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Dear Omnigroup,

Of all the application developers for the iOS platform, I hold the Omnigroup in the highest esteem. *Why? *Quite simply because of all the developers I see, your company has a very "Apple-esq" feel.

Apple focus less on adding hundreds of features to their platform; rather, they focus on adding less features but making them work especially well. *And their attention to detail, IMHO, is second to none especially to interface design.

I see these traits with the Omnigroup, from the customer support through to the attention to detail placed on bringing your range of apps across 3 platforms; Mac, iPad and iPhone.

I run my own company employing 12 people. *And let me tell you, any test of a task management system is with someone in my position as any small business owner will testify. *For me, a truly robust task management system is one that still works well despite the constant interruptions I have during a typical working day. *Every day I problem solve MANY things in order to keep my manufacturing business on track. *Manufacturing bespoke products is truly challenging. *All of these take me away from my task list for any given day! *And many of those tasks are truly time dependent. *For example, ordering from component suppliers may have a 12pm deadline otherwise products will not arrive the next day. Just in time manufacturing is necessary to keep control on such vital things as cash flow!

Omnifocus is a remarkable piece of software but no matter how hard I try, I continually fall off the bandwagon in terms of using it successfully in my life. *When I analyse WHY this is the case, unfortunately it is not because I don't adhere to a "strict" system of GTD practices, rather, it is because the software has not kept pace with how the world is changing as a result of technology. *The very thing you support, for example iPhone and iPad, are the things which now show weaknesses in the underlying design of Omnifocus.

5 years ago, my main use of technology was a desktop! *Not any more. *Walking around my two factories, I spend more time with my iPhone and iPad than a desktop. *These necessarily change how I deal with things like, for example, email. *Even at my desk, I am inclined more to use my iPad since as soon as I need to get up and go deal with something or see a customer, I have everything I need in the device.

Whether you believe in the hype or not, we are in a post PC world. *In that post PC World, I see few developers (other than people like Evernote) who seem able to ensure a smooth and seemly transition across the varying platforms - from Mac to iPad to iPhone. *One of the biggest criticisms I have for ALL DEVELOPERS is their incorrect assumption about what features are NOT included in, for example, an iPhone app because they feel they don't make sense! *Wrong wrong wrong. *This presumes how people are using their devices or will use their devices rather than actually HOW they use their devices. *This is very evident in how Omnifocus translates from Mac to iPhone to iPad and no - I am not talking interface design here.

Think about it for a second. Release an iPhone or iPad app missing features found on the desktop or another platform - of course that user cannot use the missing feature! It's been predetermined. Put that feature in from day one and people have options! People will evolve their use of a given product as opposed to being "forced" down a road.*

Focusing specifically on task management, the iPad and iPhone represent opportunities to think beyond typical software design. *Most software developers, no matter how clever they think they are in terms of designs for mobile devices, still have the mindset of a "desktop" designer. *Using the iPhone as an example, the inclusion of location based tasks and reminders would on the face of it seem "smart". *And it is. *But its barely scratching the surface IMHO. *An iPhone is a device that travels with you in your life nearly all of the time (well, it is in my life). *This opens up the opportunity for the software to be SUPER SMART since it can communicate with you its owner in a very different way than if the software merely exists on a desktop! *When you add CONTEXT and SEMANTICS into software, it can become something truly different, but most importantly, useful and relevant. The key thing here is the software engaging with the user in some cases rather than a user always initiating that interaction.*

Keeping things simple, let me explain why Omnifocus and every single other task management application out there fall very short of the mark.

My inbox, like most people, is created from varying sources. *A phone call. *A text message. *A conversation. *All of these are easy to capture into a GTD system.

But - love it or hate it, email is for me, and I am sure a HUGE number of other people, the largest source of "things I need to do" and it is here that Omnifocus and everything else fails…and fails badly!

When I process an email into a task, it almost ALWAYS has an attachment or something else I need to keep with it. *Except like more and more people today, I am processing email from an iPhone or iPad. *The entire system is destroyed at this point when on my iPhone I open an email - I know there is something I need to do - attached to is an important PDF file, yet I am screwed!

The software should get out of my way to allow me to productive! *But it doesn't. *From my iPhone or iPad I cannot deal with that email. *Yes, I can create a task that says "get email about XYZ and process into OF on my desktop". *Is this being productive? *Really? *I think not! *Yes, at some point when I get to my desktop I will probably remember to process that email. *But now I have dealt with the contents of that email TWICE rather than once. *Is that being productive? *I don't think so. *Even if I add a task about the contents of the email and don't worry about processing it from the desktop, I then have decisions to make about where I file the email; do I leave it cluttering my inbox? *And I will need that PDF file and want to get to it quickly when I review the task which will almost certainly be on my iPad or iPhone. *It's a horrible nightmare!

