Earlier this week, The Omni Group made OmniFocus 4 for Mac publicly available via TestFlight. In case you’re not already aware, TestFlight is a free app for iPhone, iPad, and Mac that Apple provides to allow developers to make pre-release versions of their software available to end users.
If you previously had access to OmniFocus 4 for iOS/iPadOS, install TestFlight for Mac if you haven’t already. You should find OmniFocus 4 waiting for you when you launch TestFlight. If this is your first foray into OmniFocus 4, you can sign up for the TestFlight and gain access to the latest pre-release build of OmniFocus 4 on your iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
Keep in mind that this is pre-release software. The user interface is in a state of flux, some features are missing, and there are bound to be bugs. While I’ve found OmniFocus 4 builds are generally stable, maintaining regular backups is always a good idea.
Whether or not you take the TestFlight plunge, here are some key features and enhancements that are making their way to the Mac in OmniFocus 4.
The first thing you’ll likely notice is that OmniFocus 4 for Mac has a fresh coat of paint. Most notably, perspective icons have been modernized and feel right at home on the latest version of macOS.
The initial OmniFocus 4 for Mac TestFlight builds prioritize functionality in order to get this pre-release software into the hands of testers sooner rather than later. The Omni Group will continue to update and enhance the user interface as they move towards the official release.
A More Customizable Outline
Initially inspired by OmniOutliner, the “outline” pane is where you interact with your OmniFocus projects, actions, and tags. OmniFocus supports two outline layout modes: fluid and columns.
In OmniFocus 3 and earlier, the available fields and the ordering of these fields are fixed for the fluid layout mode. The column layout mode is more flexible. You can specify what information is visible and editable in the outline. Additionally, you can specify what columns are shown by default and configure column visibility on a perspective-by-perspective basis.
OmniFocus 4 introduces customizations for the fluid layout mode and enhances column layout customization. You can now specify what fields are visible for both fluid and column layout modes and can even change the order of these fields.
For the fluid layout mode, you can optionally choose to have different fields available when editing a task. This allows you to display minimal information in the outline and access more fields when editing your tasks inline. Additionally, status circles are now shown to the left of tasks to be consistent with the status circle positioning in the column layout mode.
Here’s a taste of customizations that are available in the two layout modes.
Overall, these enhancements further allow you to make OmniFocus your own. By having frequently used fields available in the outline, there’s less need to use the inspector. You’ll likely find that you’ll be able to keep the inspector closed most of the time, simplifying the OmniFocus interface and allowing more space for the outline.
If the field you’d like to view or modify isn’t available in the outline, you can open up the inspector. This allows you to tap into the full power of OmniFocus when needed without cluttering up the outline.
In previous versions of OmniFocus, the contents and ordering of inspector items were fixed. OmniFocus 4 allows you to specify what fields are available in the inspector and change the order of inspector elements. For example, if you choose to specify a task duration in the outline, you may choose to hide the duration field in the inspector. And if you wanted quick and easy access to the note field, you could move it to the top of the inspector.
On a side note, the note field is one of the user interface elements that The Omni Group will polish as the official release draws closer.
Perspectives have also undergone some enhancements.
One fairly subtle but significant change is that the perspectives bar can remain visible even when the sidebar is hidden. This allows you to dismiss the sidebar to make more space available to the outline while still using the perspectives bar to navigate between perspectives and view status indicators.
Speaking of status indicators, a badge is now displayed for the built-in inbox, forecast, flagged, and review perspectives indicating how many items are waiting for your attention. For example, if nine projects are waiting to be reviewed, you’ll see a “9” badge on the review perspective tab.
Custom perspectives got some love as well. There are now 100 perspective icons to choose from, 32 more than OmniFocus 3. Additionally, all the perspective icons have been updated to match the new, modern style adopted for built-in perspectives.
