network connection. It could be in Montana somewhere or something. And so, the change that we made was to separate out those attachments into their own separate folder that can then live persistently on the server and each one of those attachments can be synced independently and we don’t have to keep transferring them back and forth all the time.
Brent: So you’re not copying them. You have a single copy and then reference them somehow.
Ken: Right. So that new root transaction just says, "And here’s where you’ll go find that attachment" instead of actually including it.
Brent: So we’ve got a lot for OmniFocus coming up in 2018, but what else did we do for OmniFocus last year?
Ken: Well, we rolled out these same free downloads, of course, that we talked about with OmniGraffle. But the big thing that we did, that sort of interrupted our planned schedule last year, was we made a lot of changes for iOS 11. iOS 11 brought a lot of great changes to the platform, for productivity apps in particular. It brought system-wide drag and drop, between apps on iPads, but even on an iPhone it’s useful to be able to drag and drop tasks from one project to another inside OmniFocus.
Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ken: So we adopted that and it’s really great now, that you can just go to the Mail app on an iPad, drag a message into OmniFocus, and you’ll see a new task created with the details of that message. You get to drop it right into wherever you want it. It doesn’t have to go into the Inbox. Just much, much better workflow has come out of being able to do this drag and drop. And of course we did that, not just for OmniFocus, but we adopted iOS 11 across all of our products, so you can drag and drop from OmniFocus to OmniGraffle, or I should say really the other way around. You can drag an OmniGraffle image into OmniFocus, and it would make an attachment that you would attach to a task.
Brent: Everything gets dropped in OmniFocus eventually.
Ken: Yeah, that’s usually the directions things go.
Brent: Makes sense. And we had support, as I recall, for iOS 11 features on day one, with at least three of our apps?
Ken: All of our apps except for OmniOutliner because we were right … we were busy on Outliner 3 at that point.
Ken: And so, we didn’t wanna slow down and go back and update Outliner 2 for a bunch of iOS 11 stuff when we knew everybody that was currently buying OmniOutliner 2 would be getting a free upgrade to 3 anyway when it shipped.
Ken: It makes sense.
Brent: It works out for us. Yeah. That’s nice. Did a little with Siri last year too, I think.
Ken: Oh, that’s true. In fact that was the place we got mentioned in the keynote [at WWDC].
Brent: Always an exciting moment.
Ken: Yeah. Siri added a lot of support for third party apps to integrate with being able to manipulate lists, basically, using Siri. Now in Siri, you can say, "Have OmniFocus remind me to do something when I get home" or whatever. And now it will add that location-dependent task to OmniFocus and when you get home, you’ll get that reminder.
Brent: Hm. People seem to love Siri. I haven’t got the hang of using it yet, myself. But I’m the only person, I think.
Ken: It varies, I think, how much I use it. I use the "Remind me to do something" feature, for sure. Really, I think that is the thing I’ve most often used Siri for. I don’t have, "Hey Siri" turned on or anything because I value my privacy too much to have something listening to me all the time.
Brent: Yeah, if we say —
Ken: Even something as safe as Apple’s devices.
Brent: If we say, "Hey Siri" too much on this podcast, people complain, because we’re waking up …
Ken: Oh yeah. Sorry about that.
Brent: their iPhones. Sorry! So we had a busy last year. So let’s talk about 2018.
Ken: All right. 2018.
Brent: We’re gonna come out, probably the first big thing will be Outliner 3.0 for iOS?
Ken: Sort of. We’ve already … We have two minor things that we just shipped, OmniGraffle 7.6, what we sort of called the big stencils update.
Brent: Ah, BSU — the big stencils update.
Ken: And if you haven’t yet seen the video that we put up for that, that’s a great introduction that shows what the benefits are for this update. But basically we did a lot to improve the workflow of using stencils, where stencils live, and how you can use them, how you can manipulate them, edit them, and so on. So I would definitely recommend people check that out. And of course we have an OmniPlan update coming out. But yes, Outliner 3 is our biggest … it’s the major product release that involves a product that sells for money, as opposed to being a free update. Even though, yes, it’s a free update to anyone that’s bought in the last year. Outliner 3 brings OmniOutliner Essentials and Pro, that split, to iOS for the first time.
