The Omni Group is hard at work on OmniFocus 4, a major update to OmniFocus that, among other things, will bring features to iPhone and iPad that were previously only available on the Mac.
OmniFocus 4 is based on Apple’s SwiftUI technology. While this transition is a significant undertaking, the move to SwiftUI will make it easier to maintain feature parity and user interface consistency across the Mac, iPhone, and iPad moving forward. I expect that SwiftUI will be a major focus at next week’s WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference) and that OmniFocus 4 will derive significant benefits as Apple continues to evolve the SwiftUI framework.
The development of OmniFocus 4 for iPhone and iPad has come a long way since I shared a first look just over a year ago. The feature set and user interface have taken significant strides forward, and stability continues to improve as Omni progresses towards the official launch.
Here’s a glimpse at OmniFocus 4 for iPad in its current form. While the focus is on iPad, many of these enhancements will also be available on iPhone. Remember that this is pre-release software, and some details are subject to change. Most notably, the user interface is still being updated and refined.
The Perspective Navigation Bar
Perspectives are at the heart of OmniFocus. When you first install OmniFocus 4 on the iPad, the most popular built-in perspectives are displayed along the left side of the screen, represented by icons. You can customize this perspective navigation bar to include the built-in and custom perspectives you use most often and remove those you don’t need at your fingertips.
For example, let’s use the quick open feature to remove the Flagged perspective and add two custom perspectives: Today and Hot List.
Currently, all the perspectives in our examples are represented by icons. If you like, you can display the names of perspectives below their icons. This will reduce the number of perspectives that will fit on the screen but will give you a larger target to tap on and make the purpose of perspectives more obvious.
If you’re using OmniFocus on iPhone or, in some cases, multitasking on an iPad, the perspective navigation bar becomes a row of buttons along the bottom edge of the screen. As is the case with the sidebar, these perspective icons can optionally be accompanied by labels, making them easier to recognize and tap on. If you have small and nimble fingers, you may choose to keep these labels hidden in favour of having one-tap access to more of your favourite perspectives.
OmniFocus 4 Brings the Sidebar to iPhone and iPad
The sidebar in OmniFocus 3 for Mac adds another navigational layer to OmniFocus, allowing you to, for example, select a folder, project, or tag and filter what’s displayed in the outline. This functionality will be making its debut on iPhone and iPad with the release of OmniFocus 4.
You can hide and show the sidebar either by tapping the sidebar button in the toolbar or by tapping the icon for the current perspective.
If you hide the sidebar in one perspective on the iPad, it will remain hidden as you switch to other perspectives. Similarly, once you reveal the sidebar, it will remain visible as you change perspectives.
You might want the sidebar visible or hidden for specific perspectives, regardless of whether it’s displayed for other perspectives. For example, let’s say that you generally want to see the sidebar in the Forecast perspective. You can control this perspective’s sidebar visibility independently of other perspectives by tapping the view button in the toolbar and enabling the “Sidebar visibility is independent” setting.
Inline Editing and the Inspector
In OmniFocus 3 for iOS/iPadOS, you rely on the inspector to edit projects and actions (e.g., to change the due date or add a note). While this works well, the inspector takes the whole screen on an iPhone (assuming you’re using your iPhone in portrait mode) and a good part of the screen on an iPad, limiting the visibility of the actual tasks.
OmniFocus 4 will bring inline editing to iPhone and iPad, similar to what the Mac has had for years. You’ll still have access to the inspector when you need it, but you may find that you’ll be able to keep it tucked away most of the time, giving your projects and actions more screen space.
In its current form, OmniFocus 4 provides layout options that allow you to specify what fields are displayed in the outline and what fields can be edited inline. For example, you might opt to have the estimated duration, due date, and note icon displayed in the outline and also have the tag and defer date among the fields that can be edited inline. This allows you to view your projects and actions in an uncluttered way while still being able to edit key fields inline.
By default, these preferences will impact all of your perspectives. But, you can override these settings on a perspective-by-perspective basis.
If you prefer to have the inspector open automatically when you tap on a task (as it does in OmniFocus 3 for iPhone and iPad), you can enable “Open Inspector on Single Tap.” As the name implies, when this option is enabled, the inspector will automatically come out of hiding when you tap on a task in the outline.
Navigating OmniFocus 4 with Quick Open
True to its name, quick open makes it quick and easy to jump to a specific perspective, folder, project, or tag. Tap the quick open icon (or use ⌘O if your iPad has a hardware keyboard) and start typing. Let’s use Quick Open to quickly jump to our project to build a bird feeder.
While we’re here, I’ll add an action to put together a shopping list. This is something that I’ll do at home that I estimate will take about 15 minutes.
Long pressing on this (or any other) action reveals an extensive list of functions, including some that aren’t present in OmniFocus 3. Most notably, you can change the status, add one or more child actions, and focus on the selected item.
If you want to go back to where you were, tap the back button in the toolbar, just like you would in a web browser. Similarly, the forward button will take you through your navigation history in the opposite direction.
Forecast Perspective Enhancements in OmniFocus 4
The Forecast perspective will be seeing some welcome enhancements in OmniFocus 4.
In OmniFocus 3, you can opt to display calendar events, deferred items, and items with a designated “forecast tag.” OmniFocus 4 adds the ability to include items with scheduled notifications and flagged items. You’ll also have more control over the layout than you did previously. You can have related items grouped together or allow them to mingle in the outline.
Another fairly subtle but significant change is that the number that appears on the calendar changes as you hide and view options. For example, if you have two tasks due today and ten flagged tasks, the calendar entry for today will show “2” if you only display due items and “12” if you choose to reveal both due and flagged items.
By default, tapping a calendar item will open the appointment in Apple’s Calendar app. If you’re a Fantastical user (as I am), you’ll be happy to hear that OmniFocus 4 will allow you to choose to open appointments in Fantastical instead.
Expanded Keyboard Support on iPad
If you use a hardware keyboard with your iPad, OmniFocus 4 will allow you to tap into an expanded set of keyboard shortcuts. As with OmniFocus 3, you can also assign keyboard shortcuts to the Omni Automation plug-ins that you use most often.
Other OmniFocus 4 Refinements
In true Omni fashion, there are many other thoughtful touches and conveniences to discover and explore.
For example, double-tapping the round plus button in the lower-right-hand corner will trigger quick entry. Once the quick entry window is open, you can tap the eye button to specify what fields you want to be able to populate when you add actions, making it as simple or complex as you choose.
Long pressing on a perspective in the perspective navigation bar will reveal some helpful features. You’ll be able to get tips on using the perspective, “unfavorite” it (to remove it from the perspective navigation bar), copy a link to the perspective, and open the perspective in a new window.
Stay Tuned for a Preview of OmniFocus 4 for Mac
This is just a taste of what’s coming down the pike. We’ll be showcasing additional features and refinements as we get closer to the release and will be showcasing OmniFocus 4 for Mac once a public preview release is available.
We’re also planning to have some OmniFocus 4 content ready to go soon after the official launch. This content will help you make the transition from OmniFocus 3 to OmniFocus 4 and tap into the power and flexibility that will come with OmniFocus 4.
Testing OmniFocus 4 for iPhone and iPad
If you’d like to have input into the development of OmniFocus 4, consider installing the TestFlight build for iPhone and iPad and joining the conversation on Slack. A reminder that this is pre-release software and, despite all the progress Omni has made, there are still some known bugs and rough edges.