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.

A Review of OmniFocus 2 for Mac

Flickr 3.0

Flickr for iPhone version 3

Flickr shipped a massive update to their iPhone app just a few days ago. As an avid user of both Flickr and an iPhone, I wanted to share my thoughts about their new app and bit about the state of Flickr in general.

In short, it’s a fantastic app sporting one of the best iOS 7 updates I’ve seen. It has many visual tie-ins with the also-recently-updated Flickr website. All in all, I am encouraged about the future of Flickr and their resolve to avoid obsolescence.

Instagram Inspiration

There is a lot of Instagram-type inspiration going on, and I like it. When scrolling down the main timeline view you can double-tap on an image favorite it; all images in your main timeline view are shown as edge-to-edge squares even if the image itself is a different aspect ratio.

The notifications screen that shows all the activity happening on your account (people who have liked your images, favorited them, and/or new followers) is also reminiscent of the Instagram notification screen.

In the main photo stream timeline, when someone has uploaded several photos, you see them as a collage of 2 or 3. You can tap on one of the photos you see to bring that photo’s detail view, or you can tap the button to “view all photos” and you’re taken to a gallery-type view showing all the photos in that set.

Navigating around the app

Virtually everything within the app is tappable as a link, which is great. It’s very easy to find and explore new photos and photographers, and thus it’s easy to drill down deep within the app.

Alas, there is no shortcut to get back to any of the top level tabs of the app. Suppose you tap on someone’s photo, then go to their profile timeline page, then tap onto another photo in their timeline, tap onto the comments of that photo, and then tap onto the someone who left a comment to view their profile timeline. Well, now you’re 5 layers deep into the app and it will take 5 taps to get back to the top. And, to add some lemon juice, to exit out of an individual photo view, you have to tap the “x” that’s in the top-right corner of the screen, but to go back a level when you’re on someone’s profile page, you have to tap the back arrow that is on the top-left of the screen. Moreover, since the Flickr app doesn’t have any gestural-based navigation (you can’t swipe from left-to-right to go back), the only way to navigate out of someone’s profile photo stream view is to scroll to the top to reveal the back button.

Overall, the app is extremely well designed and easy to navigate and figure out. The nature of the design and content encourage (in a good way) getting lost in the app and discovering photos and photographers. Just an easier way to get back to the trail head is all I’m asking for.

Pull to Refresh

The pull-to-refresh animation is quite clever. If you’re at the top of the main timeline view, pulling down reveals a white dot. As you continue to pull down to refresh, the white dot gradually turns pink as it simultaneously gets surrounded by a thick blue line (the two colors of the Flick logo). Then the blue line and pink dot separate to form the the two-dot Flickr logo and they sort of spin/orbit around one another.

This animation is even cooler when you pull to refresh from someone’s profile page. The blue line forms around the person’s circle avatar, and those two dots orbit around one another as the page refreshes and then the avatar sort of slingshots back up to where it was.

Auto-Uploading and Privacy

The Flickr app can auto-upload your iPhone photos just like Dropbox does.

So far as I can tell, once you’ve enabled the app’s auto-uploading feature, only your preceding photographs (and screenshots) will be uploaded to Flickr. It won’t begin uploading your whole iPhone Camera Roll.

All your auto-uploaded photos are automatically set to private. This is, in fact, a setting that you cannot change. I like that it’s a non-adjustable setting because it means nobody will accidentally set all their uploads to be public.

Photos that are set to private won’t show up in any public timelines and they are hidden from anyone who views your Flickr profile. You, however, will see the photos the same way all other photos appear in your timeline, and you can set any image to be public if you wish.

Within the iPhone app, photos that are set to private have a little lock icon in their top-left corner. On the Flickr website, the only way to know if a photo is set to private or not is by going to the image’s permalink page where you can see a lock icon.

On the left is what my Flickr photo stream looks like to me, and on the right is what it looks like to others.

Flickr for iPhone version 3

p.s. Here’s what it looks like in a web browser.

For photos that you upload manually from the Flickr app, you are given the option to set the photo’s visibility to Public, Private, Friends only, Family only, or Friends and Family only. (For those not familiar with how Friends and Family works in Flickr, when you chose to follow someone you can define if they are a friend or a family member. Thus, you’re given the option to also set a photo’s visibility to only those groups. Which is actually really great.)

You can also share the upload to Twitter, Facebook, and/or Tumblr. As well as adding the photo to a location (via the Foursquare API), and adding to any of your Flickr Albums (or create a new Album).