Ken: It brings the sidebar, the slide-in pane interface, to OmniOutliner on the iPad, so now you can work with your outline and see those details either on the navigation side or on the details for your task panes, and brings filtering abilities, the ability to add and save filters, and so on. All of those are some great new Pro features. And for Essentials, for people who are new to outlining, again, it brings a nice low cost version of Outliner to the platform.
Brent: I really enjoyed working on it. It has a great feel on iOS.
Ken: Yeah. Again, it’s one of my most used apps.
Brent: Yeah. And, I probably shouldn’t say it out loud, but if I didn’t work at Omni, I might just be tempted to buy Essentials, because it really is just a nice, cool, simple outliner. But, listeners, you should get Pro.
Ken: If you’ve used an outliner in the past, you probably should get Pro, because it really does have a lot more capability than Essentials. But if you’re new to outlining and you’re not necessarily sure why you would care about filtering or why multiple columns might be useful, things like that, then by all means, go for Essentials and try it out.
Brent: Now with our in-app purchasing, could they buy Essentials and then upgrade to Pro?
Brent: So you can always put off making that decision.
Ken: So we give you full credit when you upgrade from Essentials to Pro in this case. We give you whatever you paid for Essentials is discounted off the Pro price.
Brent: Yeah, cool. OmniFocus. In some ways it looks like this is gonna be a huge year for OmniFocus. We’re working on OmniFocus 3 for iOS and 3 for Mac. Tags!
Ken: It is —
Brent: We’re switching to tags.
Ken: Yeah, yeah. Well, this is kind of a long time coming. OmniFocus is now ten years old. That’s hard to believe.
Brent: That is hard to believe. I remember Kinkless GTD like it was yesterday.
Ken: Yeah. And when we shipped OmniFocus, it was based around the GTD model. The Getting Things Done model, by David Allen. And in that model, you have projects and you have contexts, and there is a bunch of terminology that is specific to that model. I mean, it’s not like those words were made up just for GTD, but other people who are not familiar with GTD sometimes have a little trouble wrapping their heads around what those things are and how they should use them and so on. The way that OmniFocus organizes tasks is you have … you break down your tasks into an outline basically. This started life in OmniOutliner as a set of scripts, so you build your Outliner tasks and then you assign different contexts to those tasks to say where you would like to be reminded about them, what lists you’d like to see them on, to get them done later. So I might be working on a home remodeling project or something, and I need to go get some nails. While I’m out running errands, I could also be picking up milk, which is for a totally different project, but I’d like to be reminded of both of those things while I’m out running errands. So I put both of those things in an errands context.
So that seems simple enough, but as people … because it’s unfamiliar terminology, I think a lot of people were just confused about it, and a lot of people, for a long time, have been asking us, "Well, could we just add tags to the program?" And now, because tags is now a very familiar concept that you can just add a tag to something and it will show up in that tag list when you go looking later.
Brent: Yeah, ten years ago, it wasn’t so common, but now —
Ken: Now it’s part of the base operating system, but it wasn’t back then.
Ken: So, tags makes a lot of sense to call it that way, and at the same time to lift the restriction that each task would only have a single context. Now it can have multiple tags. So if you want to put it on your list for errands, that great. If you also want to put it on … tag it for today, then you can have a "Today" list that you could see it in as well.
Brent: Yeah, that makes sense. I think it might have been Curt Clifton who said something about having tags for different energy levels too.
Brent: Like if he’s feeling energetic, he might do this, or ignore it if he’s not.
Ken: Some people order tags for energy level, for priorities, for locations. My only caution would be, just because it’s possible now to add as many tags as you want to a task, that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to go overboard with tagging everything as much as possible. The goal of capturing data at all into OmniFocus is to check it off and if you’re spending more time capturing it than you are checking it off and getting the thing done itself, then that’s not a very good use of your time. You want to get things out of this list, not curate a perfect list itself.
Brent: So if you look at your to-do list as a garden you’re growing, that’s wrong, but if you look at it like bowling pins, you’re right. Okay.
Ken: Yeah. But that said, for some people, if we don’t let you organize the work [in the way] that makes the most sense to you, then we’re getting in the way of getting those things done. So we wanted to give the flexibility to make some of those choices and figure out what workflow works for you.
