With their recent announcement on the state and process of the OmniFocus 2 for Mac development the OmniGroup got quite some reactions from its user base. The OmniGroup has a consistent track record of "shipping" their apps, but also a philosophy of not announcing release dates and develop their applications "until they are ready". Being equally curious as everyone else when it comes to OmniFocus 2 I reach out to Ken Case, OmniGroup's CEO, to ask some questions around where things are and even got him to share some of the new OmniFocus iPhone features to be released soon.
Ken, your recent announcement on going 'quiet' with the OmniFocus 2 development for a while has caused some strong reactions – critical and supportive. Did you expect that and what is your take on it?
Whether critical or supportive, I really appreciate strong reactions: they let me know that the work we're doing really makes a difference to our customers.
But I'll confess that I was rather taken aback by the first strongly negative comment. I reached out to the commenter, and found that his reaction was actually based on a misunderstanding: he thought that "going quiet" meant we were abandoning our plans for OmniFocus 2, and was incredibly upset about it because he really liked what he'd seen to date. I can understand why he was upset!
What does going 'quiet' really mean? Are you slowing down or even suspending development or what will the OmniFocus 2 development team now do?
"Going quiet" means that we'll stop posting builds incorporating our latest work for a while.
Was this phase always planned or more of a spontaneous decision? What triggered it?
Well, we didn't have a specific plan for going quiet, but we've always planned an iterative cycle of reacting to what we learn along the way. (I talked about this in my OmniFocus 2 debut blog post, where I answered the question "How soon will OmniFocus 2 be shipping?")
We've gotten a lot of great feedback from our customers over the last few months of testing. That feedback has been overwhelmingly positive—telling us that we've gotten a lot of the major design decisions right. Our customers are finding OmniFocus much easier to navigate, and Forecast and Review have been particularly well-received. So, overall, we know we're on the right track.
But the devil is in the details, and some of the details need work—both design details and implementation details.
You are referencing inspirations you took away from WWDC which you would like to take onboard in the further OmniFocus 2 development. Can you elaborate a little on what these inspirations were and how they are changing or influencing your plans?
For many years, Apple's design goals and ours were completely aligned: we've won five Apple Design Awards since Mac OS X shipped. But when we won the last one five years ago, I started to wonder whether it might be our last. Apple's designs (with their stitching and felt) seemed to be headed towards prioritizing form over content.
Seeing Apple turn back towards putting the user's content first was hugely inspiring. If you haven't watched their video about the design priorities of iOS 7 yet, I highly recommend doing so: Apple iOS 7 Design.
I love their emphasis on deference, clarity, and depth. Particularly the notion of deference: that our design should recede, so that we elevate your content. This is just as important on the Mac as it is on iOS.
There is a fine line between improving and enhancing a product forever and getting something out of the door. What is OmniGroup's philosophy around this and how does it reflect on the OmniFocus 2 development?
Writing software is an awful lot like writing a book. There are small books and big books. There are simple books and terribly advanced books. There are sequels, and expectations, and--if you're lucky--a lot of people impatiently waiting for you to finish whatever book you're writing today.
Fortunately, unlike books, we get to update our work after it ships. So it's important to get the fundamentals in place, to meet our goals for a release--but it's also important to frequently ask the question "Would the world be better if we ship this software as it is today, rather than improving the software even more?" We want to make that answer be "yes" as quickly as possible, even if it means giving up on some of the things we might originally have hoped to do.
For OmniFocus 2, we've already made a lot of those hard choices. We stripped out some features we really wanted to do (like collaboration) so we could ship sooner, focusing on bringing back to the Mac all of the design and innovation that went into our iPad edition of OmniFocus: dedicated Forecast and Review modes (finished), clearer navigation (mostly finished--still need Pro features like Perspectives), and a fresh look and feel.
But we haven't met those goals yet. Once we have, we'll know it's time to ship.
Which areas will see most changes/refinements based on the user feedback from the now ending testing phase? Which, maybe unexpected, lessons have you learned?
Without getting into a lot of specifics, I think there are two major concerns we'd like to address: the look and feel doesn't promote the user's content as much as we think it should, and the performance needs to improve.
You decided to develop OmniFocus very 'publicly' by hosting a preview event and inviting a huge group of users to early testing. This certainly has also set some expectations which are challenging to manage. Any regrets?
Oh, there are certainly lessons we can learn: managing a private test pool with 21,000+ testers is an interesting challenge! But I wouldn't say there are any regrets: I think OmniFocus 2 will be a much better product because of the approach we've taken.
I am not under the illusion that you would be sharing any dates with me, but what can the loyal OmniFocus user base expect from the OmniGroup in the near future?
Well, since you've asked... Let me see if Liz [Product Manager OmniFocus] would mind if I spill the beans on this.
OK, she's given me the go-ahead:
We have an iPhone update that is nearly ready to ship! Version 1.16 will add support for emailing actions, as well as supporting cut, copy, and paste of actions. More importantly, if approved by Apple it will add support for automatically syncing in the background when you arrive or depart from locations like work and home, similar to what Instapaper does--a change which should help you keep your phones regularly synced which improves overall sync times on all your devices.