Chris Bowler on OS X Yosemite:

The little touches, the delight that comes when you notice them, abound in OS X. Once you’ve been using this system for some time, it’s easy to take those touches for granted.

Watching the details of OS X Yosemite emerge, I was reminded afresh of what a great foundation we have as Mac users. If it weren’t for OS X (and the language(s) it runs on), all the wonderful software from our favourite developers would not be available or quite as good. With the new features in mind, here are a few things I love about this operating system.

P.S. This is from one of Chris’s email journals he sends out every Saturday to the members of his site. I’m a member, and I’ve read all 9 newsletters and they are excellent. Definitely worth $2/month.

I’m still catching up from WWDC, and our Sweet Setup interview from last week was a great one. I especially liked Nik’s answer to how his ideal setup would look and function:

I’m sorted for now, I think. I tend to try and avoid too much chopping and changing to the apps I use. I could probably change text editors every week, but there’s always something that bothers the me in most, and I’d rather have a toolset that works consistently. Building up muscle memories (keyboard shortcuts, etc.) takes time, but rewards loyalty. If you’re changing tools too frequently, whatever you gain in new features is nearly always lost in learning and adapting.

Friday, June 6

On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly, I share some thoughts on the WWDC Keynote and what it says about Apple, plus a behind-the-scenes look at what my life is generally like when I’m in town for the conference.

Sponsored by:

Awesome

This is a great year to be an Apple software nerd.

For one, there have been, and are coming, some awesome updates to many great 3rd-party apps, such as Reeder 2, OmniFocus 2, LaunchBar 6, and Things 3 to name a few.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What Apple announced yesterday is nothing short of an epic leap forward for Mac and iOS software. And it’s manifested in the new visual identity of OS X, Continuity between Macs and iOS devices, extensibility within iOS, iCloud Drive and Photo storage, and a hundred other improvements to Mail, Safari, Spotlight, Messages, and more… these things are the foundation of iOS and OS X for the next 5 years.

Moreover, Apple released a brand new programming language, Swift, that will make writing native Mac and iOS apps even easier. When I asked yesterday on Twitter what everyone’s favorite thing announced at WWDC was, the overwhelming response was Swift.

Now, I love to geek out over new hardware much as anybody. But without an operating system and without apps, an iPhone is just a beautiful piece of glass and aluminum — a shell. It’s the software that gives our gadgets their life and personality.

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Yesterday’s keynote was just fantastic. If you haven’t watched it yet, you must. Download the HD version, make some popcorn, and enjoy. This was Apple at its best. The show was fast-paced, enjoyable, and downright funny. And Craig Federighi? The dude was on fire.

All day yesterday, the prevailing question amongst the friends and people I was hanging out with was: “So, what did you think of the keynote?”

Everyone’s answer was pretty much the same: Excitement.

For those of us who use our Macs and iOS devices day in and day out for both work and for play, we have a lot to look forward to. The new features and designs announced yesterday promise to make our digital tools and workflows more fun, more efficient, and, more delightful.

Here are my thoughts and observations (so far) about just a few of the things announced at yesterday’s WWDC 2014 keynote.

OS X Yosemite

Yosemite strikes me as an update to OS X that’s done, in part, at least, as a labor of love. An update to the Mac OS that’s shipping not because Apple has to, but because they want to. It’s not an update to keep up with the times and to have some features checked off the checklist. But rather an update that’s driven by a company that sweats the details and takes great delight in shipping beautiful, delightful software.

The Design

The design is, of course, the most significant change to OS X. We all saw the writing on the wall last year when Apple introduced iOS 7, and now it’s here: OS X is going “flat”.

If you want to get a taste of how the new UI will look on your Mac, here’s a couple of high-res images from Apple’s site. Just save these to your Mac, open one in Preview, and then go Full Screen: The Calendar; Multiple Windows Open; Safari Tabs View; Spotlight.

Aside from the change of window chrome, you can also see there are all sorts of new design changes throughout the entire operating system. Such as new glyphs, new Finder folder icons, a new system font (Helvetica Neue), new system icons, a return to the 2D dock (yay!), and a “consolidating” of the in app title bar so app buttons now sit on the same top row as the stoplight.

The other big system changes include the implementation of a Today view in Notification Center with customizable widgets, and the massive overhaul of Spotlight.

I haven’t yet installed the developer beta onto a USB drive, so I don’t know what Yosemite is like in actual use. But my initial reaction is a good one. Not only am I excited about all the new features and functionality, but the new design looks mostly great to me. I am genuinely looking forward to using this new UI for all the work and play I do from my Mac.

Spotlight

App launchers such as Alfred and LaunchBar are just so great. Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve been using an application launcher for nearly as long as I’ve been using my Mac. I used Quicksilver for years and when it stopped working on Snow Leopard, I switched to LaunchBar.

I don’t think the new Spotlight is going to sherlock Alfred or LaunchBar. There is so much you can do with Alfred or LaunchBar that you can’t do with the new Spotlight, such as access to clipboard history, building custom workflows, assigning global hotkeys, and more. For many people, myself included, a more powerful application launcher will still be their preference.

But for many others, this new, more powerful version of Spotlight will be their first step into the awesome world of intelligent and awesome application launchers. And that’s great.