Brent: Ah, that’s cool. One change I saw coming … my wife in particular has asked for, and that’s manual sorting inside tags. So if you have a "Today" tag, you can actually put stuff in the order you want rather than assigning fake due dates or times to stuff.
Ken: Yeah, absolutely.
Brent: That sounds really cool.
Ken: That’s I think a pretty huge feature for at least some subset of people. As you said, in the past you could kind of work around this by maybe setting due times at different times of the day that were earlier or later or maybe you could set estimated times and sort your tasks by their estimated duration, but all of those were just time wasters. It was getting in your way instead of getting the task done. So now, it’s great that you can just go to any tag, reorder it however you want. It only affects the order in that list, but it does remember it, and it does sync it between devices.
Brent: Oh that’s cool.
Ken: So you can set that "Today" tag up the way you want on your Mac and then when you look at it on your iPhone later, you see those things on that list.
Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- So we’re doing more with flexible scheduling too. I understand we’re working on enhancements to repeated tasks?
Ken: Yeah. So dates, of course, are incredibly important in any task management system, and one of our most common feature requests for years, has been, "Well, could we have more flexible ways of scheduling repeating tasks?" So that, maybe I have a meeting that happens every second Wednesday of the quarter, and so I can’t just say, I want to repeat this every three months, the way OmniFocus 2 would allow because that would be on a particular day of the month and that day is not always the Wednesday.
Ken: So we wanted to add more flexibility to how you could schedule your work. But at the same time, the more flexibility we add, if we’re not careful, that flexibility quickly turns into a very complicated interface …
Brent: Hmm. That’s true.
Ken: … that is intimidating, or just distracting and hard to use. So we also restructured the way we do our scheduled repeats so that we can avoid overwhelming people with a bunch of decisions that they might not care about. If I’m setting up a repeating task that happens every day, I don’t need to worry about which week it is, of the month or something.
Brent: Ah, right, you can hide that. Yeah.
Ken: So we start out asking, "Do you want to repeat at all?" And then we ask the period, and then we start to delve into the details of what the period is and whether that period is from completion or if it’s on a fixed repeatable schedule. The very last thing we ask these days, instead of being the first thing that we ask, the way we used to.
Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay.
Ken: Which was sort of how we had implemented it, so it made sense from our point of view, but it didn’t make sense to ask that if it didn’t matter, like sometimes you don’t have to worry about that question. So we might as well wait until the very end to ask it.
Brent: So this is progressive disclosure, I guess is the term for this.
Ken: Yeah, the term we call it … that’s actually a term that I learned during the unveiling of the Aqua interface for Mac OS X. When the new save panels were introduced and they talked about progressive disclosure of being able to enter a name into that Save panel, but not show you all the details of your folder hierarchy unless you wanted it. And if you did want it, then there was a little expansion button you could hit and you could then see those details. And so you still had all the flexibility that was possible before, but for simple tasks, all you had to do was pick a name, hit return, and you were done, or you could select a favorite location from a pop-up in that case.
Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- Ah, makes sense to adopt that. Cool. So we’re doing more flexible notifications as well.
Brent: I understand a lot of people have asked for different features about notifications.
Ken: Well maybe I should back up and note that OmniFocus started out its life without any notifications at all because the systems didn’t start out with any notification APIs.
Brent: Yeah, right.
Ken: When you were on the Mac ten years ago, there was Growl. And we did support Growl, but there was nothing built into the system that … the way it is now. And on iOS, there were no notifications at all to start with. If you’re app wasn’t running, then the app wasn’t running, and that was it.
Brent: Oh, yeah. I forgot about that, and there one app running at a time. There was no background. Yeah.
Ken: So of course, we have added notifications, and we have adopted backgrounds, all sorts of things over the years, as the operating system has become more powerful, but one of the areas where we realized we had a lot more options available now than we did when we last built notifications, and what you see when you receive a notification on … and I’m talking right now particularly about on iOS devices, and on iPhones where you can do the deep pressing on it, on a notification.
Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Ken: So now when you see something … in the past when we would send a notification — because we didn’t want to overwhelm you with, say, twenty notifications at once for a project that was becoming due, and it had twenty tasks in it, and they all were becoming due, we might say that this is becoming due, and twenty more things, or three more things, or whatever. And that was because we were sort of limited in what we could put in notification. We just had a message and maybe some actions, a sound …
Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ken: … and that was about it. But now we can actually provide our own custom interface for that and so we do, and it will show you a list of all of those tasks, in the context of the project that’s due.