Both built-in and custom perspectives now have a “Keep Sidebar Hidden” setting. This allows you to routinely hide the sidebar for some perspectives and display it by default in others. For example, you may opt to have the sidebar hidden for the forecast perspective but displayed for the review perspective.
OmniFocus 3 for iPhone and iPad allow you to associate a tag with a location. This can be a specific location (e.g. your home or office) or a search-based location (e.g. “Apple Store”). For specific locations, you can instruct OmniFocus to notify you about tasks at that location when arriving or leaving. You can even specify the minimum distance from the location that triggers the notification.
OmniFocus 4 makes location-based tagging available on the Mac for the first time. You can now associate a tag with a physical location or search. And you can view and change location-based tags configured on the iPhone and iPad.
A new “nearby” perspective is also making its debut on OmniFocus 4 for Mac. Nearby shows available tasks with a location-based tag in both an outline and map view.
Here’s a taste of the nearby perspective.
Forecast is one of the signature features of OmniFocus. As the name implies, it allows you to look into the future to see what’s coming, prompting any necessary adjustments. This might include blocking off some time in your calendar to ensure that you have sufficient time to complete a project due on Friday.
OmniFocus 4 brings helpful enhancements to the forecast perspective. Previously, forecast items were grouped based on specific attributes (e.g. deferred, due). OmniFocus 4 adds a new “Organize into Groups” setting so that you can enable and disable this grouping.
One of the downsides of groups is that if an item fits into multiple groups, it will be shown in each of these groups. For example, if I had an action to “Email Jeff” with a defer and due date of today and opted to display deferred items in the forecast, this action would be shown in both the due and defer groups. Turning off the “Organize Into Groups” results in the task only appearing once in the forecast perspective
Flags can be a great way to highlight tasks that aren’t technically due but are still important. In OmniFocus 4, you can display flagged items in the forecast perspective. This way you can see your due and important, but not due tasks in one place.
In OmniFocus 3, you can schedule notifications for tasks. For example, you might opt to receive a notification on Monday at 9 am about an important task that’s due later that day. The notification feature can be handy, but OmniFocus 3 doesn’t provide an easy way to view upcoming tasks with scheduled notifications.
OmniFocus 4 overcomes this limitation by adding an “Items with Scheduled Notifications” checkbox to the forecast perspective’s view settings.
Let’s see this in action.
Lastly, it’s now possible to reorder tasks within the forecast perspective. Uncheck the “Keep Sorted” option and reorder tasks to your heart’s content.
Feature Parity Across iPhone, iPad, and Mac
Prior to OmniFocus 4, there were several very useful features that were available on the Mac but not on the iPhone and iPad. For example, Quick Open and Focus were previously Mac-only features.
The Omni Group has spent a lot of time and energy adopting an Apple technology called SwiftUI that will make it much easier to maintain feature parity and user interface consistency across the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Additionally, this will make it easier for Omni to adapt to new user interface conventions and tap into new OS-level features that Apple introduces.
OmniFocus 4 is close to having feature parity on iPhone, iPad, and Mac. There are still a handful of features available on iPhone and iPad that haven’t made it to the Mac just yet, but I expect they’ll be in place before the release.
Most notably, OmniFocus 4 for iPhone and iPad have back and forward buttons that make it easy to navigate in and out of projects and perspectives. I use this feature regularly on the iPhone and iPad and look forward to it making its debut on the Mac soon.
Stay Tuned for More
I’m continuing to follow The Omni Group’s developments closely as they progress towards the official launch of OmniFocus 4. I’ll also continue to provide feedback based on my experiences with OmniFocus 4 combined with feedback received from the Learn OmniFocus community.
Stay tuned for more updates on OmniFocus 4 for Mac, iPhone, and iPad as the official release draws closer. I’m also planning to have some brand new OmniFocus 4 content ready to go soon after OmniFocus 4 is out in the wild.
As always, many thanks to the wonderful folks at The Omni Group for the time, energy, and passion they continue to invest in OmniFocus and their other productivity apps!