OF 4 TestFlight Turbulence

As an avid user of OmniFocus since the first version, it causes me great distress to imagine that OF 4 could be anything like what I have experienced on Test Flight. I know it’s not a beta and I am exceedingly grateful for that but can we all just stop for a moment and consider what is happening here?

I have the highest respect for Ken Case and company, but what I have experienced as someone who only just recently got on this Test Flight has absolutely frightened me. When I need to do heavy lifting, I use my Mac. If I’m out and about our need to quickly check off an item or get an idea into my inbox, the iPhone is spectacular. If I need something in between, an iPad might be a good place to work, but why are we trying to squish those very different devices together? Why are we over complicating a UI to the point that it is anxiety inducing? The whole point of an app for task management is making a person more efficient and able to work with a greater degree of ease. I always have loved OF because it got out of the way and let me get work done, but this test version is 100% in the way.

I realize that brilliant people seek to innovate, but true brilliance knows when to say no to iteration for the sake of iteration. A better strategy would have been to build upon what in my opinion is in the top 10 greatest iOS apps ever developed, and that is OmniFocus 3. What I have seen in OF 4 so far is like painting over the Mona Lisa, or better yet, like slicing up the canvas and weaving a basket out of it. I just don’t understand the need to wreck a masterpiece just to make something new. You could have made a few tweaks and maybe changed some graphics and I would have bought it all over again gladly on release day.

Omni—you are the best of the best. I love you guys. Your software is the OS of my life but this is not the way. I believe in you and I believe you genuinely care about your users. I also have faith that you’ll make it right through determination and an unshakable commitment to quality because that’s who you are.

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Yes, it was a very common response from new TestFlight users to see the overhaul. I think it’s more a matter of muscle memory after having used the TestFlight for a while now.

Learning a new design language takes time. Where did feature X go? Oh, feature X is not yet implemented and is still forthcoming. Why did feature Y go in this part of the screen?

For my use, OF4 has been working well but it did take some memory muscle re-learning.

For the moment, the idea was to use the new SwiftUI programming language to completely rewrite the app. Old legacy code that was needed in the previous Carbon/Cocoa/Objective-C days is being stripped out and replaced with modern day APIs. This will give OF4 a solid foundation to work with future OS updates.

The turbulence will be over eventually.

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I like the current approach: I feel involved.

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I’m starting to think that they realized that they NEEDED us involved. Imagine shipping this and asking your user base to pay a premium price. I’m not talking about bugs either. I’m talking about the UI. I’m not seeing the logic to it. The usability is just not there and the visual of the UI is not up to the standards of other Omni apps. It’s a confusing mess and they need to realize it.

This is not the gold standard of productivity apps that I’ve been using for the last decade or so. It comes across like the new kid on the block who is confused and doesn’t know how to get where he is going. The UI is visually amateurish and the UX makes no sense. It’s change for the purpose of change—not change for improvement.

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You are not alone!

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The OF3 TestFlight happened in the same way. The devs released a TestFlight and used it as a playground to try out different UI ideas. They listened to the feedback and re-iterated based on our response.

In the Slack channel, it was mentioned that there were temporary placeholders for many of the actions (like the cleanup button) that was later moved into a long swipe down gesture.

It’s normal for the Testflight to look like a mess. I can guarantee that the kitchen is messy when we are preparing dinner. It’s utter chaos inn the kitchen but when tonight’s dinner is finally brought out to the dining room, it’ll be exquisite!

Any company’s strengths are also its weaknesses – the more highly optimised an organism is for its niche, the more vulnerable whenever that niche changes.

Omni has two acute specialisations:

  1. Nested data (collapsible outlines in OO ,OP, OF, even OG)
  2. Custom in-house widgets. (Non-reliance on standard-issue Apple UI controls)

Nested data is very often a good match for what makes work easier.

Too many custom widgets is very often a problem (ergonomic friction, visual noise, redundant mode-switching, slowed performance of human, machine, and development cycles).

Whether in practice the company culture really could become less widget-focused and more work and ergonomics focused I don’t know.

In the meanwhile I don’t think I’m alone in finding the minimal widget end of the spectrum (TaskPaper and Drafts for example) much faster and more fluid than the maximal widget end (OmniOutliner and OmniFocus for example).

‘Accessibility’ has always been the rationale of widget-fest.

Is that as optimal now as it was when the company started out ?

Does the market, with its exposure to smart-phones from the cradle, need and expect the same things as it did before ?

Perhaps not.

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I was so surprised to see one of the latest TestFlight builds: everything has changed, again. Completely. Icons, switchers, even functionality. There’s now no longer a Home or an overview of your default perspectives? That’s behind the perspective switch (with a new strange icon?)

Honestly, this is so disorienting. It’s not just turbulence, it’s almost like swapping planes mid-flight.

I know these betas-that-were-not-calling-betas are work in progress but am I wrong in expecting at least a solid UX/UI direction? It seems Omni is going in all sorts of directions.

I can only echo @HanScrollo’s comments: for me, OF3 on iOS was perfect as it was. And I was looking forward to tweaks to the UI, smaller changes, maybe additional features. But not to a bumpy road into uncharted territory with so much friction.

I think this has been said many times but here we go again…

The ideas behind OF4 for iOS we’re I believe twofold. Firstly to bring feature parity with the Mac and secondly to rewrite it in Swift to create a unified code base going forward.

Yes it’s different it has issues tap targets for one (a swift issue I think). Perspectives can be accessed easily by tapping the current perspectives title and can be organised so favourites are on the top albeit at present this needs to be arranged on the Mac .

There is still a lot to iron out. Drag and drop, tap targets etc but it’s progressing and a lot better than it was at the start of the Beta.

Every time I update a clients website a percentage say they preferred the old one, the same people say the same thing when it get updates next time, people often are uncomfortable with change but without it nothing would ever move forward.

If your genuinely unhappy get involved in the Slack channel and make your case. Omni do listen.

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My goodness… How on earth was one supposed to find that out? So a UI element that has never, ever been tappable on iOS now suddenly lets you access one of the most crucial navigational actions? I’m perplexed to say the least.

I mean, it would have been one thing if the Perspective name had an indicator behind it. But a pure text label that lets you see one of the more important structural elements of an app?

And thank you for the suggestion: I will head over to the Slack channel.

Slack 😉

For me the whole point of Beta testing is to test and report on both actual and perceived issues, which is why Omni set up the OF4 Slack channel. Not sure how many “testers” there actually are but I am guessing less than 1% provide any feedback or interact with other users, which is a shame as it takes places early on from those who may provide useful feedback.

I get your point about discovery, it’s something that needs bringing up though, for me it’s now muscle memory and therefore discounted I guess.

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I will say nothing is muscle memory at the moment - but that’s OK.