There was enormous amount of people queuing as far as a whole block in downtown San Francisco last night. Every single one of them was seeking admission to the Cartoon Art Museum, but not to check out the beautiful cartoon exhibition there. They were queuing to get an early glimpse of the Mac productivity nerds most favourite application next major update: OmniFocus 2.

Having had the honour to spent the whole day with the nice folks of OmniGroup and a number of my personal productivity heroes — first at the OmniFocus Setup event and then at the OmniFocus 2 Debut — I was lucky enough to jump the queue.

OmniFocus 2 Goals

While only a small number of all the people queuing fitted into the Cartoon Art Museum, everyone was curious of what was going to be revealed that evening when Ken Case, CEO OmniGroup, started the event with his “State of the Omni-Nation” talk.

OmniFocus 1 for Mac is around for quite a while now and while OmniGroup shipped minor updates throughout the years including the introduction of new features, the big overhaul is definitely overdue. Consequently version 2 of the application focusses on delivering against three main goals:

  1. Clearer navigation and lower entry barrier for new users
  2. A cleaner and more modern user interface
  3. Bringing the enhancement from the iPad version back to the Mac: Forecast and Review

When Liz Marley, the OmniFocus Product Manager, took stage after Ken, the audience in the Cartoon Art Museum got to see where the OmniFocus 2 development is at concerning the above goals. There will certainly be adds, moves and changes as the development continues over the next months, but the main concepts shared should hold up.

Joined by the die-hard OmniFocus super users Merlin Mann and David Sparks, Liz reviewed three main parts of OmniFocus 2 for Mac.

The New User Interface

It is mainly the look and feel of OmniFocus for Mac in its current version that makes it appear a bit dated. In OmniFocus 2 we will see a much cleaner, more up-to-date user interface that aligns nicely with the recent design development seen in other applications and in Mac OS X itself.

OF2-UI

All key navigation elements are moving into the sidebar allowing for super fast access to all key elements of OmniFocus: Inbox, Projects, Contexts, Forecast, Flagged Tasks and Review. While not demonstrated, this should hopefully allow viewing your list of projects while in a context perspective.

In the main area the concept of columns is dropped with the screen estate used in a much more effective manner. The origins of OmniFocus - Kinkless GTD based on OmniOutliner - will disappear with this change. The impact on themes is still being looked at by the OmniFocus development team at the moment.

The inspector will finally become a modal window instead of the rather out-dated and frankly annoying pop-up concept. This again simplifies accessibility for novice users while retaining the features that power users came to appreciate in OmniFocus.

Forecast View

According to the OmniGroup the number one feature request for OmniFocus Mac since the iPad version was released has been the Forecast View. With OmniFocus 2 it will come to the Mac and also add some functionality on top of what the iPad version offers.

OF2-Forecast

First of all, while there are obvious similarities, the way Forecast will be implemented is adapted to the Mac platform and resulting possibilities. One of these possibilities is to be more flexible when selecting the scope of the Forecast: You cannot only select today, the next three days or the week ahead, you can actually look at the whole month or all Saturdays in the current month. Together with the known calendar integration this will be very powerful.

Review

Review is one of the things people tend to struggle with in GTD® and for many, including myself, the way the Review process is implemented in OmniFocus for iPad helped a lot to actually do it. Bringing this feature back to the Mac is the other big promise that OmniFocus 2 will deliver on.

OF2-Review-Mockup

The application’s development is not there yet, but Liz shared a mockup of how it is planned to look like. The coffee stain on the mockup only marks it as such and is no reference to any skeuomorphic design coming to OmniFocus (I saw you worrying for a moment there).

The functionality matches pretty much the one on the iPad and consequently will provide consistent experience.

Backward Compatibility

With OmniFocus 2 there are no changes planned to the underlying data model which will allow seamless syncing to OmniFocus 1 and to the existing iPad and iPhone versions of the application.

Timeline and Release Date

Closing off the session Ken Case came back to talk the audience through the big questions “When?” and “How much?”.

As demonstrated OmniFocus 2 development appears to be on a good way, but will require a few more weeks of hard coding work, e.g. to implement the Review feature, before it can be released to Closed Beta Testing. About 10,000 users have registered with OmniGroup to help with this testing and the attendees to the Debut event (incl. many people in the line that did not make it into the venue) received their Beta Testing access codes.

At the end of the Closed Beta, which will see a natural number of iterations, it is planned to release OmniFocus 2 for public beta testing before eventually shipping the final product. As with previous public beta tests, OmniFocus 2 will be made available for free download from the OmniGroup website at that stage.

True to themselves the OmniGroup has not committed a final release date at the event and will continue their philosophy of focussing on shipping a high quality product versus hitting a specific date. However, looking at the current state of the application, I make a bet that it is not unlikely to see a release in the first half of 2013.

Editions, Pricing & Upgrades

This is were things become interesting. Firstly OmniGroup believes they can target two different segments of users with OmniFocus 2 and consequently decided to release two different editions of the application:

  • Standard which will include all the standard features including the new Forecast and Review functionalities
  • Pro which will retain the Perspective functionality as well as the AppleScript support we are already used to

OmniGroup plans to continue selling through two channels: Their own website and the Apple Mac App Store (MAS) and both editions will be available MAS and non-MAS. The OmniFocus 2 for Mac Standard edition will come at the successful price point of the iPad version of around 40 US$ and the Pro edition will be sold at the current price point of the OmniFocus Mac version of around 80 US$. Any non-MAS purchases of OmniFocus 1 from now on will be provided with a free of charge upgrade to OmniFocus 2 when it releases.

Pics-OF-Event-1

Upgrade pricing is something that Ken and team really care about. In particular upgrading current MAS customers of OmniFocus is something they invested an incredible amount of thoughts into.

Starting with the simple one: Existing non-MAS customers will be able to upgrade to OmniFocus 2 at a 50% discount. For MAS customers OmniGroup is working on a solution that enabling the registration of the existing MAS OmniFocus copy with OmniGroup allowing for a non-MAS upgrade at the above mentioned discount.

Pics-OF-Event-2

Conclusion

I am personally impressed with the direction OmniFocus 2 is taking and cannot wait to get my hands on it. For an application that so many people care about so much there are obviously some disappointments for some (e.g. multiple contexts/tags), but overall many of the things that the majority of OmniFocus users has been waiting for is being delivered with this major upgrade.

We had the privilege of an early preview of the application in development at the event and you should take all my observations in this post with a grain of salt and follow OmniGroup’s communciations (Updated: Link to offical OmniGroup blog post) to understand the details of OmniFocus 2 feature set, release date, pricing & upgrade strategy.