I need to deal with that email on whatever device I am using. *I need that attachment to go into Omnifocus where I can process it immediately. *No matter where I am. *OR add it to an existing task for continuity. * *Yes, a cloud service would be great. *But at the very least the OPEN IN feature supported through iOS should allow me to attach that PDF to an EXISTING TASK or create a new one. *And that isn't a especially difficult proposition.

I realise iOS imposes restrictions. But that's why you guys are clever. You find ways around them!*

Now let me talk to you about alarms! *First of all, alarms are ESSENTIAL. *With real world interruptions that you cannot control, ALARMS are essential to get you back on track. *But the alarms featured in Omnifocus and all other apps are stuck in the 1980's software design. *OMG!!!!

Let me explain. *When an alarm goes off, I could be talking to a customer. *The alarm is ignored. *5 other iOS notifications later and it is lost in a sea of notifications that are all distractions. *The concept of the "alarm" failed not because of me, but because its linear concept just doesn't cut it in 2012!*

For tasks I deem urgent, that alarm should go off; go off again; and again; and again until it is dealt with! *I need the tasks I deem SO IMPORTANT to repeat their alarms until the alarm is removed or task ticked as completed. *Who knows what I will be doing when that alarm goes off and again, real world interruptions will prevent me getting to it. *As I said at the beginning, true task management software should be as robust as possible against interruptions. *

Continuing with alarms, why do I have to set a time? *If I need to get something off to a supplier by 12pm, the software should be gently reminding me in good time from the START TIME of the task to the DUE TIME. *How? *Well, for starters, if I have not entered the application to review my tasks for today that should be an instant alert to the software which should be analysing "well, this task has been marked as super critical, it has a deadline, his working day starts at 8am, its now 9am and he has not reviewed his tasks for today, best I start warning him now"! *That's what I call smart! *How difficult is it to log whether someone has actually reviewed their tasks for today to reflect that in the whole process of "when is a good time to start reminding…."

When we set TIMES for alarms, sometimes they are relevant but many times we will never know what we will be doing! *Current "thinking" about software - imposed by developers - is "let's give the user a time to choose". *IMHO this is far from clever or intuitive. *Add a small amount of semantics and it should not be necessary to tell the software a time to remind you, but rather have the software provide the alerts in good time, automatically, intelligently so there is considerable less risk that a really critical time deadline is missed. The only time a user should enter is the time of the deadline.*

And now let's talk about delegation and SHARING information. *Love them or hate them, we live in the "social" world of Facebook, Twitter and around 1 million other social networking sites. *No, I don't want to share my tasks with twitter thanks very much! *BUT, I struggle to think how most tasks do not involve interaction with other human beings. *And we need to share those tasks or delegate them or both!

Please can I:

Share a task to someone else using OF! *Think - more licenses sold!
Share a task to someone using email

And send gentle "nudges" to users too either automatically (yes --- automatically so I don't have to think about the follow up especially if I have set a deadline) and manually! *And let me send those nudges not just by email but by iOS notifications for other OF users or by text message.

I could go on and I know this appears as another list of "I want's" but it truly isn't. *As one of the REAL ethical developers out there, I am asking the Omnigroup to take a moment to sit back and RE-IMAGINE task management, not taking one single thing away from its GTD roots but rather, focusing on the future. *The future are people using OF across 3 platforms, using and creating data in a variety of applications (for example Evernote, Dropbox) and needing to bring that information into a mobile platform that's then available across ALL platforms and then interacting with those tasks and projects with people in the real world.

Thank you :)
 
Well, I guess we're all looking for the next generation of task management. But to have an alarm annoy the crap out of me isn't something I would want.

I remembered having a car alarm that was set to a high sensitivity level. It would go off quite easily. After a while, I would just start ignoring the annoying alarm whenever it tripped.

I can imagine that a user will eventually adapt and learn to just ignore the annoying alarm or "nudge."

We can create a system but someone will find a way around the system.
 
I was referring more to the option of......that way everyone benefits. You don't get the annoying alarms and I do. Win win!
 
How do you propose that OmniFocus determines whether or not I have reviewed my tasks? Every device is going to need to know that information, or I'll have a blizzard of useless warnings when I switch to a new device. I typically look ahead several days on the Forecast view (or similar perspectives) every day, and my project reviews tend to happen late in the day, so it isn't obvious to me when OmniFocus could safely conclude anything about my state of awareness of any particular task's impending deadline.