Brent: Oh, okay.
Ken: So it’s a much, much nicer picture of what’s going on. There will be a … well I guess by the time you’re hearing this, listener, there are screen shots on my blog post that show how this works. We can also display a map for the location based notifications.
Brent: Oh, that’s good.
Ken: So if you had a reminder to do something when you’re at the Space Needle, then when you get there, we’ll show you a map to where the Space Needle is from where you are.
Brent: All Seattleites are surprisingly near the Space Needle, often, it seems like. It’s in walking distance from here, actually.
Ken: It’s true.
Brent: So we’re five years into iOS 7. Is that continuing to affect our designs? Is OmniFocus gonna look or feel any different in the coming year?
Ken: So thinking back again to ten years ago of OmniFocus, when … well, ten years ago, we didn’t have OmniFocus on the iPhone. Nine years ago, we did have OmniFocus on the iPhone, or nine and a half years ago.
Ken: Because we were there at the launch of the App Store. And at that time, the way apps were designed, of course, looked very photorealistic. You know, people were putting leather in their apps, or felt, or different wood grains, and so on, to try to make it look like the real world objects that they might be representing. In a lot of ways, all of those graphics … it was beautiful in some ways and it was also kind of distracting in some ways, from letting you see the underlying structure of an app.
Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Ken: In OmniFocus 2, we were right in the process of doing our new design. In fact, we’d already presented it at Macworld, what our new design was going to look like. When Apple announced iOS 7 and showed us their completely different direction for iOS that moved completely away from all of those skeuomorphic designs and instead we had a sea of white everywhere.
Brent: Yeah, with those thin fonts too.
Ken: Thin fonts, thin icons. Instead of icons being filled in, they were all line art, and so on. And it was a very clean look, and I think it was an important counter to where we had been.
Brent: We had to bend the stick back, I think.
Ken: But it was a bit extreme as well.
Ken: So, while OmniFocus 2 … in OmniFocus 2 we adopted a lot of that. Like I said, line art icons. We even … some of the recommendations from iOS 7’s human interface guidelines were to use font faces in font types, to indicate hierarchy instead of using things like indentation, which we’d been using before, or icons that we’d been using before.
Ken: And so for some of our customers, that was fine, but for others, they felt like now they lost their road maps. Their eyes no longer had sort of a good sense … things to hang onto to give them a sense of place and where they were. And we tried to provide some of that in our app by changing the colors subtly, as you go from one section to another. So in Projects, the colors are different than when you’re in the Contexts list for example, or in maps, and so on. But, it’s been five years now, and I think Apple has certainly …
Brent: Are we going back to green felt?
Ken: They have not gone back to green felt! But they have started filling in their icons and bringing in some more subtle cues, visual cues that help you find your way around the system.
Brent: A little shading, a little indentation.
Brent: Occasional borders around things.
Ken: Yeah, I sometimes forget that, on some of my devices at least, on my iOS devices, I’ve turned on the accessibility feature that adds borders around buttons, and so I forget some times, oh yeah, the basic experience doesn’t even have those. You just have some bare text laying out there and the only way you know it’s a button is that it’s tinted like a button.
Brent: Yeah. It looks great until I find myself tapping on something, or I want to do something and I have no idea where to tap.
Brent: Yeah, so.
Ken: So in OmniFocus 3, we are coming back a bit ourselves. We’re bringing back more icons. We bringing back more indentation to help give you a sense of that structure that the app has, that it’s always had, but maybe wasn’t as visible in OmniFocus 2.
Brent: So it’s some of the classic techniques of user interface design, but without …
Ken: But without some —
Brent: … going crazy.
Ken: Not necessarily with green felt.
Ken: Right now it is in OmniGraffle 7 on Mac, OmniOutliner 5 on Mac, OmniGraffle 3 on iOS, and it’s in the current test flight builds of OmniOutliner 3 … is that what it … OmniGraffle 3 and OmniOutliner 3 on iOS. Yeah. It will be in Outliner 3 when that ships next month. So.
Brent: So Focus 3 will be, OmniFocus 3 will be getting this too, I imagine.
