I think one of the things that really separates us from the high primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing, about a third of the way down the list. It was not too proud a showing for the crown of creation. So, that didn’t look so good. But, then somebody at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And, a man on a bicycle, a human on a bicycle, blew the condor away, completely off the top of the charts.
And that’s what a computer is to me. What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.
Steve’s notion of a bicycle for our minds—a tool which we can leverage to dramatically increase our mental effectiveness—inspires us to build the apps we build here at Omni. Computers can only empower us to do whatever they’ve been programmed to do, so as developers of productivity apps it’s our role to design and build apps that empower our customers.
While all of our apps share this common goal, the way in which our apps empower customers are easier to explain for some apps than others. OmniGraffle helps communicate ideas visually. OmniPlan helps schedule complex projects. OmniFocus helps manage your personal tasks. And OmniOutliner helps you… well… outline things.
In many ways, OmniOutliner is the single app of ours that comes the closest to Steve’s vision of a “bicycle of the mind.” But in much the same way that it wasn’t always easy to explain the value of computers to people in the late ’80s, it can be difficult to explain the value of OmniOutliner to people who have never had the experience of working with a really great outlining app. We can talk about specific ways customers have used OmniOutliner, of course: to organize their class notes, write technical books, track characters in works of fiction, write screenplays for movies, track budgets and expenses, and organize doctoral theses. But a list of examples misses the point: OmniOutliner is a general-purpose tool which helps you think. It’s the app I turn to whenever I need to capture a bunch of chaotic, abstract thoughts and put them together in an organized, coherent whole.
So when we started thinking about the direction of OmniOutliner 5 for Mac, the problem of helping people discover and understand the benefits of an outlining tool was very much on our minds. And, naturally, we started thinking back over OmniOutliner’s long history. We shipped the first beta of OmniOutliner while Mac OS X was still in beta, and doing so introduced us to a passionate community of outliners who had been using great outlining tools like MORE for over a decade. In response to all their feedback and requests, we quickly iterated with version 2—and it was around this time that Phil Schiller discovered OmniOutliner, leading to Apple paying us to bundle OmniOutliner 3 with every Mac as Apple made the transition from PowerPC to Intel. With Apple shipping millions of Macs a year, this introduced OmniOutliner to a much broader audience—large enough that for many years after Apple launched iWork and stopped bundling third-party apps, we still had more people actively using the bundled copy of OmniOutliner than any of our other apps.
But it’s been another decade, and over time that huge audience of Apple customers using the bundled OmniOutliner has waned, even as the size of the entire Apple market has grown dramatically. I find more and more that our potential customers on Mac and iOS don’t really know what an outlining app is or why they might want to buy one.
Which brings me back to planning the direction of OmniOutliner 5. The direction of the Pro edition (currently in public test) was the easy part of this—for that, we simply needed to look at what our core Pro audience was telling us they needed: advanced filtering, word count, typewriter mode, and so on.
But our goals for OmniOutliner 5 were much more ambitious than that. We didn’t want to just reach out to our existing audience; we wanted to introduce the joys and benefits of outlining to a much larger audience. We decided that meant two things: we needed to make the app much simpler, and we needed to make it much more affordable.
So! With that background, I’d like to introduce you to OmniOutliner Essentials: a svelte, focused, and extremely affordable outlining app. In OmniOutliner’s new Essentials edition, your entire focus is on your own content: there are no distracting sidebars or panels. You can choose to work in a window or in a distraction-free full-screen mode, selecting from a set of beautiful built-in themes. As you write, you’ll be able to see some key statistics about your content so you can track progress towards your goals. But our goal is to help you focus on your content and whatever task you’re working on—not on the tool you’re using.
With the Essentials edition, we’ve lowered OmniOutliner’s entry price from $49.99 to an extremely affordable $9.99. And since we want our upgrade price from Essentials to Pro to be $49.99, the new list price for Pro has been lowered to $59.99:
Since OmniOutliner Essentials replaces the old Standard edition, we’ll be giving anyone who purchased Standard within the past few months a free automatic upgrade to OmniOutliner 5 Pro. And anyone who upgrades from any previous version of OmniOutliner (even those free copies Apple bundled with all those Macs a decade ago) will be eligible for a 50% discount—so you’ll be able to upgrade to the new Essentials edition for $4.99, or to the new Pro edition for just $29.99.
OmniOutliner Essentials will be available in Public Test starting today, and we’re very interested in any feedback you might have—especially from those of you who may be trying an outlining app for the first time. You can learn more and download the app here, and when you’re running the app you can choose Contact Omni from the Help menu to send email to our support humans.
I’m incredibly proud of all the work our team has done on both the Pro and Essentials editions of OmniOutliner 5, and I look forward to introducing a whole new generation to outlining!