Also, the new Spotlight shows Apple’s step towards capturing more of the search market. Meaning, when you are looking for something, Apple wants you to start with Spotlight no matter what you’re looking for.

It used to be that Spotlight only searched the indexed contents of your computer’s hard drive. And if you wanted to search for a movie or app you’d open up iTunes. If you wanted to search for information, you’d open up Safari and go to Google. If you wanted to search for a location, you’d open up Maps. But now, all those sources (and more?) have a single starting point: Spotlight.

iCloud Storage

  1. For one, it’s cheaper. The free tier is still at 5GB, but you can get 20GB for $12 / year and 200GB for $48 / year. While I would have loved to see the free tier bumped up to something more substantial, the pricing for the paid tiers is incredibly competitive. I currently pay $40 / year for the 25GB tier. a few more bucks and I can get 8x the storage.

  2. Secondly, it looks like Apple’s answer to Dropbox. Which means the new iCloud Storage and Finder integration could be massive. But it’s too early to tell. iCloud, Mobile Me, and .Mac all have a reputation for not being the most reliable services. If, however, iCloud Finder storage could prove itself to be as useful and reliable as Dropbox, I’d go all-in with it in a heartbeat. Time will tell on this one.

iOS 8

On the iOS 8 website, Apple has outlined many of the hallmark features of the new OS. Here are a few thoughts and observations of my own, regarding some of the things that stand out to me the most and are the most exciting to me.

Messages App

At a keynote like Apple’s, there are three types of reactions to the individual product and feature demos:

  1. Feeling impartial and/or ambivalent to what’s being announced.
  2. Feeling impressed about how cool such-and-such product is.
  3. Feeling legitimately excited because you immediately can see yourself using the new product and it making your life better / easier / etc.

Watching Craig Federighi demo the new features of the iOS Messages, I was not only impressed about how cool it was, but I could instantly see myself using it in real life every day. I communicate with my close friends and family every day almost exclusively through the Messages app. The improvements to group threads, the audio message sharing, and more are all awesome additions that I can’t wait for all my iPhone using friends and family to have access to.

I love that Apple put so much work and improvements into an app that we all use more than any other on our phones. I keep the Messages app in my Dock, but the phone app is literally on another Home screen.

Additional thoughts / notes about Messages:

  • The voice chatting stuff could be a huge win for CarPlay and even just for “messaging” while driving. While using Siri in the car is a pretty good alternative to texting (which is flat out something you should never be doing, period), it’s still awkward and not always accurate. The way the voice messaging works (with auto play and respond available right from the Lock screen) could be significantly safer and easier to use.
  • I love that the videos and photos and audio self-destruct after time to save room on the phone.
  • Looks like the audio files are in the AMR codec.

QuickType + Actionable Notifications

From time to time I have used Android phones and tablets. There are many things about Android that I like, and by far and away the two things I most wish for on iOS are Android’s predictive text keyboard and a better Notification Center. Well, with iOS 8 we’re getting both of those.

  • QuickType: If you haven’t used predictive text typing, it looks like it’d be awkward and slow. But in my experience using it, it’s actually much faster and easier. I am very much looking forward to the new keyboard options and features.

    Moreover, I’m interested to see how the “artificial intelligence” will pan out in day-to-day use. There are some instances where QuickType doesn’t just suggest the word it thinks you’re trying to type, it will literally suggest a word or phrase before you’ve even tapped the first keystroke.

  • And the actionable notifications will be great for saving time. No longer will we have to act like animals, unlocking our phones and launching the messages app to reply to a single text message.

Family Sharing

In some respects, the new Family Sharing features are just a bundled up version of what’s alway been available. But it’s easier to set up and there are some new features.

The feature that I’m most excited about is the automatic shared photo stream album. This was something I loved about using Everpix (before it bit the dust) — I put my phone and my wife’s phone onto the same account and we automatically had shared access to all the photos we each were taking. It was great! Well, now that’s set up in iOS 8:

Family Sharing makes collecting and sharing family memories easier and more fun. It automatically sets up a family photo stream where you can share photos, videos, and comments. And everything stays up to date on everyone’s devices. So you’re all a tap away from the latest vacation shots, birthday highlights, and family pranks.

Extensions

This is huge. But that’s all I know to say about it.

I don’t currently have any long-winded thoughts and opinions about the nitty-gritty implications of precisely how Extensions will change the way we use iOS, and I think that’s the point. We don’t know what sort of awesomeness and convenience and functionality this new inter-app communication will make available. But I know it’s huge because I think Extensions are the foundation for the next 5 years of iOS growth and maturity. Apple themselves can only expand and mature the OS so much; and eventually it will require the contributions and ideas of 3rd-party developers to take it to the next level. Extensions finally opens the door for that.

It will no doubt take a year or two for extensions to become prevalent and mainstream. And then in another year or two years we’ll wonder how we ever lived without them.

Continuity

Continuity looks awesome. It’s a way for the user to start a task on one device and move to another device and pick up right where they left off.

In some ways, “Continuity” already exists. In that, many of our documents and media usage are already in sync between our devices. For example: iCloud Mail drafts are synced; iCloud syncs Safari tabs; Pages documents stored in iCloud are available on any device with Pages; Rdio lets you take over the currently-playing song from one device to another; Pocket Casts syncs play location for your podcast episodes; you can send a location or directions from Maps on the Mac to your iOS device; and more.