The idea of Flickr as a photo Syncing and sharing service

Flickr gives you 1TB (!) of free photo storage, which is pretty amazing.

That amount of storage is certainly enticing when trying to consider a photo backup service to use, but I see two downsides:

  1. For one I’m not sure if I want all my iPhone photos to be in my Flickr account. The past couple years I’ve been only putting my best / favorite photos up to Flickr. There are a lot of silly, blurry, goofy images on my iPhone’s camera roll.
  2. Secondly, not counting the iPhone app, there’s no automatic uploading of my photos to Flickr. I have to manually upload my images. And, suppose I were to upload today all my photos from 2013 — they would appear at the top of my Flickr timeline, because Flickr doesn’t auto-sort by original photo date.

While there are some cool possibilities with using Flickr as a hub for photo sharing and syncing, it’s still not there yet.

In-App Filters

The Flickr app continues to let you take and edit photos as well.

Below is an image of my wife, Anna, holding our new nephew, Simon. The image itself was shot with my E-M10. In clockwise starting with the top-left image: (1) the original out-of-camera JPG; (2) a version edited with the new Flickr app using the Brooklyn filter; (3) edited on the iPhone VSCO Cam app using the F2 filter; and (4) a version edited in Lightroom on my Mac using the VSCO Film 05, Agfa Vista 100 preset.

Flickr for iPhone version 3

(Tap the image to bring up an enlarged view.)

I tried to pick the filter in each app that I liked best for this photograph. Here, comparing them side-by-side here, the Flickr version looks the most dramatic and “cheesy”. I think the VSCO Film version looks the most natural and nice. The VSCO Cam version looks great as well, though it too — for a one-tap filter application on an iPhone, I’m impressed.

Miscellany

  • For a few days, if you installed the Flickr iPhone app onto your iPad you got a watermelon icon. Apparently it was an easter egg placed there by Flickr as a hint that the iPad app is coming soon.

  • When you’re in the detail view of a photograph, you can “toss it around” just like you can with Tweetbot 3 for iPhone. This is a neat and fun touch. However, it’s also the only way to exit the detail view aside from tapping the “x” in the upper-right corner.

    When you tap a photo, it brings up that image in full-view. Tap it again and all the text and photo info on the screen disappears, giving you the “lightbox” mode. Tap in lightbox mode to go back to image-only view with the relevant text again.

  • When leaving a comment, there is no way to reply to a particular person’s comment. You can only type your comment out, but not have it be an “@reply”.

Wrap

The new Flickr app is one of the nicest iOS 7 apps I’ve seen. Its links and tappable areas are clear, it does a great job using blur effects, and it’s easy and delightful to use.

Flickr has so many things right. The whole way the site works is clever, thought through, and useful. But times are changing and so there is still much that Flickr needs to catch up on. But I love that it’s making serious strides forward, and that Yahoo is taking the service seriously. I’ve been a Flickr user for years and I use it now more than I ever have. It’s encouraging and exciting to see these improvements to their website, service, and mobile apps.

Flickr 3.0

A Visual History of OmniFocus for Mac

The Omni Group has been around for 25 years.

Founded in 1989 as a technology consulting firm, they used to build custom software for NextSTEP users until Apple bought NeXT in 1997. Now Omni builds and sells their own software for OS X and iOS. Not least of which is OmniFocus.

But did you know OmniFocus for Mac was somewhat built by chance?

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 a hack. It was a bunch of AppleScripts that sat on top of a single OmniOutliner document with 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 of 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. At that time they also began pre-selling licenses and OmniFocus pre-sold over 2,500 copies in the first 5 days of the public beta.1

Finally, on January 8, 2008, OmniFocus 1.0 was launched.2

OmniFocus 1.0 (circa January 2008):

OmniFocus Version 1.0

Here’s the latest public version of OmniFocus (version 1.10):

OmniFocus User Interface, version 1.8

As you can see, not much in the UI has changed from the original Kinkless implementation of 2005 to what OmniFocus is today in 2010. You could say that OmniFocus 2 is kGTD 2.

But all that changed with the beta of OmniFocus for Mac 2.

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.

Last year, during the testing window, I gave the beta 1 a good college try but just kept drifting back to my original version of OmniFocus that I’ve been using for the past 4 years. In short, I never felt all that comfortable navigating the previous OmniFocus beta.

However, earlier this week, Omni Group re-introduced the OmniFocus for Mac beta with a significantly updated design.