P.S. — Yes, OmniOutliner Essentials will be coming to iOS (when we ship version 3 later this year). And yes, it supports document syncing.
Posted by Ken Case on 22 February 2017 | 9:00 am
Welcome! Each year, I like to take a little time to pause and reflect on the past year’s accomplishments, and to try to peer ahead at what I expect we will be delivering over the coming year. The future is never certain, of course! But I think it’s important to talk about where we are now and where we think we’re headed.
2017 is an anniversary year for the Omni Group! We’ll be turning 25 years old in September—which means Omni is now slightly older than any of us were back when we started the company. We’ve seen a lot of changes in our industry over those 25 years, but one of the things that has remained constant is our passion for empowering our customers by building great software and offering great support—all done with care, from our offices here in Seattle.
Looking back at our accomplishments in 2016, there are two big events that stand out in my mind. The first is that we shipped OmniGraffle 7, implementing some of the features most requested by our customers. The second is that we switched to an extensible and encrypted sync format in OmniFocus, which makes it possible for us to revisit some of the design decisions in the data model from lessons learned since we first built OmniFocus back in 2007.
There’s a lot to say about OmniGraffle 7 and I don’t want to overwhelm this post, but I think it’s worth quickly noting that version 7 implements many of the most frequently requested features our customers have asked us for over the years. This includes a number of big features like SVG import (you can paste raw SVG source text onto the canvas and it will turn into native OmniGraffle shapes), custom keyboard shortcuts (with built-in sets for “Adobe” and “Sketch” to make life easier for people who frequently switch between apps), converting text to shapes (preserving the outlines of the text from whatever font you were using), canvas autosizing in all directions (rather than just down and right), and artboards (for easily managing groups of items on a canvas).
But even beyond those big features, one of the great things about OmniGraffle 7 is that it also includes lots of little touches of polish that make common actions just a little better—things like renaming objects by double-clicking in the sidebar, suppressing the selection highlight by holding Command while dragging, and quickly measuring the distance between two shapes by clicking on one and holding Option while mousing over another. (We even restored the visibility of the “Save As” menu item so it’s no longer hidden behind the Option key.)
Again, there’s a lot more I could say about OmniGraffle 7, but rather than overwhelming this post with information about OmniGraffle 7 let me just suggest you check out our new Inside OmniGraffle website.
Version 7 wasn’t the only big update for OmniGraffle customers last year. With a major update to our free Stenciltown service, we made it easier than ever to share stencils with the rest of the community, submitting them to Stenciltown right from the app on both Mac and iOS. (In fact all of our iOS apps now have a Share button in the toolbar, making it easy to share whatever you’re currently working on with others.)
The OmniFocus team has also been busy this past year, adding support for custom font and color choices on Mac (including dark mode), adding “peek” and “pop” 3D Touch gestures on iOS, and switching to an encrypted sync format that means that someone who has physical access to your sync data is no longer able to read it unless they also know the passphrase you’ve used to encrypt it. We’ve made it as easy to automate project creation on iOS as on Mac (some would say it’s even easier), added “New Inbox Item” and expandability to our Today widget, and rewrote our Apple Watch app for much-improved performance and support for flipping between home screen tiles using the Digital Crown. And finally (if you’ll allow me to count releases which were created in 2016 but shipped in the first few days of 2017) we’ve made it as easy to do global searches on Mac as it is on iOS.
In February we shipped OmniPlan 3 for iOS, with its network diagram view, Monte Carlo simulations, and support for working with project plans created by Microsoft Project 2016. OmniPlan has been very popular, with an average rating of 4.5 stars. (Thank you!) We’ve also added App Lock to OmniPlan, so you can protect it behind a password or TouchID.
The OmniOutliner team started the year making lots of improvements to printing and exporting, and ended with OmniOutliner 5 for Mac in public test, with a revamped interface including distraction-free full-screen editing, a display of your current document’s word count, and advanced filtering options such as the ability to hide checked or unchecked items.
As you can see, we accomplished most of the items from the 2016 roadmap we’d planned at the beginning of the year—but plans never completely match up with reality, and I think it’s worth noting a few places where we diverged. We looked at implementing Markdown support for the upcoming OmniOutliner 5, but early feedback indicated that everyone had different expectations for what it would do so we ended up putting those plans on hold. (We’d still love to do it if we can find enough common expectations to make it worth doing. Please email us with yours!) We also wanted to deliver encryption of all documents stored on the Omni Sync Server—but while we’ve made a start on that by encrypting data from OmniFocus, we still have more work to do to deliver encryption support in our other apps.
On a positive note, another divergence was that we finally figured out how to offer free trials and upgrade discounts in the App Store by not charging up front for our App Store downloads (in much the same way as we don’t charge up front for our website downloads). We started this process in October when we shipped OmniGraffle 7, then brought free downloads to OmniPlan in early December.