However, with Continuity, the point is to make it easier to pick up right where you left off in the very moment you are doing the work. Such as when you want to switch from reading a website on your Mac to your iPad right this moment. In that scenario, there is no more need to unlock your iPad, open Safari, wait a minute or two for iCloud to sync, navigate to your list of iCloud tabs that are open on your Mac, and then open the webpage on your iPad. However, with Continuity you just swipe up on the bottom-left icon and boom.

So in some respects, Continuity is not necessarily a new feature. Rather, it just removes a layer of work. Getting to your same iCloud tab is one swipe away instead of many swipes and taps.

But I think Continuity is more than just a better implementation of a cool feature. I see it as a “philosophical” feature as well — it’s a statement that we use our devices for many of the same tasks, and that “work” is device agnostic. Continuity is a way of telling the Apple user it’s okay to expect their devices to always be in sync down to the very mid-sentence of an email in progress.

In Closing

Everything from yesterday’s event comes together to give us a glimpse into the current Apple culture:

  • There was the overall confident and playful sentiment we saw from Tim Cook, Craig Federighi, and the other presenters.
  • There is the gorgeous, ground-up redesign of OS X.
  • There is the plethora of amazing new features in the apps we use every day.
  • And there is Swift, the new programming language that practically has Mac and iOS developers dancing in the streets.

A cynical onlooker would see these things and say it’s what Apple has to do lest it be doomed. They would say the fun and joyful announcements on stage were an act, and the new features are just a desperate attempt to cover the fact Apple hasn’t yet shipped any brand-new revolutionary hardware gadgets in 2014.

However, the optimistic onlooker would see the Keynote for what it actually is: a glimpse into the culture of Apple in 2014. And that culture is one of excitement, ambition, generosity, confidence, and momentum. We are seeing what the post Steve Jobs Apple is like, and my friends, it is awesome.

Tuesday, June 3

Craig Hockenberry on yesterday’s WWDC Keynote:

Apple has a newfound confidence in itself. It’s at the top of its game, and it knows it.

Some amazing apps and well-deserved awards. I’m especially glad to see Day One for Mac, Monument Valley, and Threes all on the list.

Monday, June 2

If you need to take screenshots, or capture entire webpages straight from Safari & Chrome, you should check out Ember for Mac. Ember is the app that lets you take, organize and share screenshots, entire webpages and more — and now syncs via Dropbox so you can access your screenshots anywhere with Ember iOS or on another Mac.

MacFormat magazine proclaimed that, “[Ember] has the look and feel of an app Apple might make. Surely there’s no higher accolade.” And we think you’ll love Ember too — which is why we’re offering you a special 10% discount.

Pick up your copy of Ember today, save 10%, and organize your screenshots, webpages and creative projects in style.

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My thanks to Ember for Mac for sponsoring the RSS feed this week.

Jim Dalrymple’s thoughts on the WWDC Keynote:

iOS has taken center stage at most WWDC’s since its introduction, but this is the first time I’ve really felt that both operating systems were on a level footing. It feels to me that OS X and iOS were developed in conjunction with one another, and not independently. This matters, of course, when you consider how people use the operating systems to share information between devices. [...]

Apple showed that it’s not just the data that is following the user through iCloud to a variety of devices, but it’s bigger than that—it’s a uniform experience that is following the user.

Ted Landau:

No other company besides Apple has such complete control over both the hardware and software ends of the market. This is what allows Apple’s devices to work so well together. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the product integration we saw on the WWDC stage today

(Via Dan Frakes.)

Andrew and Vero:

What you have to remember is that Spotlight’s primary objective is to search your files and a small handful of pre-determined web sources. Meanwhile, Alfred’s primary objective is to make you more productive on your Mac with exceptional and powerful features like Clipboard History, System commands, iTunes Mini Player, 1Password bookmarks, Terminal integration, fully bespoke and customisable user-created workflows and much, much more.

The new design looks great.

If you want to get a taste of how the new UI will look on your Mac, here’s a couple of high-res images from Apple’s site. Just open these in Preview and then go Full Screen: Safari with Messages; Finder; Spotlight.

And, I love the massive update they’ve given to Spotlight. I’ve been using an application launcher for years (Quicksilver for years and now LaunchBar), and I think they are just so great. There is much you can do with Alfred or LaunchBar that you can’t do with the new Spotlight (clipboard history just to name one thing). And so I think that for many people (myself included), a more powerful application launcher will still be their preference. But for many people, this new, more powerful version of Spotlight will be their first step into the awesome world of intelligent and awesome application launchers. And that’s great.

John Gruber’s classic overview of what he thinks we will and won’t see later today. I too am excited to see the potentially massive overhaul to OS X. And, of course, I’d love to see some significant improvements to iCloud and Photo Stream storage.

Starts in just a couple hours, and Apple will be streaming it live for everyone to watch.

Saturday, May 31

Matt Gemmell added some excellent thoughts of his own in response to my article a few weeks ago, “Fighting to stay Creative“:

I write every day: seven days a week. I’m working on a novel, and I also write for this blog and various magazines. It’s my full-time job now, and I don’t have another one. Staying creative is thus absolutely critical for me.