Beta 2 of OmniFocus 2 for Mac (circa March 2014)

Beta 2 of OmniFocus 2 for Mac

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 (a cue from the iPhone app). Additionally, the whole task hierarchy now has a clear structure that flows from left to right.

On the left-most side are the tabs for different views, then in the next column is the list of information relevant to the selected tab, next to that is the main task list displaying the tasks for the project, context, or date selected, and then on the right-most pane is the task’s information panel where you can fine-tune metadata related to that task if you so desire.

Aside from the right-hand alignment of the new checkcircles, I think every one of the changes in this newest OmniFocus beta is an improvement on an app that has been desperate for a visual overhaul for years.

The new beta version of OmniFocus for Mac feels peaceful to me. It’s open, clean, organized, and logical. I like it.


  1. Contrast that against today’s public beta which has 30,000 users on the list.
  2. It seems like OmniFocus has been around for ages, but it’s actually younger than the iPhone.
A Visual History of OmniFocus for Mac

Checkmark 2

Here is a huge update to my favorite location-based reminders app, Checkmark.

In addition to location-based reminders, Checkmark 2 now supports scheduled and repeating reminders as well as a general project/list section. So not only is Checkmark the best app for location-based reminders, but it now aims to be your one-stop shop for all tasks and reminders, regardless of when, where, or what they are for.

I’m still deep into OmniFocus for my general to-do list, and I usually use Siri or Fantastical for setting time-based reminders. But the location-centric stuff in Checkmark is the best there is, and now it’s even better than before.

The big update with how Checkmark handles the location-based reminders is that you can now create location groups. Hooray!

Now, I don’t know about you, but my wife and I don’t shop at just one grocery store all the time; we shop at like six. In Checkmark 2, I created a location group with all the grocery stores we shop at. Then, no matter which of those stores I show up to, Checkmark will remind me of any items I’ve added to that group. (Gosh would I love to see shared reminders with this.)

Here’s how you create a group:

  • You start out just like you would create a location.
  • From the “Where” section, tap the plus button and name your location (example: “Grocery Stores” / “Hardware Stores” / “Ice Cream Shops”).
  • Next tap “Add from map” to search for the places you want to add (or Add from location if you’re at the place you want to add).
  • Once you’ve found one of the locations and the pin for it has dropped, then tap into the search box again to search for the next place you want to add.
  • Once you’ve got all the pins for that group dropped, then tap “Done”
  • Select your icon and tap Done again.

Now you have a location group and you are on your way to being the the master of never forgetting to check out this season’s sink selection next time you go to the hardware store to buy charcoal for your grill.

You can add or remove locations from a group by tapping into that group, tapping the settings gear icon in the upper-right corner, and then editing the location. I have found creating and editing groups to be a little bit finicky at times. But once a group is created, then your golden.

In addition to the awesomeness of the new groups feature, Checkmark is still faster than using any other app for adding a location-based reminder (even for specific spots, not groups). And, most importantly, Checkmark is incredibly reliable for triggering upon the arrival / departure of a location.

My one quibble with Checkmark is it’s assumption that time-based reminders are the most important. When launching Checkmark, it opens to wherever you last were in the app. If however, the app has been cleared from memory since the last time you launched it, or if you’ve restarted your iPhone, then Checkmark’s default landing screen is the “When” section. And currently there’s no way to change this setting. Which oftentimes means creating a new location-based reminder requires two additional taps: one to open the basement menu and one to tap the “Where” tab. But this is a minor quibble, and I’ve heard it may be resolved in a future update to the app.

I’ve long been a user and a fan of Checkmark because I think it handles location-based reminders better than any other app out there, including Apple’s own Reminders app. You can snag Checkmark 2 in the App Store for just $3.

Checkmark 2

This Is a Review of Day One’s New Publish Feature

Day One Publish

In a nut, the new Publish feature in Day One is a way to share your thoughts and memories with your closest friends and family or with the whole world.

Publish lets you selectively upload Day One entries to the Web, and from there you can share the URL with whomever you like.

For example, here is an entry in my Day One journal about my recent excursions at a local coworking space. And here’s another entry with a rating/review of this morning’s cup of coffee.

As of this review, you can only publish an entry via the iPhone app, though there’s a soon-coming update for iPad that will allow publishing. Meanwhile, the Mac app has been updated to support the new custom Publish metadata (such as views on an entry, retweets, etc.), but an update to the Mac version that allows you to publish entries won’t be available until later this year.

