Fifteen years ago, The Omni Group (aka Omni) launched OmniFocus!
In celebration of this major milestone, let’s pause and reflect on OmniFocus’ humble origins, evolution over the years and future direction.
OmniOutliner and Kinkless GTD
Before OmniFocus landed on the scene, Omni was probably best known for OmniOutliner. This renowned outlining app debuted on December 28, 2001 (Press Release) and was once installed by default on Macs. OmniOutliner received numerous accolades, including a special mention in the 2005 Apple Design Awards and Macworld’s highest rating.
David Allen’s Getting Things Done book was published in 2001, creating an especially strong splash in the tech community. Task managers, especially those that cater to the GTD methodology, were uncommon in those days. So, Ethan J. A. Schoonover took the initiative to transform OmniOutliner into a personal task manager.
Ethan’s approach to OmniOutliner became known as Kinkless GTD, or kGTD for short. kGTD was popularized by Merlin Mann on his 43 Folders blog. Some members of the Learn OmniFocus community, including several of our Workflow Guests, adopted kGTD back in the day and were well-primed for the introduction of OmniFocus.
OmniFocus for Mac is Born
Omni noted the interest in kGTD and set out to create the personal task manager we now know as OmniFocus.
At its core, OmniFocus is an outlining app that’s been finely tuned to manage tasks and implement GTD principles. OmniFocus 1.0 debuted on the Mac on January 8, 2008 (Press Release). This initial release included a facility for importing kGTD files to help make the transition from Kinkless GTD to OmniFocus as seamless as possible.
OmniFocus for iPhone and iPad
Apple opened the iPhone App Store for business on July 10, 2008, and released its second iPhone, the iPhone 3G, the next day.
As Omni’s CEO Ken Case shared in his recent blog post, Fifteen Years of OmniFocus for iPhone and the iPhone App Store, OmniFocus for iPhone launched on day one of the App Store (Press Release). It rocketed up to the top ten list hours later, claiming the #3 spot in the top paid apps before noon and soaring to the #1 spot among productivity apps during the opening weekend of the App Store.
A couple of years later, Apple unleashed the iPad. True to form, OmniFocus was among the first iPad productivity apps to take advantage of the iPad’s larger screen.
My History With OmniFocus
OmniFocus first showed up on my radar shortly after its launch in 2008. I had just listened to Getting Things Done in audiobook format and was eager to practice my newfound GTD knowledge.
While I was a happy Things user in those early days, I took a keen interest in OmniFocus’ development, buoyed by the enthusiasm of other technology enthusiasts, including my friend David Sparks (aka MacSparky). One historical footnote; I had a Skype call with Katie Floyd in 2009 as she prepared to face off with MacSparky in the Mac Power Users (MPU) #13: Task Management Smackdown.
As my life became more multifaceted, I found it increasingly challenging to keep all my ducks in a row using Things. Most notably, the lack of a folder structure and customizable perspectives created some friction. So, I bid Things adieu and made the move to OmniFocus.
I cobbled together my first OmniFocus setup with help from Kourosh Dini’s excellent book, Creating Flow with OmniFocus. I later searched for courses to help me continue developing my OmniFocus setup and workflows. After coming up empty, I developed and led an OmniFocus course based on what I’d learned so far on my GTD and OmniFocus journey.
I emailed Omni to inform them about my new course and received an enthusiastic response. Two folks from Omni popped up to Vancouver for the day to film my course and to interview me for what became Omni’s first Customer Stories video.
I was later invited to speak at the OmniFocus Setup event, which offered a first look at OmniFocus 2. Held at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, this event featured talks by well-known productivity personalities, including Merlin Mann, Mike Vardy, David Sparks and Kourosh Dini. It attracted many enthusiast OmniFocus users.
The Road to Learn OmniFocus
A couple of years into my OmniFocus journey, I published a blog post with details on How I Use OmniFocus. Much to my surprise, the post was viewed by tens of thousands of people. Some reached out requesting help with their OmniFocus setups, and before long, I was calling myself an OmniFocus Coach and Consultant and working with people worldwide.
I soon discovered that keeping up with the demand wasn’t practical. I also noticed I was saying the same thing repeatedly and wished I had some articles and video content to point people to, saving time in our 1:1 sessions for other discussions. The seed for Learn OmniFocus was planted.
I opened the virtual doors to Learn OmniFocus on June 2, 2014, very soon after OmniFocus 2 made its debut. People have since joined from 91 countries.
OmniFocus 3 and Omni Automation
Another key milestone was the launch of OmniFocus 3 in September 2018. This major release supported multiple tags (previously known as “contexts”), added flexibility to repeating tasks and enhanced one of OmniFocus’ signature features, custom perspectives.
Omni also brought automation legend Sal Soghoian on board to help develop Omni Automation. This cross-platform technology makes it possible to create plug-ins that expand OmniFocus’ feature set. I use many of these plug-ins regularly to add efficiency and convenience to my day-to-day workflows. You’ll find some of my favourite plug-ins in the OmniFocus Plug-In Directory.
The Next Chapter: OmniFocus 4
The release of OmniFocus 4 will mark the next significant chapter in OmniFocus’ history. Slated to launch later this year, OmniFocus 4 will bring new features and enhanced customizations that will appeal to both beginner and seasoned OmniFocus users.
While work is progressing on Omni’s other apps, including OmniGraffle, OmniFocus is currently Omni’s primary focus. The Design Freeze is getting close. Once this milestone has been reached, they’ll be able to place their emphasis on usability, accessibility, and stability. The Design Freeze will also allow documentation and localization to move forward and give me the green light to start recording OmniFocus 4 content.
OmniFocus 4 is a major undertaking that includes adopting Apple’s SwiftUI technology. This initial investment is already paying dividends, allowing Omni to bring features to the iPhone and iPad that were previously only available on Mac. OmniFocus for Apple Watch will also take a big step forward thanks to SwiftUI.
Omni’s adoption of SwiftUI further proves its investment in the Apple ecosystem and sets the stage for many more years of innovation.
Vision for the Future
The upcoming Apple Vision Pro has been the talk of the town since Apple showed off this technological marvel at this year’s WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference). One of the things that sets the Vision Pro apart is that it’s been designed to be much more than an entertainment device.
Ken Case recently joined Andrew J. Mason on Omni’s podcast, The Omni Show. During this Omni Roadmap, July 2023 episode, Ken shared some early impressions of the Vision Pro and its operating system, visionOS. Ken and the team have already begun to explore how OmniFocus and Omni’s other apps could be put to productive use on the Vision Pro and future incarnations of this hardware.
While there’s work to be done to make good use of Vision Pro and visionOS, Omni’s adoption of Apple’s core technologies makes them well-positioned to transition Omni’s apps to visionOS.
Many Thanks to Omni
I’m in regular contact with the wonderful folks at Omni and have fond memories of visits to Omni HQ over the years. My many interactions have given me an appreciation for the time, energy and enthusiasm that goes into creating, documenting and supporting their apps.
On behalf of the Learn OmniFocus community, many thanks!