Ken: Yes, I’m not sure whether it will be ready in time for 3.0. I don’t necessarily want to hold 3.0 back if that’s not ready yet. But it’s certainly part of the 3.1, 3.2 road map.
Brent: So likely this year then.
Ken: But this year, for sure. Yes.
Brent: Cool. That sounds good. And I imagine there would be a lot of Focus users who would be quite happy to have some automation, particularly the ones who have been using AppleScript on their Mac.
Ken: I expect so. We have always had a lot of strong automation support in OmniFocus for the Mac and people have been using that for years to do things like manipulate templates or do reporting, and so on, and find out the stats of how many things they closed this week, and so on.
Ken: I think being able to do that in dual platform, where it works on both Mac and iOS and —
Brent: So the same script will work in both places.
Brent: That’s pretty cool.
Ken: And it will be much faster than AppleScript was, so that will also be useful. I think it will be a very popular feature, as it rolls out.
Ken: Yeah, in terms of scripting languages out there, I think it’s the one most … it’s most likely for people to be familiar with.
Brent: So are we doing any collaboration features?
Ken: Ooh, that is a big one. Yes we are. Again, not for 3.0.
Ken: I should back up. OmniFocus has been designed as a tool that helps people manage their own personal work. It’s not really designed as a tool for collaboration. But for many of us, our work involves collaborating with other people.
Brent: We’re all introverts, we all wish it didn’t, but it does.
Ken: Unless we somehow manage to really be a hermit up on the mountain — which I recently learned those people do exist — then we probably have some things that involve us waiting for somebody else to finish something or somebody else waiting for us to finish something.
Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Ken: While I don’t think OmniFocus is the best tool for coordinating very large interdependent project schedules and … We make OmniPlan for that kind of work.
Ken: I do think that there is a place for automatically relaying status updates between shared tasks for people.
Brent: Hm. Okay.
Ken: For specific tasks. So for OmniFocus 3, what we’re doing is we’re adding support for linking tasks between unrelated databases. So I can have a task that I send you, and you’ll receive it with its notes and attachments and due date, sort of the essentials of the task. And when I send it to you, I am proposing that our task should be linked. And you can choose, when you receive that, whether you want to accept that link or not.
Ken: If you accept the link and all those tasks are linked, we both get to see updates to that task. So if I check it off complete, then you’ll see that and vice versa. But it’s just that specific task. In each of our tasks, in each of our databases, that task can live wherever we want and have whatever relationship to other tasks that we want.
Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Ken: So maybe in my database I have a whole bunch of subtasks for that task, and I didn’t send those subtasks to you, I just sent you, "Here’s the overall status of this group of things", it’s its own project. And maybe in yours, you’re waiting for me to finish that before you finish something else, and so it’s a step in one of your projects, a sequential project, and so it’s blocking the other action from becoming available.
Brent: I see, yeah. That makes sense. Yeah. That’s pretty cool.
Ken: So I feel like that’s a good way to let people continue to manage their own personal work however they wish, but other people are not somehow inserting themselves into my database, or me into their database, and us arguing over what tags should exist, or …
Ken: But while solving the basic problem of making it easier to communicate shared status between individuals.
Brent: That’s cool.
Ken: Between collaborators.
Brent: Yeah, it’s peer to peer, rather than having someone from above control your OmniFocus and thereby what you do.
Ken: Or just a big "wild west" database, where we’re both seeing a common shared database and who knows what’s changed since the last time we looked.
Brent: Yeah. Are we gonna do OmniFocus for windows? People always ask. I gotta ask. Or Android?
Brent: It’s the one time in the podcast where Ken asks to say no. I’ll say it for you. No, we’re not doing OmniFocus for Windows or Android. How about the web?
Ken: Yes, we are gonna bring OmniFocus to those screens.
Brent: Yes! Okay. I like that answer.
Ken: Thinking back over all these features that we’re adding to OmniFocus 3, we’ve actually hit a lot of the things that the customers have asked us for, over the years, except for this last bit, which is, "What if I am at work? I’m forced to use a Windows PC there, and I wanted to look at my task list, or I wanted to add a few things or I want to check some things off?" And to date, we have not really had a good solution for customers for that. So, details in the blog post, but yes, we are building a limited OmniFocus for the web. It’s not going to have all the custom perspectives, and you won’t be able to … It’s not meant to be it’s own stand-alone thing. It’s meant to be a tool that you can use in partnership with our existing OmniFocus apps.
