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Tech Note: OmniFocus 2 for iPhone

Last week, OmniGroup released a new version of OmniFocus 2 for the iPhone1. The newly-redesigned app brings it more in line with the look and feel of iOS7 and that’s both a good and bad thing. This won’t be a review; just a few impressions after a week of fairly heavy use. Others have written more thorough reviews and I direct you to them instead.


I was happy when I first opened the app and saw the cheery, slightly muted, colors. It seemed to fit the iOS7 aesthetic well and it was pleasant to look at. As I started messing around with the app, however, the difficulties began to reveal themselves.

When I added my custom perspectives to the main screen, they faded away in a very low contrast teal. I’m not one of the folks who feel the need to make fonts bigger or bolder in the majority of my iPhone app use, but damn they were hard to see. Since the designers decided I didn’t need my custom icons on the home screen (I assume they didn’t want my choices cluttering up the clean design), making my custom perspectives harder to see doubled my annoyance.

The real estate on the main screen also competed with my needs. The great thing about OmniFocus was that I could tweak it to fit my needs. It became a customized haven where I could craft and then manage a workflow. I used it that way for years. That said, I’m not averse to change. If something changes for the better, I’m not one to cling to my old weather-beaten way. Point me to the new stuff. The problem is that the new version of OmniFocus wants me to work in a very different way. My attempts to customize are curtailed2 and I find myself having to change how I work to meet the design of the app. This is the opposite of what we’ve grown accustomed to and runs counter to what led me to love the previous version so much in the first place.

My workflow has come to rely on the Forecast, a custom “Today” perspective, my “Work” and “Home” perspectives and a “Next Stuff for Work” perspective. They took center stage in the previous app but now I have to scroll to see them. It’s awkward. In the previous app, the fact that the perspectives were front and center reminded me to check them. Now, tucked away behind the bottom of my iPhone screen, I’ve found they get checked far less often. Perspectives are the most powerful feature in OmniFocus and minimizing their relevance in your flagship app is going to cause powerusers some major headaches.

I find the way the nicely-colored large “buttons” or tap areas are situated very awkward as well. The double-sized Inbox and the four other “buttons” arranged below it made me wonder why the Inbox tap area was bigger and why the others were in a static grid. Again, awkward. I would love to remove “Nearby” and move all of my custom contexts up to a more useful postion but I can’t and that’s frustrating.

Generally after a major update, you expect more of what you had before – more customizability, more choices, more features, more options. It’s what you’re paying the $20 for (again). I’m not going to gripe about the price. I know a major factor is because Apple won’t allow upgrade pricing. Couple this with the fact that I love OmniGroup products and want them to keep making great apps and the sting of paying again fades. But my main problem is that this feels like I lost some critical functionality and what I got in return was some thin fonts and the need to do a lot more scrolling.

I’m not going to fully agree with what others have voiced to me privately – that this is a $20 re-skin. It’s not. It seems like an iterative reimagining of a well-loved, much-used product. The problem is that it is starting over on iteration #1. I wish the iteration started from where the previous version left off.

It may sound like I’m extremely negative about the app but its not all terrible news. The only reason I’m being so critical is because I love OmniFocus so much. I want Omnigroup to succeed, improve, move forward, keep iterating. There are some nice touches for a 1.0 and, for now, I’ll look to these as a bellweather of better things to come.

Bonus Pro Tip: To back out of deeply-nested Projects or Contexts, press and holding the top left corner. It will drop you back on the main screen.3

  1. Affiliate link. 

  2. By virtue of being impossible. 

  3. I was quite happy to find this one (accidentally).