As for your email and attachments issue, the solution is straightforward but a bit expensive: you need a MacBook Air. The 11.6" model not appreciably more trouble to carry than an iPad, and much more flexible in the ways you need. It is never going to be as convenient to deal with attached documents in iOS, and Apple doesn't give other applications access to email — there's no clever workaround other than building a mail agent into OmniFocus. If your work is as email/document intensive as you suggest, you need a Mac with you all the time that you might be processing email. I do not believe that OmniFocus for iPad will ever be the best tool for that job, because the underlying platform doesn't offer a suitable foundation. The iPad is great — I've used one for several hours every single day since the morning of April 3, 2010 — but it isn't the right tool for every job. The combination of being a pretty good tool for many jobs, very convenient portability and long battery life make it a good fit for many users. Those of us who do not meet all of the simplifying assumptions still need to have the industrial-strength tools. I submit that you are a member of that group.
 
I did smile reading your reply. I have a MacBook air!

I propose something really simple. It's called OPTIONS! Sorry for the sarcasm but nothing I said is about FORCING people. It's about giving people options. You opt in. Or opt out. Simple! That way existing users can carry on with the attitude of business as usual. And for the rest of us - we have a tools which is far more flexible and challenge present thinking about how the software should work.

I fiercely disagree with the old school attitude about what's the best platform and what can and cannot be done. Thank goodness Steve Jobs and the Apple team threw away that attitude and relandscaped the entire mobile industry.

For me at least it's as simple as this.

If I open an email on an iOS device it should be a straight forward process to take it and task manage with it. There is absolutely no need to be using a desktop - or MacBook air - to do that kind of lifting. Attachments in iOS can use the OPEN IN feature as a bare minimum. That is just one classic example!

And to be honest - why not add an email client into omnifocus! It doesn't need to do what other email clients do. It needs to be about creating things into the tasks that we need to manage! Apple may restrict things with iOS but great software developers should innovate around it!

I agree entirely if you want to "hack" and play around with AppleScripts and many other things then yes - that is something for the desktop.

Conservative attitudes prevent innovation. Too many GTD lovers think its THE only way and cannot be enhanced or improved upon with technology. The sad thing is none of that needs to be broken. The dinasaours can relax. Great software design can add the innovation WITHOUT upsetting them.

As for iOS devices - they are perfect tools to do way more than they do today. It's the very attitude of "they are not good for...." which prevents and stifles truly GREAT innovation and steps forward in software engineering.

IMHO of course :)

Last edited by StefMercury; 2012-09-02 at 08:12 AM..
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by StefMercury View Post
I did smile reading your reply. I have a MacBook air!
Good. Use it. Stop wasting your time waiting for Omni to make square pegs to fit your round holes. I use all of the Omni apps on both Mac and iPad. It is clear that their design goal is not to provide iOS apps which offer all the functionality of the Mac apps, but rather a convenient, easy-to-use subset which meets the needs of the vast majority who do not need all the power of the Mac applications. Even if their intentions changed to provide iOS apps with all of the power, you don't have to be a long-time observer of the company's output to see that it won't be happening anytime soon. Just read the forum posts complaining that they have yet to implement this or that seemingly-easy-to-implement feature (many of which don't require much in the way of UI changes, either).
Quote:
I propose something really simple. It's called OPTIONS! Sorry for the sarcasm but nothing I said is about FORCING people. It's about giving people options. You opt in. Or opt out. Simple! That way existing users can carry on with the attitude of business as usual. And for the rest of us - we have a tools which is far more flexible and challenge present thinking about how the software should work.
You might as well ask for options for the iPad to turn into a magic carpet.
Quote:
I fiercely disagree with the old school attitude about what's the best platform and what can and cannot be done. Thank goodness Steve Jobs and the Apple team threw away that attitude and relandscaped the entire mobile industry.
If Steve thought that the iOS platforms ought to be fully functional Mac replacements, he hid this thought well. You mentioned the importance of email processing and document handling to you. On the Mac, it is trivial to compose an email and attach documents from two different applications. Try doing that on the iPad.

You can only do on the iOS platforms what Apple allows you to do. Apple does not provide a means to refer to an email message from another application like it does on the Mac, so no matter how much you might want it, you can't clip an email to OmniFocus and get a link that you can click to go back to the original message (like you get on the Mac). If you want to provide that functionality, the only way you can is to have OmniFocus retrieve all the mail from the server directly, and maintain a parallel copy. Oh, and provide functionality to replicate the Mail app so that you can actually do something with the message besides view it.
Quote:
For me at least it's as simple as this.