In Q4, Apple surprised us all with their introduction of the Touch Bar in the new MacBook Pro, and we quickly saw an opportunity to use that Touch Bar to help people make better use of our apps. With OmniGraffle 7.2 we added Touch Bar support for creating and editing shapes, and with OmniPlan 3.6 we added Touch Bar support for navigating your Gantt chart with dynamic scrubbing.
Wrapping up the year, we were incredibly honored to learn that our apps made Apple’s “Best of …” list for the third year running! The trend started with OmniFocus for Mac and OmniFocus for iPad being honored as Best of 2014; then OmniPlan for Mac and OmniFocus for Apple Watch made Best of 2015; and this year we made Apple’s Best of 2016 list with OmniGraffle 7 for Mac and OmniPlan 3 for iPad. We couldn’t have done this without our wonderful customers, so thanks to all of you for your amazing support through the years!
As we turn to looking at the year ahead, let me start by confirming or reiterating a few obvious directions that many careful readers have probably already guessed (or already know) that we’re planning for 2017:
This summer, OmniFocus will be ten years old. We’ve improved a lot of things about the app over those ten years, but to maintain file format compatibility there are some things about the way we work with the app that haven’t ever changed. Last year we laid the groundwork for finally changing some of those, when we switched to a new, extensible file format and added encryption. This year, we’re going to make some fundamental improvements to the data OmniFocus keeps track of. Based on your feedback, the database changes currently at the top of our list are:
You can see already that it’s going to be a busy year! But wait, there’s more…
Last year, I ended our 2016 roadmap by talking about iPad Pro:
Finally, we’re working hard on making iPad Pro the best platform it can be. When Tim Cook introduced iPad Pro in September, he said: “iPad is the clearest expression of our vision of the future of personal computing: a simple, multi-touch piece of glass that instantly transforms into virtually anything that you want it to be.” I still find that vision as compelling as when we decided to go “iPad or Bust!” when iPad was introduced in 2010, and if we truly want to achieve that vision we still have a lot of work to do to bring more of the power of the desktop to that transforming piece of glass. I can’t wait to share the fruits of that labor with you once it’s ready!
At that point we’d already done some great work for iPad Pro, introducing freehand drawing of shapes with an Apple Pencil in OmniGraffle, making sure all of our apps adapt well to its larger screen, and adding keyboard shortcuts to our apps to support the new Apple Keyboard. And shortly after that blog post we also shipped OmniPlan 3 for iOS, which was very well-received—making the App Store’s Best of 2016. But when I said we still have a lot of work to do, none of those are what I was talking about.
Now, perhaps I should take a step back. iPad is already a very powerful and productive tool. I use mine every day, replacing the steno pads I used to carry everywhere with my iPad Pro and a few Apple Pencils. (I’m dependent enough on Apple Pencil at this point that I always carry more than one with me just to be safe.) And in their current incarnation, I’m also quite aware that they also have some pretty hard limits: they’re not going to replace my Mac, where I currently have dozens of windows open as I research and write. What I really mean to say is that our apps have just begun to tap into the iPad’s power, and that there’s a lot of opportunity to bring more of the power of our desktop apps to iPad by improving our iPad apps:
One of the ways in which we can do that is to improve the way we interact with the apps to have a more efficient user experience. For example, we can make better use of iPad Pro’s larger screen by replacing some of the popovers in our interface with slide-in panels on the left and right (as in the screenshot above), so you don’t have to keep opening and closing them every time you want to use them. (This will debut later this year in OmniGraffle 3 and OmniOutliner 3 for iOS.)
In OmniFocus for iOS, we can make it easier to see the information you care about while not distracting you with information you don’t care about, as we let you do today on the Mac using custom columns. We can make it possible to select multiple tasks and edit them all at once, as we do in our other iOS apps. And we can make it easier to send information between OmniFocus and our other apps.
But there’s an even more fundamental way we can bring an efficient desktop-class experience to our iOS apps, and that’s by enabling a completely different model of interaction altogether. One of the most important features that we’ve built into our Mac apps has been user automation, which our customers have leveraged to build great custom solutions for themselves that we would never have anticipated. Solutions which add project templates to OmniFocus, or capture your Safari tab list to your Inbox.
If there’s any single person who I would identify as the face of user automation on Mac over the past two decades, that person would be Sal Soghoian. Sal joined Apple in 1997 to serve as the product manager of automation technologies, and through these past 20 years Sal has been instrumental in making sure that those technologies continue to evolve to help computers serve the needs of humans rather than the other way around.
Right before the holidays I approached Sal to review the automation work we’ve been doing, and over the past weeks he’s been enthusiastically exploring the boundaries of what’s already possible as well as helping us see what else we need to build before shipping this. He offered that I could share a simple example he created demonstrating this automation in action:
Now, this is just a simple example: a four-line script which places a green circle on an OmniGraffle canvas. But it’s easy to imagine taking this further. Creating a schema diagram of a SQL database. Building an org chart from a phone directory. Graphing servers in your local network. Or counting how many objects of a particular type are on a canvas (like the one JTech Communications built for AppleScript).