Ken: When you’re away from home, we call it, and you need to access that data.
Brent: Will this cost extra for OmniFocus users?
Ken: It’s gonna cost extra for us to provide it, so we’re going to need to … we need that to be self-supporting. So we will be charging some fee. I don’t know what that fee will be yet.
Ken: Because we have not worked out what all those costs are.
Ken: But hopefully not unreasonable.
Ken: And it will of course be optional. We’re not turning OmniFocus into a subscription priced app or something. This is an optional fee for those who want that remote access and need, then, for us to provide this new service.
Brent: Hm. Given how often this comes up, I think this is gonna make a lot of people happy.
Ken: I hope so. It’s a lot of work, if it didn’t make them happy!
Brent: Yeah, right. It wouldn’t have to be the whole experience. If you’re at work, maybe you just do need to see what’s on tap for today or check a few things off, or something. I think that’s great.
Ken: Yeah, I think for most people, if you’re able to access your custom lists under your tags, and to be able to add new things to your Projects or inbox and manipulate things there, then … Well, we’ll see. I’d love to hear from people who are interested in this and to get feedback about whether this sounds like something that they’re interested in.
Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- Very cool. So will we be doing a beta testing, a TestFlight thing for OmniFocus?
Ken: Ah. Of course we will, yes. I’m starting to be a little … yeah … no. I shouldn’t joke in this context. Yes, we expect to start the TestFlight for OmniFocus 3 this quarter.
Ken: Sometime … and since the first month is now approaching its end, that means in the next two months I guess.
Brent: February, March. Okay. Yeah. Cool. And in the show notes, I’ll put a link to the blog posts, which then have a link to the TestFlight sign-ups, so people can check that out.
Ken: In fact, we’ve already started laying the groundwork for that with some TestFlight builds of OmniFocus 2 that are sync compatible with OmniFocus 3, because we don’t want people to have to throw out all of their … we want people to be able to use their existing databases and sync back and forth between OmniFocus 3 and OmniFocus 2, in case there’s a bug they run into in OmniFocus 3 [beta], they can work around it by just going to OmniFocus 2 and doing the work there.
Brent: OmniFocus is also, I’ve noticed, very good about making back-ups of things too, so … Always treat beta software carefully, but it does back the data up, which is good.
Ken: Yeah, since we live in these apps ourselves, it’s always been important to us to make sure that this data gets preserved. So in OmniFocus for Mac, for example, I think it does daily back-ups for a month or something. I don’t …
Brent: Yeah, something like that.
Ken: Lots of checkpoints that you can get back to in case something isn’t the way you expect it. So.
Brent: Well that just about covers it, I think. Am I forgetting anything important? Are we gonna have cake in 2018?
Ken: I think that covers the road map. I’m sure we’ll have cake from time to time.
Brent: There’ll at least be cookies.
Brent: Well, thank you, Ken.
Ken: And mac and cheese.
Brent: And mac and cheese, yeah. Yeah. The food’s so good every day. Today was Greek lunch. I love … and hummus and everything. It was so good.
Ken: Yeah. Greek lunch is one of my favorite meals here.
Brent: Yeah. Of course, another of my favorites is the farmer’s lunch, which is just like a whole bunch of different things, cheeses and cold cuts, and breads, and stuff. The only problem with that is that’s the one where the line is super slow. Oh, it’s farmer’s lunch, oh, hmm, all right.
Ken: All right. I’ll set a timer for 15 minutes and come up then.
Brent: Hey Siri, remind me … Oh sorry, listeners. Well, thank you Ken. How can people find you on the web?
Ken: Well, of course, if they follow the show notes … the blog post. I’ll have some notes there, but you can find me on Twitter @kcase and you can also send me email at email@example.com.
Brent: KC. Did people ever used to joke about KC and the Sunshine band with you?
Brent: Yeah, I thought so. Well, I’d also like to thank our intrepid producer, Mark Boszko. Say hello, Mark.
Mark Boszko: Hello, Mark.
Brent: And especially, I want to thank you for listening. Thank you. Music!