If I open an email on an iOS device it should be a straight forward process to take it and task manage with it. There is absolutely no need to be using a desktop - or MacBook air - to do that kind of lifting. Attachments in iOS can use the OPEN IN feature as a bare minimum. That is just one classic example!
Sure, Omni could stop talking about eventually implementing Document Interchange and just do it. That would be a step forward. Then when you get the email with 3 attachments, you can click on one, do Open In..., send it to OmniFocus, where you'll have to tell OmniFocus what to do with it (make a new action or project, attach it to an existing one). Having done that, you'll have to switch back to Mail and do that process 2 more times for the other attachments. Somewhere along the line you'll also need to copy over the actual text content of the message. Or, you could do all of that in one step via the clipping tool on the Mac, today. If you get more than one or two emails per day that you need to handle in this fashion, insisting on doing it with the iPad or iPhone is a questionable use of your time.
Quote:
And to be honest - why not add an email client into omnifocus! It doesn't need to do what other email clients do. It needs to be about creating things into the tasks that we need to manage! Apple may restrict things with iOS but great software developers should innovate around it!
Because it adds very little value for most customers, is a large amount of work, and Apple might say "no" after they do it? Hardly the investment with the best return they could make with their limited resources.
Quote:
I agree entirely if you want to "hack" and play around with AppleScripts and many other things then yes - that is something for the desktop.
Or if you want to edit multiple items at once, build perspectives, use the duration estimates, project-based perspectives, review only a subset of your projects, etc. There's a reason why many of these features don't exist for the iOS apps; implementing them would force the apps away from the relatively clean, uncluttered experience they currently offer. Do a careful comparison between the Mac version and the iOS version of any of the Omni apps and you'll find that the features that don't appear in the iOS version almost invariably would involve substantially complicating the user interface.
Quote:
Conservative attitudes prevent innovation. Too many GTD lovers think its THE only way and cannot be enhanced or improved upon with technology. The sad thing is none of that needs to be broken. The dinasaours can relax. Great software design can add the innovation WITHOUT upsetting them.

As for iOS devices - they are perfect tools to do way more than they do today. It's the very attitude of "they are not good for...." which prevents and stifles truly GREAT innovation and steps forward in software engineering.

IMHO of course :)
It goes without saying that there is much room for improvement. I certainly send in my share of enhancement suggestions. But in the end, do your customers and vendors cut you any slack because you chose to use your iPad to do your work inefficiently instead of your MacBook Air?
 
Tablets, in general, are still several generations away from becoming as full featured as a desktop or notebook is now.

I'm sure we'd all love to replace our MacBook Airs with something as slim as an iPad. But current technology (i.e. more powerful chipsets, larger capacity SSDS, and a smaller battery with longer life) doesn't exist yet. If it does exist then it might not be at significant yields (i.e. difficult to manufacture with low defect rates) or just too expensive for the consumer market.

Apple would never have been able to make iPads and iPhones twenty years ago because the technology and manufacturing facilities just weren't available at that time. I could never have imagined something like the iPad and iPhone unless it was in a sci-fi TV show or movie.

We're all eagerly awaiting for the next generation of iOS devices that would do what you are asking for. We just have to wait for the technology...
 
If you don't ask you don't get, right?! While I agree it may seem futile to throw these things into the debating pot - I am a long term observer of the Omnigroup and have seen how all of their apps have evolved as they migrate to iPhone and iPad - this doesn't stop them evolving and embarking on new strategies! It is clear they are already working on a cloud solution for email processing based on replies they have given in these forums.

In one of the AllThingsDigital interviews, Steve Jobs did in fact cover in some depth how the iPad would in fact catch up with devices like the Mac. Specifically, he stated we were a number of years behind in terms of SOFTWARE. This reply came in a Q&A session and he was absolutely right.

Yes. Apple impose some fairly heavy duty restrictions in iOS. That, I get and there is little point in debating that here. But so long as developers maintain the PC attitude in their development, then the longer we remain in the stone ages in terms of how software performs on devices like an iPad.

Getting back to email processing as ONE example. I agree. In iOS it would suck using the OPEN IN! But let's clarify a few points. Firstly, Omnifocus on the Mac does not support email processing. What is available is nothing more than an unstable hack. Omnifocus has a steep enough learning curve as it is, let alone messing with AppleScript. Yes, they have made it fairly easy but with each new Mac OS release things have broken and let's not talk about how bad it works with single page PDF's to multi page ones. It just isn't a good enough platform.