And all of the above are just examples of one type of automation, the type you actively invoke when you want to do something. We’re also adding support for background scripts which can automatically respond to document edits. For example, you could build an OmniGraffle handler script which responds to a resizing artboard by automatically adjusting the layout of all the shapes on that artboard. Or one which automatically updates the area markers on a floor plan. In OmniOutliner, you could make a handler script which automatically adds the values from two columns to produce a third column. Or which turns a row red when its balance column goes negative. Or even a mortgage calculator. And many of these scripts will be able to work exactly the same on both Mac and iOS.
Oh, and did I mention that we’re including support for calling out to other apps by their URL handler? So you’ll be able to tie into the Workflow app and its already great ecosystem of automation. In OmniFocus, imagine the possibilities that open up when you can trigger a workflow just by checking something off!
So that’s a peek at what’s coming from Omni in our 25th year. We already have some great apps, and iPad is already a great productivity platform—but, together, I think we can make the apps and platform even better. I can’t wait to see what you all build using powerful iOS automation!
Posted by Ken Case on 24 January 2017 | 11:51 am
From the dawn of the App Store, it’s always been our goal to provide the best possible App Store experience that we can for our apps. We were there with our apps on the day the store launched, so that you could make your own choice about how you wished to purchase our software. And three years later, we finally solved the problem of offering upgrade discounts to our App Store customers, an offer which started with OmniGraffle 6 and continued through the rest of our product line.
But even with those discounts, the experience of buying our apps on the App Store still had some limitations when compared to buying directly from our own online store:
All of these limitations stem from a single underlying problem: they’re all due to the fixed cost of the original download of the app. If that download didn’t have that fixed price, all of these problems would be within our power to solve.
“Well, that’s sad,” some might say. “But that’s just the way the App Store works, isn’t it? At least you do offer customers a choice to use your own store, so it’s not like they’re forced into that experience if they don’t want it.”
I guess that’s true enough, at least for our Mac apps. But it’s still not ideal. And while customers can choose to buy directly from us on Mac, our iOS customers don’t have that choice. There’s no way for them to ever try our apps before buying them (unless they’re lucky enough to visit an Apple retail store when our apps are being featured). Or to get the price protection that we try to offer all our customers. Or to get upgrade discounts on the non-Pro edition of the app.
We’ve been asking Apple to extend the App Store to support all of these capabilities, of course. And they’ve certainly made changes to the App Store over the years to offer more flexibility in the way people buy software there, even if they haven’t addressed this specific problem.
Or… have they?
The underlying problem, as noted above, is that downloading the app has a fixed cost. We’ve always set that cost to be the standard price of our app, leaving us no way to charge less. But what if we take a fresh look at this problem, and make our downloads free? You know, like every iPhone app in the Top Grossing List has already done? It’s not that they don’t sell anything—or they wouldn’t be on that list. They just don’t sell the original download. (Which we’ve never done on our own store either.)
With the original download free, we can implement any pricing options we want to offer customers through In-App Purchases. We can offer our standard unlocks of Standard and Pro, of course. But we can also offer a free 2-week trial which unlocks all of the features of Pro and Standard, letting you freely choose between them. We can offer a discounted upgrade to the new Standard. And we can offer free upgrades to the new versions to any customers who recently purchased the old app.
Well, I’m pleased to share that that’s exactly what we’re going to do—starting next month, with the App Store edition of OmniGraffle 7:
The app is now a free download. When you first run the app, you’re asked whether you’d like to start a trial or purchase a license. But before you purchase anything, we also explain that discounted pricing is available to existing Mac App Store customers. If you check for discounts, validating your previous install, we either offer you discounted upgrade pricing (50% off) or—for recent purchasers—a completely free upgrade to the new version.
As a bonus, this free download of the app now also works as a free document viewer. You don’t have to buy anything to use the app as a document viewer; you can just dismiss the licensing dialog—in which case you’ll only be able to open documents in read-only mode. This means that our customers can send OmniGraffle documents to anyone who has a Mac, knowing that they’ll be able to download the latest OmniGraffle for free and view those documents.
This is just one small corner of what we’ve been working on for OmniGraffle 7. But I believe (and hope you’ll agree!) that this change finally lets us provide our customers with the best possible App Store experience.
P.S. — To be clear, we’re starting with OmniGraffle 7 on Mac, but will be bringing free downloads to all our App Store apps on both Mac and iOS. Also, all of our in-app purchases will remain one-time purchases (as they are today); none of them are subscriptions.
Posted by Ken Case on 29 September 2016 | 1:10 pm