Grounded & Steadfast

The journal of Chris Bowler, a collection of thoughts on faith, business, design, and the creative process. Also learning to code.

Good Software Delights

Redefining yourself is never easy. The same is true for your business. This is part of the reason I admire the folks at OmniGroup. When the iPad became available, they immediately set out to bring all of their apps to this new device (platform might be a better term).

I respected this team before. My first exposure to their applications was OmniOutliner on OS X, a lovely tool. But my usage of various Omni-iOS apps has increased my respect tenfold. For they did not take their desktop applications and simply attempt to recreate them on a smaller screen. Rather, they took a step back and imagined what could be done on a personal, handheld, touchscreen device.

How many people have made the mistake of trying to replicate their desktop offering across three very different hardware devices (desktop, phone, and tablet)? This is where OmniGroup shines — OmniFocus for iPhone is focused on how you would work on that device, putting much focus on easy capture and context or location. The iPad version is so, so well done, focusing on review and planning. Both are significantly different from the OS X version, for good reason. We use these devices in different ways … the software should reflect that.

The OmniGroup applications I own have delighted me over time. It's hard to describe — using the tools is the best way to experience what I'm referring to. I'll come to a point where I'm not sure how I can perform an action. A few moments of exploring the UI and I find what I'm looking for. This sounds like it could be a cause of frustration, yet the effect has been the opposite. The applications have just the right level of intuitiveness, actions being not quite obvious, but never too hard to find. I have to put behind my years of desktop computer use and allow myself to explore what's in front of me.

Examples

Two apps have a place on my iPad home screen, OmniFocus and OmniGraffle.

I was planning a new project this week, using the early morning quiet and coffee to dream big. The project had some tasks that needed to be grouped together. On OS X, my muscle memory knows that to move a task under the preceding task, I press Command+[. But I'd never done this on the iPad. My initial reaction was to tap and hold the task, expecting it to 'pop out' after a few moments or display the 'burger' icon meaning the list item could be rearranged. But no, tapping the task simply invokes the task's modal window.

OmniFocus list  view

Instead, in the task's modal, there is a Move button. Tap this and you can move the task into another task, creating the grouping I was looking for.

Tasl modal dialogue

Another good example is OmniGraffle. How does one take a complex stencilling and drawing tool, stuff its complex UI into a smaller screen and still make it usable? Very carefully and thoughtfully, I suppose. That's what OmniGroup has done.

When you use the tapping of an object to select it, how does one select multiple objects on a canvas? In the case of OmniGraffle, you can't pinch and swipe to select (pinch zooms in on the canvas). Instead, they added a modal dialogue for offering different selection options. It's slick in usage.

Clever Selection modal

Another good example is aligning objects. With no mouse to use for an accurate drag and placement of an object, how does the user align objects? The finger placement simply isn't accurate enough. Again, another modal along the menu gives this control.

Geometry modal gives accurate control over object placement

Like Apple, Ken Case and his team at OmniGroup appear to have no sacred cows. They've been willing to rethink their work and took the opportunity of a new platform to improve. With this in mind, I'm very excited for the impending arrival of OmniFocus 2 for OS X. Ken has already announced that the desktop version will be taking on many of the characteristics of the iPad version, clearly the best of the three options.

I'm not sure what that will look like on the desktop, but I look forward to be delighted.