I have a MacMini server in my office running our own built Filemaker Pro solution. On that, I have Omnifocus installed to process emails. It sucks! It is unreliable! And I have given up trying to make it work 100% of the time, which it should.

The Macbook Air 11" is probably the best computer I have ever owned. It is an amazing device. But it is not practical to walk around a factory environment. You see, I am efficient as I possibly can be with my time. Every second counts for me.

I disagree with you entirely in respect of the iPad. In my own company, the iPad paved the way for me to develop our own solution. Our industry is so bespoke NO SOFTWARE exists whatsoever. But it is a combination of hardware and software that is needed.

My staff are not technically literate in anyway. And our environment is not suitable for laptops! Let alone the learning curve etc.

The iPad literally transformed how we did our business. I have spent over 3000 development hours building a solution that had I paid developers to do it for me, would now cost in excess of $500,000. I categorically will tell you it would not have worked without the iPads. The all day battery life - the ease of use with the touch screen - made it possible and worthwhile to develop the solution. 2 years in and in administration alone, we save in excess of $20,000 per year in costs! I won't bore you with the other savings.

Software developers can adopt two attitudes. The first is to NOT innovate around the usability and restrictions applied by Apple. The second is to actually innovate. Good developers will find ways around the issues of interface and functionality.

Sure, the OG have limited resources; output is slow if not generally well thought out. But if we the customers don't push for better transparency no matter what platform we CHOOSE to work on or HAVE TO WORK ON (given our location, context etc.) then it will surely never happen. Yes, it may never happen anyway, but as I said in the first line....if you don't ask, you don't get.

Finally, it is not inefficient to use an iPad or an iPhone for that matter. Have you ever read email on an iPad or iPhone? If you have, let's follow the form.

Open email - in most cases you don't know the content. The email needs to be processed to your GTD Inbox. Damn. Can't do that. Software restriction! That's time wasted. That's inefficient. But the reality is, most of us will frequently check and even respond to emails on these mobile devices. If a few taps later and the email had been processed as necessary, that is time saved. Read once, do it once, that's my motto. As it stands today, I process my email into Evernote. I have a keyboard shortcut setup to add the tag I need for task handling into the subject line and I can generally process an email in around 4 seconds off to my less than perfect task management system setup in Evernote. And it is less than perfect. But better than OF until such time as they create that complete transparency between their applications.
 
I agree with most of Stef's points. As a non-formal GTD user, I am continually annoyed that OmniFocus is so unintrusive that I can forget about it for days.

I also think it is pretty clear that Omni *has* to find a way to better integrate with email on the iDevices. Unfortunately this is difficult to do since we all use the default Mail app but I work in a product management role for an IT vendor and my daily life is every bit as email and attached document-driven as Stef's.

In my opinion OF needs to become more like Outlook. Specifically:

-Alerts before tasks are due (with ability to disable or snooze alert)
-Ability to mark an email for follow-up and get a reminder on any device or selected devices (say Mac or iPad but not iPhone)
-OF needs to remind me it is there once in a while. Remind me to review it. Change the taskbar icon to show # of overdue or pending tasks. Something.


Alex
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by clmb511 View Post
I also think it is pretty clear that Omni *has* to find a way to better integrate with email on the iDevices. Unfortunately this is difficult to do since we all use the default Mail app ...
As you note, this is not just an OG problem. For example, the method needed simply to attach a photo to an email message you are composing on an iPhone is so totally unintuitive as to be insulting (at least on iOS 5.x -- may be different on iOS 6).

Quote:
Originally Posted by clmb511 View Post
In my opinion OF needs to become more like Outlook.
Just not look like it though please ...

Quote:
Originally Posted by clmb511 View Post
Specifically:

-Alerts before tasks are due (with ability to disable or snooze alert)
-Ability to mark an email for follow-up and get a reminder on any device or selected devices (say Mac or iPad but not iPhone)
-OF needs to remind me it is there once in a while. Remind me to review it. Change the taskbar icon to show # of overdue or pending tasks. Something.
I think #3 could be handled by proper set up with #1, and I agree on both cases. I think #2 goes back to the "we all use the Mail app" statement and its commensurate baggage.

The iX devices are still evolving platforms, and Apple might be viewed as a monarchy to dictator for how they control what can/must/shall be done on them by outside developers. The coming revolutions will certainly be interesting.

--
JJW
 
 


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