To publish an entry from your iPhone, start by creating an entry (or going to one that you’ve already made) in Day One. Then tap the little ribbon-bookmark icon in the bottom left corner (that’s the Publish icon). If it’s your first time you’ll be prompted to create an account, and then you can publish that entry to the Web.

Before publishing, you get control over if that entry is auto-posted to your Twitter, Facebook, or Foursquare account. You also get to choose if the location of that entry is shared.

Once you’ve published an entry, the Day One app will show you stats about how many people have viewed that entry and how many liked, faved, or RTed your tweet / Facebook status update about that journal entry. And Published entries are quickly identified within your Day One app’s timeline view because of their blue date instead of black. Moreover, you can update a published entry and/or remove it from being published.

You don’t have to share your published entries with your legions of social network followers. You see, people can only get to entries that they have the direct link to. So, say, for example, you publish two entries: one you share with all of your twitter followers and the other you share with just your family. Well, neither group will ever come across a link that would send them on to the other entry you published.

Day One Publish is not like a blog where links to other entries are auto-generated and once you come across one you can find all the others. No, each published entry is an island.

I asked Paul Mayne, the man behind Day One, to share a bit more about just how private / non-discoverable published entries are and why there is not an option for password protecting them. Paul wrote to me in an email, saying:

By default, published entries are hidden from search engines and visible only to anyone you give the URL. Of course, if you are sharing to a public feed on Twitter, Facebook, or Foursquare, the URL will be indexed and searchable.

We feel our current approach is a solid solution to share entries semi-privately with close friends and family. Also, we’re planning to add an option to easily share published entries via email in a future update.

I’m satisfied with how Day One handles the privacy of each entry. I’m obviously never going to publish anything that is so sensitive or personal that I wouldn’t want just anybody to come across it. If and when there are certain journal entries that I don’t want to be online at all but that I do want to share with close friends or family, it’s quite easy to just email those entries from within the Day One app.

After using Day One’s Publish feature for the past two weeks, I think it’s cool on a couple of levels.

For one, Publish gives you the chance to share moments you want to share. And thus, it actually gives a bit of “social motivation” to enter things into Day One. The truth is, we like to share thoughts, photos, quotes, and musings with the world, but a lot of times we also want to save those moments for later. Publish is a classy way for us to create journal entries in our own personal journal, but then, with the tap of a button, we can share those entries with whomever we want — even the whole world.

Secondly, with Publish, the Day One team also wins because when people share their Published entries they are, in a sense, advertising for Day One. They’re providing an awesome service to current users that will, in term, generate new users, and therefore make the app’s development more sustainable and profitable.

This brings me to another question I asked Paul, regarding the cost of Publish and if it would be free forever. He replied that the current offering is free, but they are looking into additional premium features in the future.

Also, Paul wrote to me saying: “We’re currently hard at work on Day One 2.0. A cool feature with it will be current and historical activity feeds as starting points for creating and adding entries to Day One. We are [also] working towards enabling more web-based Publish and Day One features.”

* * *

The whole point of a journal (digital or analog) is to chronicle as much of our life as we are willing. I’ve been using Day One for a couple of years now, and the more I use it, the more I get ideas for how to use it better.

The guys at Day One say that Publish has been a side-project of theirs since the very beginning and is the start of “an exciting 2014 for Day One.” In my short time with Publish, I’ve found that it has a surprisingly ancillary effect of encouraging the journaling process just a little bit more. I still consider Day One to be the best journaling app out there, and if this is just the start of what they’ve got in store for updates coming this year, then I’m excited to see what’s next.

You can get Day One for iPhone + iPad here and the Mac version here. Although, right now you can only use the Publish feature from the iPhone version of the app.

This Is a Review of Day One’s New Publish Feature

Unread for iPhone: A New Breed of RSS Reader

There are some apps which, due to the nature of their usage and/or contents, seem to earn a more personal connection from the user than other apps. Twitter apps I think are like this because they’re filled with the life updates, corny jokes, and selfies of our friends and family. Writing apps also can garner a connection with their users because they serve as the tool where we express our thoughts and feelings.

And though one might expect an RSS app to be insipid, or, at best, utilitarian, I find them quite the opposite — because they’re filled with the recent articles, photographs, and stories of my hand-chosen, favorite writers, photographers, and news outlets.

An RSS reader is the window into your curated world.

* * *

Like so many other life-changing moments, my relationship with RSS readers began in a church pew.

It was a Sunday morning in early 2007, and our Church had Wi-Fi, and I was sitting in a back corner with a friend, and instead of using my PowerBook G4 to take notes I was surfing the web reading all my favorite blogs.