I’ve learned a lot about the obstacles to continued creative output, and I’ve found a few techniques that can help. Many of these are just common sense, but it’s useful to have them all in one place.

Friday, May 30

Jason Snell:

I have no idea if Apple and Beats will end up being a good match—I’m interested to see if Apple truly embraces music subscriptions, or keeps Beats Music at arm’s length from iTunes. What I’m excited by is the fact that the Beats acquisition is not a move that Apple would have made a few years ago.

Thursday, May 29

On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly — published a day early this week, for both your and my traveling convenience — I talk about what every other Mac nerd is talking about this week: The upcoming WWDC keynote.

Sponsored by:

I think Casey Liss speaks for most of us:

The one tip I recommend most to attendees is to say “hi” and make friends.

The thing is, those going to WWDC who don’t want to be spoken to have figured out their way of avoiding the lines and the places where people are. The rest of us are there in order to meet up and hang out.

Federico Viticci:

Reeder 2 for Mac is not terribly surprising in any way – it’s a sequel, but its “more of the same” approach might just be what Mac users who fell in love with the original Reeder were looking for.

The app is fast. Even with thousands of RSS items, scrolling is smooth and responsive; when you navigate across articles, text flies by and images load quickly; clicking through sections in the sidebar or the Unread/Starred/All filters of the top toolbar reveals animations that are not too fast and not too slow, but just right. Reeder 2 feels good in motion, which can’t be said about many Mac apps these days.

Hooray! I’m telling you, this is the best RSS reader for the Mac.

Over at MacStories, Graham Spencer pulled together some of the highlight quotes from last night’s Code Conference session. And gotta love those photos.

Brian X. Chen, for The New York Times:

For Apple, the acquisition of Beats, expected for weeks, largely follows a familiar pattern. Apple has historically bought technology outfits that have resources and talent that it can blend into future devices and online services. Beats fits that criterion.

But the Beats deal is also different. Until now, Apple, the richest tech company in the world, has avoided billion-dollar takeovers in favor of smaller deals. The Beats deal is its largest ever.

What I think is even more different than the amount of this deal with Beats compared to others is the that Beats is a huge brand. They have celebrity endorsers, their headphones are insanely popular, and they have two very high-profile co-founders. Money aside, this is a rare acquisition indeed.

In terms of significance, the 1996 deal with NeXT was Apple’s largest ever. In terms of money, this Beats deal is the largest ever.

I think the Beats deal will prove to be Apple’s 2nd most significant acquisition. I’m curious to find out how “Jimmy and Dre” will help shape the internal culture of Apple, and how the Beats brand will impact the Apple brand (and vice versa). Will Apple eventually start putting their logo on Beats headphones or leave them as they are? How long will Jimmy and/or Dre stick around at Apple?

Tuesday, May 27

Matthew Panzarino:

Consistently, when I speak to users about their iOS device woes, it comes down to running out of space for photos and video. And photos differ significantly from other data in that there is an intense emotional and mnemonic attachment to them. These are fragments of life, not just packets of data.

That’s why I think that this year would be a really fine time for Apple to start ignoring the ROI of iCloud storage.

Couldn’t agree more. iCloud’s free tier of storage and photo stream backup restrictions are the same today as when when Steve Jobs himself first introduced them at WWDC 2011.

When iCloud was announced in June 2011, the iPad 2 and iPhone 4 were the most-recent iOS devices. Since that announcement, there have been significant advancements to the Apple hardware scene related to mobile photography, and yet the iCloud services that backup and support our photography are now 3 years old.

Monday, May 26

Lost Photos is the first app that securely scans your email account for every photo you’ve ever sent or received! All photos are downloaded to your computer, making it ultra easy to view them, archive them to permanent storage, or even share them again.

In our busy digital lives, photos can represent our most precious moments, and yet are often forgotten as they flow by in an endless digital stream.

Lost Photos works with all popular email domains, such as iCloud, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, and many more. Once you’ve recovered your images, import them into iPhoto or your favorite photo manager for even more sorting, editing, and printing options.

Install Lost Photos for FREE to access the first 100 photos from your email accounts, then upgrade for a couple of bucks to get unlimited number of photos.

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My thanks to MacPhun for sponsoring the RSS feed this week.

Friday, May 23

In my review of OmniFocus 2 yesterday I wrote a bit about my morning routine of scrubbing my to-do list and assigning a time for my primary goals:

Every morning, I scrub my to-do list by looking at what’s due today and what’s available to be done in the projects I’m excited about working on today. I start by writing down my “Big Three” tasks I want to get done (these are sometimes important tasks that are due, but they’re often part of the projects I have motivation to keep working on). These “Big Three” are how I’ll define success for my work day, and it’s what gives me the primary direction for what to work on once I sit down at my keyboard.

Right now I’m using a Baron Fig dot grid Confidant, and manually write out my day each day while drinking my coffee. For many years I used to schedule my days like this. But when I began working from home I slowly backed out of the habit. Three weeks ago I picked it back up and have been loving it.

All that to say, David Seah’s ETP daily planning sheet is a pre-designed form that follows the exact same model and layout that I do manually in my Baron Fig. If you set your own schedule, give this a try. You can print out David’s PDF for free, or buy an ETP notebook on Amazon.

Budgeting your time is like budgeting your money: you’ll find that you’re able to do more with less. But you already knew that.

New website from the Omni Group with a lot of clever use-cases, tips, and tricks for using OmniFocus.

On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly, I talk about what I consider to be the foundation of a successful creative career: delight in the journey and enjoyment in the doing of the work.

It’s a musing for those of us who have the primary goal of doing our best creative work every day and building a relationship with our audience, rather than having our primary goal be to make as much money as possible before death.

A Review of OmniFocus 2 for Mac

Here is a dorky chart showing what I call The “Spectrum of ‘GTD workflow’ Tools”:

The Spectrum of GTD Workflow Tools

Click for full-size

What does it mean?

Basic task-management tools shine with short term tasks and goals. They are simple and have no learning curve. However, they can strain under the weight of too many tasks, long-term projects, tasks which are not yet relevant until several months from now, or tasks which need additional layers of information beyond the action item itself.

It’s because of these “shortcomings” of basic tools that more complex tools exist. The complex options excel at managing detailed and long-term projects, tasks with due dates in the far future, and action items with multiple bits of additional information.

However, the complex tools have a trade-off as well. They take time to learn, they beg us to input as much information as possible for every action item thus requiring an extra step or two (or five) when creating a new task, and it can sometimes feel like we’re spending more time managing our task system then actually doing our tasks.

And that’s why in-between the basic and complex tools are those that support a basic structure of projects and lists (and perhaps even due dates with reminders), but which don’t allow or require additional layers of information.

Somewhere along this spectrum is a tool and system that works for you.

Using too basic of a workflow tool when your circumstances require a complex one will cause unnecessary mental friction and will lead to wasted time and forgotten tasks. But using a too-complex tool when your circumstances don’t require it can lead to unnecessary management of and tinkering with your workflow and tools.

There is no single right or wrong solution here. Some of us use a certain tool for task management because our circumstances require it, and some of us a certain tool because our personality prefers it. There are also those who use a non-ideal tool because they don’t know a better option exists (or because they are too stubborn/lazy to seek out and learn the proper tool).

If you can: find a tool that makes sense to you.

Your tools should always be available to you when you want to use them for adding or completing tasks; it should be as easy and fun to use as possible for a tool like this; and it should support a system that you trust with your tasks and projects, that way you’ll be predisposed to continue using it without weighing the other options every other week.

Factors that I think are important but which should not be the ultimate deciding factors include the cost, the learning curve, and the trendiness. No doubt, for many of you reading this, the system you use to get things done is the backbone of your day-to-day work. Choosing the inexpensive shortcut may save as much as $200 and a few weeks of learning the ropes, but it may also mean taking on a long-term handicap related to your productivity. I’m not saying to go buy the most expensive software out there, but I am asking that you consider your needs and give yourself permission to invest in the best tools available that will aid you in the activities you do every single day.

My tool of choice is OmniFocus

I’ve read David Allen’s book, and I totally get it. I love it. His whole philosophy for getting things done, staying organized, and getting our task management systems out of our heads and into some other system all makes a lot of sense to me. The parking lot, the reviews, it clicks with how my brain works.

And so, yes, my own system of productivity is theoretically similar to what Allen lays out in his book. Except that my practice of “GTD” seems so very sloppy.

For the past 4 years I’ve used OmniFocus as my task-management system. Like a good wallet, OmniFocus has held together the crazy and necessary bits of my life through all sorts of seasons. From my time as a creative director managing a team of 17, to my transition as a self-employed full-time blogger, through dozens of business trips and vacations, through two kids, innumerable projects around the house, and so, so, so much more.

I’ve got a lot of crap in OmniFocus, to be honest. Like I said, my GTD system is sloppy — I don’t keep my task-management software neat and tidy because I don’t care that much. I don’t have perfectly formatted lists with thought-through start and due dates, proper contexts, accurate time estimations, or anything else. And yes, I’ll admit that I don’t always start my tasks with a verb (call, ask, go to, pick up, fall over, etc.). Also, I’m very bad at regularly reviewing all my active projects.

If I did all these things well, OmniFocus would be an ideal tool. It is SO GREAT at managing all the crazy metadata that goes along with a finely-tuned productivity workflow.

But in my years of using this app, I’ve found that it’s also great at managing my more sloppy and unorganized style of “productivity workflow.”

OmniFocus is awesome at letting me be messy and disorganized with my tasks. Because the truth is, I’d rather just be doing stuff — like writing, reading, or (ideally) sitting outside in my hammock drinking some lemonade — instead of going through all my active projects and dusting my someday-maybe list.

I’m not an OmniFocus ninja, and I don’t spend a lot of time fiddling and tweaking my software. But I have been using OmniFocus long enough to know what it’s capable of, how to use it best for my needs, to know that I still have room for improvement with how I use it, but still trust that it can handle whatever I can throw at it.

I know OmniFocus can conform to my needs, I trust it with my tasks, and based on how I use the app and how I manage my tasks and projects, I know that when something important is due, OmniFocus will let me know. Once I’ve put something into the app, I let it go. And that is worth the price of this software times ten.