If you’ve read my review of NetNewsWire, you’re already familiar with the story: I used to keep all the blogs I enjoyed reading in a bookmark folder in Safari on my Mac. But that Sunday morning, sitting next to my friend, he introduced me to an RSS reader.

“You can follow all those sites in one spot, you know?”

I didn’t know.

He set me up with the RSS reader in Safari (which has long since been removed). But I soon moved on to Vienna, and then NetNewsWire 3.1 on the Mac (which, in my humble opinion, is one of the all-time best pieces of Mac software ever).

I’ve also used Google Reader, NewsGator Online, Reeder for Mac, iPad, and iPhone, ReadKit, NetNewsWire on my iPhone, Byline, Fever, and probably a few more.

And now, today, we have Unread. It’s a brand new RSS app for the iPhone, and it is fantastic.

Unread

I have been using Unread throughout its beta period for the past two months, and in that time it has quietly usurped the previous RSS reader on my home screen.

Unread works with Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, and Feedly. I’ve been using it with my Feed Wrangler account and it loads my unread items extremely quickly.

Unread is also very fun. It’s full of subtle animations and easy gestures. The app is understated, extremely readable, and welcoming.

It’s not that there’s anything in particular. There’s just a simple elegance to it. The app is well designed and nice to use.

It’s on launch sale for just $3 and I think it’s worth 10 times that. I paid $30 for NetNewsWire on my Mac half a decade ago, and now, years later, I’m using Unread on my iPhone instead.

Unread is somewhat different than any other app I’ve used before. And yet it’s also quite familiar. It has all the expected features — you can send an article to Instapaper or share it on Twitter or text message it to your friends — and yet they feel unexpected. The share sheet slides in from the right-hand side, and feels akin to the bouncy and playful animations of Tweetbot 3.

Design

I’ve long been a fan of Jared Sinclair’s design taste, and I consider Riposte to be one of the finest apps on my iPhone. I can’t put my finger on precisely what it is, but if I had to explain it in one word then I’d say Unread is peaceful.

But my hunch is that Unread will prove to be a somewhat polarizing app. Some, like me, will love it. Others, undoubtedly, will not like it.

The app has nearly both feet in iOS 7, but there is still a toe or two in iOS 6. There are little things — such as the design of the status bar at the top of the screen — that still feel reminiscent of iOS designs from yesteryear. But don’t read that as a dig against the app’s design…

The status bar doesn’t look like it belongs in the past, but it does have a slight nostalgic feel to it that is reminiscent of the more skeumorphic, graphics-heavy iOS designs of old. I am a fan of the status bar.

Gestures

When talking about Riposte, developer Jared Sinclair, said this:

We take push/pop transitions at face value: swiping to go back is like pulling yourself back to where you were before. If I can’t picture an app as a set of cards laid out in a grid on a table, I can’t understand it.

That exact same gesture-reliant design philosophy is prevalent all throughout Unread as well. The set of cards include (starting at the left-most, topmost “card”) the Home screen, the list of subscribed feeds and any folders or groups, the list of articles in those feeds, and then the article itself.

Hovering (theoretically) at all times to the right, is the share/action card. Pulling from right-to-left in any screen slides in the share sheet. From there you get access to a list of relevant actions and settings.

Unread App - Share Sheets

Common settings include changing themes (dark, light, and others), marking all articles as read, and more.

But the action sheet shows different options based on the context of when it was summoned. If you’re acting on a specific article, for example, then you have the option to “Share” the article and thus send it to Instapaper, Pinboard, OmniFocus, Twitter, your Safari Reading List, and more. To share a specific article directly from the article list view you have to tap and hold on that article.

By using this gesture-based share sheet, Unread has no persistent toolbar when reading an article. When in the various list views you see the status bar on top and a “navigation” bar on bottom that tells you where you are in the app. But when reading an individual article, you’re in full screen mode with nothing visible but the article itself.

Navigation and density

Unread’s home screen is where you start with access to the app’s settings and other special miscellany, as well as the RSS syncing platform of your choice (FeedWrangler, Feedbin, and/or Feedly). You then drill down to the high-level list of your feeds under your syncing engine account, and from there you can select which list of your articles you want to dig in to: all unread, all articles, one of your smart streams or folders, or your specific site feeds.

All of these sections — these “cards” — exude the basic design philosophy and opinion of Jared Sinclair: that the app would be a relaxing and enjoyable experience. But it is especially present when perusing down your list of individual unread articles.

Unlike most other RSS apps I’ve used, Unread shows considerably more content-per-article when viewing the list of articles. I’m used to seeing a condensed list of articles that shows each article title and time of posting (akin to email). In Unread, however, you see the article title, name of the website, time of posting, the first few sentences of the article, and, if there is an image as part of the article, then the image is shown as well.

Unread is not dense.

Unread App - Article List View

At first, this less-dense view irked me. But I quickly acclimated to it and now prefer it, even look forward to it.

Scrolling is free. In a context where I am assessing each individual article to decide if I want to read it or not, viewing just 2 or 3 article summaries on the screen at a time can be just as efficient as viewing 5 or 6 headlines. In fact, I’d argue that this less-dense list view is more efficient. For one, it presents more data per article, allowing you to read a bit of the article to help with your decision to drill down and read it in its entirety or not. And secondly, it is far easier to make a choice between 2 options than 6.

Quibbles

I do have a few nits to pick, however.

  • As it is now, when you are done reading an article, you can not go directly on to the next unread article. It would be nice to be able to go from one unread article to the next without having to go back to the list first.

  • By default, unread items persist in the list of articles (in a grayed-out state). You can get around this by tapping directly on the unread item count in a list instead of tapping on the list’s name in which you will see only the unread items in the list. However, I wish this behavior were reversed.

  • When you’re going to read a web page, the previously-loaded web page is there waiting for you until the new one comes up. Something about this feels slow or unconsidered to me.

Hooked

It was the design of Unread that hooked me right away — the app is clean, friendly, and warm, and all its type is set in Whitney — but the more I used it the more I began to appreciate and enjoy the functionality and feature decisions built into the app.

Unread is refreshingly simple and elegant. If you subscribe to RSS feeds and read them on your iPhone, take some time and use Unread for a while — I think you’ll be glad you did.

* * *

You can get Unread on the App Store (still propagating) for just $2.99.

Unread for iPhone: A New Breed of RSS Reader

The CODE Keyboard with Clear Switches

It’s quite easy to nerd out over mechanical keyboards (I have the blog posts to prove it). There is a type of satisfaction that comes with typing on a mechanical keyboard that is rare in our touch-screen, trackpad, chicklet key world. The thud, the click, the clack — the physical work it takes to type — of a mechanical keyboard is something that hooked me once I experienced it.

My first mechanical keyboard was the Macintosh version of the Das. It’s splendid, but giant. After testing a half-dozen other mechanical keyboards over the course of a few months, I’ve been using a Filco Majestouch-2 Ninja for quite a while now and I think it’s fantastic. The Filco Ninja is tenkeyless, well built, and uses the Blue switches.

I did not order a CODE Keyboard when it went on sale because the keyboard uses Clear switches which I knew I didn’t want.

My cousin, however, did order one, and over the holiday he brought it out to Kansas City so I could use it for a few weeks and then he left it with me to use for a while because he’s cool like that.

I’ve been typing on this keyboard since December 21st and my consensus is this: The CODE is an awesome keyboard, but I don’t like the feel of the Clear switches.

Right off the bat, anyone familiar with a keyboard using the popular Blue switches, will notice that the Clears are quieter. They are more muted and produce a “thud” rather than a click. The keyboard is quieter but not necessarily quiet. If you were in a small office, sitting next to someone, the keyboard is still going to make a bit of a thud and clack as the key caps themselves bottom out when you’re typing, but there isn’t the neighborhood-waking click-clack that accompanies the Blue switches.

The CODE Keyboard has been sold out for a few months primarily because of the difficulty of getting Clear switches. On the keyboard’s website they’ve posted a few updates (one last September and another last November) stating that new keyboards are in production and will include a variety of switches to chose from: Green, Brown, and Blue.

The Green switches are a new switch. They’re pretty much identical in sound and feel to the Blue switches in that they are tactile and clicky, but the Green’s have an actuation force of 80g and a bottom-out force of 105g (the Blue switches are 50g and 65g respectively). Thus, the Greens are going to offer noticeably more resistance than just about any keyboard you’ve ever used.

If/when the CODE keyboard becomes available with Blue switches, I’ll buy it in a heartbeat. Of all the different types of mechanical keyboards I’ve tried, I still remain a fan of the sound, feel, and tactile feedback of the Blue Switches. The CODE keyboard is of equal build quality as my Filco Ninja, but the LED backlighting of the CODE is just fantastic and I love it. It’s unfortunate WASD Keyboards don’t let you build a custom keyboard with LED backlighting as an option.

The CODE Keyboard with Clear Switches