How I use each version of OmniFocus

OmniFocus is a 3-app suite: iPhone, iPad, and Mac. I use all three apps daily. Here’s how:

iPhone

I predominately use the iPhone for two things: (1) quick capture of a new task, and (2) checking items off a list when out and about (such as errands, shopping, etc.)

The iPhone version of OmniFocus is my least favorite of the three apps. And, unfortunately, it’s my least favorite because it handles one of its most important functions very poorly: quick entry.

So say I’m standing in line at Chipotle and I suddenly think of an excellent topic I want to add to my upcoming book, and I want to work on it tomorrow morning during my writing time.

Here’s the steps necessary: (1) unlock iPhone; (2) launch OmniFocus; (3) tap the Quick Entry button on the bottom right; (4) enter task name: “Add cool new section to the book”; (5) tap the Project picker; (6) type in the first few letters of the name of the project; (7) tap the name of the project; (8) tap the Due date picker; (9) tap the “+1 Day” button to set the task to be due tomorrow; (10) tap “Save”.

If you don’t include the time it takes to pull my iPhone out of my pocket and unlock it, then the time it takes to enter in this “quick” entry takes about 30 seconds. Not an incredibly long time, but it’s not an easy 30 seconds.

I could just toss the task into my OmniFocus inbox and save myself half of those steps, but why would I do that when I already know the project and due date for this task? Ignoring that data is simply putting it off to a later time.

In a nut, my quibble with the iPhone is that the new task entry page does not have a clearly defined hierarchy. Thus, even after 9 months of using it every day, I’m still not familiar with the new task entry layout.

iPad

I use the iPad mostly for doing my reviews and scrubbing my daily list of things to do. The iPad version of OmniFocus was my favorite, but it’s now tied with the Mac because the new Mac version is so great.

Every morning, I scrub my to-do list by looking at what’s due today and what’s available to be done in the projects I’m excited about working on today. I start by writing down my “Big Three” tasks I want to get done (these are sometimes important tasks that are due, but they’re often part of the projects I have motivation to keep working on). These “Big Three” are how I’ll define success for my work day, and it’s what gives me the primary direction for what to work on once I sit down at my keyboard.

I also have a bit of admin and email time as part of my day, and so I use OmniFocus to tell me what specifics I’ll be working on during the day.

I then move that day’s tasks to paper and map out a rough timeline for when I plan to tackle the big tasks and when I plan to wrap up my day.

The Morning To-Do List Scrub

Mac

Since I work from my Mac for hours a day, I use OmniFocus here quite a bit. It’s almost always running because I send a lot of tasks into OmniFocus using the Quick Entry popup, and during my times in the day when I work through some of my “Admin” context tasks, I reference OmniFocus for what needs to be done.

And with that, let’s talk about the new version of OmniFocus for Mac.

New and Improved: OmniFocus 2 for Mac

It’s brand new, and here’s what’s most awesome:

  1. Gorgeous new design — finally.
  2. Forecast view — straight out of the iPad app.
  3. Much improved Review mode — also from the iPad.
  4. Quick Open — a way to jump to a specific perspective, project, context, or folder without leaving your keyboard.

There’s more, of course, but these are the new elements of OmniFocus 2 for Mac that I personally am most excited about.

The Design of OmniFocus 2 for Mac

Form follows function. Design isn’t just how it looks, design is also how it works. Etcetera. Well, OmniFocus 1 had the function — it worked great — but form? Not so much.

Fortunately, you could tweak the colors, typefaces, and spacing of the original OmniFocus. Myself, and others, had our own neat themes to improve slightly on the default design of the app. I felt my theme helped give some much-needed space to the app, but it never felt great.

Which is why there’s no contest about what the biggest update to the new version of OmniFocus is: the design.

For me, the complete visual overhaul of the app is reminiscent of getting my first Nintendo for Christmas — I wanted it so badly for so long and I cannot believe it actually happened. Yes!

A Visual History of OmniFocus

I’ve written about OF’s visual history before and I’d like to do so again. Not only do I think it’s interesting and fascinating, I think taking a look at how far the app has come gives some context and appreciation for the current state of the app as well as it being a brief study in user interface design.

OmniFocus’s roots are as an add-on to OmniOutliner Pro called Kinkless (kGTD), which was built and developed by Ethan Schoonover. Though it was incredibly brilliant, kGTD was also a hack. It was a bunch of AppleScripts that ran on a single OmniOutliner document to bring it certain features. It also had some custom buttons and even some Quicksilver actions for quick entry.

Here is what Kinkless GTD looked like (circa 2006):

Khoi Vihn's Kinkless GTD Setup

In 2006, Omni Group asked Schoonover, along with Merlin Mann, to help take the ideas and functions of kGTD and turn them into an official Omni task-management application.

Here’s the first publicly displayed mockup, showing what OmniFocus could have looked like:

Original OmniFocus UI Mockup

After more than a year of private development with a group of about 500 alpha users, OmniFocus went into public beta in November 2007, and in January 2008, OmniFocus 1.0 was released.

OmniFocus 1.0 (circa January 2008):

OmniFocus Version 1.0

OmniFocus 1.10 (circa yesterday, May 21, 2014) :

OmniFocus User Interface, version 1.10

As you can see, not much in the UI has changed from the original Kinkless implementation of 2005 to what OmniFocus is today in 2014.

But all that began to change with the first beta of OmniFocus for Mac 2.

Little over a year ago, on February 1, 2013, the beta of OmniFocus 2 for the Mac was introduced.

Beta 1 of OmniFocus 2 (circa Feb 2013):

Beta 1 of OmniFocus 2 for Mac

Beta 1 of OmniFocus 2 for Mac

However, during the beta testing process, the Omni Group realized they needed to go back to the drawing board, and in June 2013 they pressed pause on the public beta.

During that 5-month testing window in 2013, I gave the beta 1 a good college try but kept drifting back to my original version of OmniFocus that I’d been using for the past 4 years. In short, I never felt all that comfortable navigating that OmniFocus beta. It felt more like a fancy new theme for the Mac app and not a significant improvement of the app’s primary functionality.

Omni Group’s time at the drawing board paid off, and a couple months ago they re-introduced the OmniFocus for Mac beta with a completely overhauled design.

And that awesome design is front and center of what is shipping today.

OmniFocus 2 for Mac (May 22, 2014):

Beta 2 of OmniFocus 2 for Mac

As you can see, there are quite a few noticeable changes between the beta 1 and beta 2 designs of the new OmniFocus for Mac.

For one, the left-aligned checkboxes have been swapped out with right-aligned checkcircles. The checkcircles are pretty cool, I think. For one, they’re a design cue from the iPhone app. But they’re also quite clever.

Technically, they’re called “Status Circles”. From the release notes:

Status Circles provide a colorful nexus of information about each task: is it overdue, flagged, complete, repeating?

Here’s a look at several of the various states of the status circle. (Note that all these items are due, and thus the circles are orange/red instead of grey.)

OmniFocus 2 for Mac - Status Circles

From top to bottom:

  • Red means it’s overdue
  • Orange means it’s due today
  • Grey with a check means it’s been completed
  • The blue background with blue stroke on the edge means that’s the currently selected task
  • The orange box hiding behind the circle is the click target to flag an item. It appears when the mouse is hovering over a task.
  • The little flag to the right means the task has been flagged. The top of the circle also turns a darker orange.
  • The three dots inside a circle mean it’s a repeating task.

The right alignment of the Status Circles is growing on me. At times they feel a bit annoying because when I’m in OmniFocus to check off a task I’ve just completed, I need to first scan the left margin to find the task and then use my mouse to follow that column over to the right in order to decipher which circle on the right-side corresponds with the task on the left. But, the more I use this app the more I like the Status Circles, and their clear portrayal of an action item’s status.

Moreover, by right-aligning the circles, they fit right in with the app’s overarching task hierarchy layout, which now has a clear structure that flows from left to right:

OmniFocus 2 - the left-to-right hierarchy

Click for full-size

  1. On the left-most side are the tabs for different views. Note also that these tabs sport “color bars” to indicate when they have “interesting” content, such as due or overdue actions in the Forecast Perspective, projects that need to be reviewed in the Review Perspective, or unfilled items in the Inbox. You can adjust which tabs can be highlighted in the Notifications panel in the app’s Preferences.

  2. Next to the Tabs column is the list of information relevant to the selected tab. If you’re in Forecast view then you’ll see a calendar, if you’re in the Projects view then you’ll see a list of all your projects, etc.

  3. Third is the main task list displaying the tasks themselves. Here you see only the to-do items for whichever project, context, or date you have selected.

    And here is why the right-alignment of the Status Circles makes sense. Because the status of a task (due, overdue, flagged, repeating, completed, available) is logically more granular than the task itself.

  4. And lastly, on the right-most pane is the task’s information panel where you can adjust all the detailed metadata related to that task if you so desire.

Every one of the design changes in OmniFocus 2 for Mac is an improvement on an app that has been desperate for a visual overhaul for years. The visual overhaul has been worth the wait.

Quick Open

Mash down on CMD+O and the “Quick Open” dialog box pops up.

OmniFocus 2 for mac - Quick Open

Type in the name of a project, folder, context, or perspective and it will auto-fill your text and give you live suggestions (just like you get when doing a Google search).

Quick Open

Quick Open is an easy and fast way to jump to any other section within OmniFocus. But I wish it were just a little bit more powerful…

Whither Universal Search?

My biggest gripe here is that I would love to see universal search. This has always bugged me in OmniFocus, and it was something I was hoping would make it into the new version. Alas, not yet.

When searching in OmniFocus you only see results (or lack thereof) based on the current view. Which means that if you are ever looking for a specific task, if it’s not in front of you already, you have to change OmniFocus’s perspective to one that will list out all your tasks in a giant list. Then you can search for that task and hopefully find it.

I would love to have a universal search that helps me find a task based on its title or note regardless of what my current view / perspective is.

Review and Forecast

The two greatest features of the iPad version are now with us on the Mac. As stated above, I now pretty much live in the Forecast view, and the review mode is just great — though I still prefer to do my reviews on the iPad. I’m glossing over these a bit here, because anyone who’s familiar with OmniFocus on the iPad or iPhone is already aware of how great and useful these two features are. Anyone new to OmniFocus entirely will get introduced to these features when first launching the app.

OmniFocus 2: Standard vs Pro

OmniFocus 2 for Mac now comes in two flavors: Standard and Pro. They cost $40 and $80 respectively (or upgrade for $20 / $40 respectively). All the information about upgrading can be found on the OmniFocus support site.

The biggest difference between the Standard and Pro version is that the latter has a few additional (and powerful) options for customization and adding your own “power features” for seeing and manipulating your tasks. But the core function of the database and everything else is there for everyone.

The Pro features are: (1) the ability to create custom perspectives and to place them in the sidebar; (2) a special Focus view with its own shortcut key that shows you only the currently due tasks within a certain project; and (3) AppleScript support.

From where I’m sitting, I think the Standard version of OmniFocus is probably going to be great for most people. If you don’t already know that you want the Pro features, then save some money (and fiddle-ability) and get the Standard version. While there are a lot of cool things people will tell you that you can do with custom perspectives and AppleScripts, how likely are you to utilize them?

Or, here’s another way to figure out if the Standard version is right for you: Do you almost exclusively use the default views and features in the iPad? If so, then the Standard version of the Mac app will suit you great.

However, that said, here’s a bit more information about what’s in the Pro version (and why I personally am upgrading to it):

  • Custom perspectives: They are nice, but I don’t find them nearly as necessary in OmniFocus 2 as I did in OmniFocus 1. In OF1 I used a custom “Today” perspective that only showed me items that are due (or overdue) today. But that perspective is moot in OF2 because I now live almost entirely in the Forecast view.

    What’s nice about a custom perspective is if you have a particular project or context that you often want to bring up. You can set a project / context as its own new perspective by going to the Perspectives menu → Add New Perspective. Then, when you click the star next to the perspective, it will show up in your OmniFocus sidebar.

    As always, you can set your own custom icons and images for your custom perspectives. I’d highly recommend checking out Jory’s Year of Icons and grab one of the PNGs to use as a custom icon. Unfortunately you cannot replace the default icons that OmniFocus ships with for Inbox, Projects, Contexts, Forecast, Flagged, and Review.

  • Focus on Folders and Projects: This is one feature I don’t utilize at all, but depending on how you have your projects and areas of responsibility organized, it could be a massive help.

    When you enable Focus mode (found under the View menu), OmniFocus hides any and all tasks and projects that aren’t part of the folder or project that you’re focusing on. And they’re not just hidden from the current view, they are hidden throughout the whole app as if they never existed.

    I was talking with Derek Reiff of the Omni Group about the Focus feature, and he shared with me how he uses it:

    Focus is about moving away everything you don’t currently need to see. I separate my tasks at the very top level by using two folders: Work and Home. When I’m at the Omni Group office, I enable Focus on the Work folder and every view or perspective I switch to from that point on will only show Work actions and projects. Then, when I go home, I enable Focus on the Home folder to hide all my Work-related actions and projects.

    If you keep the whole of your life’s tasks in OmniFocus — your job, your side hobby, your home projects, etc. — you just might love the Focus mode.

  • AppleScript Support: This is what compels me to upgrade to the Pro version of OmniFocus 2. I have a couple of AppleScripts that I use with OmniFocus on a regular basis, and it’s worth it for me to pay the additional cost of upgrade to continue to have access to them.

    Here are some links to those scripts, only the OopsieFocus script needed to be updated to work nicely with OmniFocus 2:

    • OopsieFocus: An AppleScript that launches OmniFocus and brings up the Quick Entry box for you on those times you hit the Quick Entry hotkey but realize that OmniFocus isn’t actually running.

      (If you’re using the Standard version of OmniFocus 2, this script can still launch OmniFocus, but it won’t be able to automatically bring up the Quick Entry box.)

    • Send all the Safari Tabs to OmniFocus (with this addition for adding a confirmation notification): This script grabs all the open tabs in Safari’s front-most window and creates a new to-do item in your OmniFocus Inbox with the Title and URL of each tab listed out within the task’s note.

    • Send current Safari Tab to OmniFocus: This isn’t an AppleScript, it’s a snippet of Javascript that’ll work with the Standard version of OmniFocus 2 (and it works in the iOS apps, too). All it does is bring up the Quick Entry box with the title of the website as the task name, and the URL of the website in the note.

Wrap up

This new version of OmniFocus is more feature-rich while also being cleaner, more organized, and more logical. The design brings a structured peacefulness to the wild animal that is my never-ending task list. And that’s quite a feat, because our to-dos are, by nature, neither structured nor peaceful.

You can get OmniFocus 2 on the Mac App Store, or direct from Omni Group’s website.

Thursday, May 22

Very special setup interview this week: The one and only, Jason Snell:

I’m Jason Snell. I’m the editorial director at IDG Consumer, so I manage the editorial group that runs Macworld, PCWorld, TechHive, and Greenbot. In my spare time I also do The Incomparable, a weekly podcast about geeky pop culture that has somehow turned into a podcast network of its own.

Lots of fun and nerdy tidbits from a guy who has been using a Mac for decades. But one thing drives me bonkers about Snell’s setup: he places his MacBook Air into the Twelve South bookArc upside down! What? Why?

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