THE OMNI SHOW

Get to know the people and stories behind Omni’s award-winning productivity apps for Mac and iOS.

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Feb. 5, 2020, 6 a.m.
Roadmap 2020 Special with Ken Case

On January 29 we published the Omni Roadmap 2020, where we look back at 2019 and look forward to all the good things planned for this year. Ken Case, CEO of the Omni Group — and author of the roadmap — joins the show to go into further detail.

Show Notes:

We got a lot done in 2019! We introduced OmniFocus for the Web, improved performance in OmniGraffle, added support for Omni Automation to OmniPlan, and adopted the big new features that Apple announced at least year’s WWDC: Dark Mode, context menus, multiple windows on iPad, and more.

Our plans for 2020 are ambitious, too: we’ll have Omni Automation support in all our apps, including OmniFocus. We’ll add a new, simpler sign-in licensing option. We’ll publish OmniPlan 4, with great new features such as interval tracking, so you can track your costs over time.

We’re also going to continue to review our user interfaces to make navigation easier. The roadmap says “We want easy navigation, so everything in the app feels like it’s right at your fingertips — whether your fingertips are using the mouse, touch screen, or a hardware keyboard.” So, yes, that includes better keyboard support on iPads. :)

And, like every year, we expect that Apple will announce new features at WWDC, and we will have surprise work to do. Which we don’t mind — it’s part of the fun of making apps! (We love those new features as much as you do.)

You can find Ken on Twitter @kcase and on our Slack group. You can also find @omnigroup on Twitter and on Micro.blog.

Previous roadmap blog posts:

2019 2018 2017 2016 2015

Transcript:

Brent Simmons: You're listening to The Omni Show. Get to know the people and stories behind The Omni Group's award-winning productivity apps for Mac and iOS. Music.

SFX: [MUSIC PLAYS]

Brent Simmons: I'm your host, Brent Simmons. In the studio with me today is Ken Case, CEO of The Omni Group. Say hello, Ken.

Ken Case: Hello, Ken.

Brent Simmons: Listeners, I don't know if you could tell, but he does that with a smile on his face, so it's good. Every year we publish a roadmap on our blog, and last week we published our roadmap for 2020. And Ken is here to talk about our plans for all of our various apps: OmniFocus, OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner and OmniPlan. But first, let's talk about what we did last year. We obviously published a roadmap for 2019, and we did things, and maybe the biggest one was OmniFocus for the Web.

Ken Case: Yeah, that was a long-awaited project.

Brent Simmons: Yeah. We've talked about how that was in the making, in a way, for 10 or 15 years or something.

Ken Case: Yeah, over 10 years, but on hold most of that time.

Brent Simmons: Sure.

Ken Case: So we had started it back before 2010, before the iPad was announced. And we were working on that when we learned about the iPad, and then suddenly interrupted our plans and put that on hold for a long time. Yeah, it was very nice to get back to this last year and get that shipped. And customers seem to be using it and enjoying it, and that's what matters.

Brent Simmons: Yeah, that's good. It's quite a departure for us because we've been all Mac apps and iOS apps for quite some time. And how are we handling that? I mean, it really is a new platform for us.

Ken Case: Yeah. Well, it's certainly a new set of technologies for us to be doing it. We have a background in doing web products and so on from back in the '90s, in the early days of the web…

Brent Simmons: Oh, that's right. Sure.

Ken Case: ... where we were doing WebObjects apps and so on. So from that point of view, the technology wasn't new to us; the idea of doing a web app, let's put it that way, and sort of how those interactions might work. But the stack has changed a lot from the '90s to the 2000s…

Brent Simmons: Oh, right.

Ken Case: ... to the 2010s, to now here we are in the 2020s, and I'm sure it'll keep moving forward. So no, we didn't have anything like the React components that we're using now…

Brent Simmons: Sure.

Ken Case: …in OmniFocus for the Web, when we started it the first time. That stack has been pretty great, actually, so far. One of the rougher areas, perhaps, from a technology point of view, is that JavaScript is a very untyped language, which is great for prototyping, but not so great for maintaining a large code base. So in fact this year — it's not in this roadmap at all. Sorry if I'm just diverging too much.

Brent Simmons: It's all right.

Ken Case: But-

Brent Simmons: No, that's okay.

Ken Case: ... this year we're-

Brent Simmons: People like the behind the scenes. So, yeah, so-

Ken Case: We're in the process of converting all of our JavaScript code for OmniFocus for the Web over to TypeScript, which is Microsoft's type safe sort of pre-processed to JavaScript language.

Brent Simmons: So it turns into JavaScript when it's actually-

Ken Case: Right.

Brent Simmons: ... in the browser.

Ken Case: When the web browser sees it, it's JavaScript.

Brent Simmons: That's pretty cool.

Ken Case: But when we build it, then we actually get type checking. More likely to find errors, just the errors or, you know, whether we called something with the wrong parameters before we shipped some code out there.

Brent Simmons: Okay. That's a good thing. And hopefully stuff like that can help with the productivity and yeah…

Ken Case: Yeah.

Brent Simmons: …and fixing bugs.

Ken Case: There's a place for both types of development in the world. All the LISP-based languages and Smalltalk and so on have been typeless for ages, and Objective-C sort of had both worlds where you could have these IDs that were basically in types where you could have strongly typed variables. Swift has gone very much for the strongly typed world, and that's where most of us are programming, so I think it helps to at least be consistent when you're programming between a couple of different systems.

Brent Simmons: Heard it here first — Omni: We're all about types now. That's cool. So yeah, so OmniFocus for the Web, shipped, doing well. We also added dropped actions to OmniFocus, and that's in OmniFocus for the Web as well as the Mac and iOS apps, right?

Ken Case: Yeah. As we were thinking about, what does it look like to collaborate with somebody else on a task, have some shared tasks, that's one of the things that's been on our roadmap now for a while, one of the things we realized, well, sometimes you're just going to say, "I didn't do this, but I'm not going to either. I'm done with it. Let's get this off the plate, or I canceled the idea of doing this thing."

Ken Case: So we thought dropped actions were important. They're also usefully individually as well as collaboratively. I finally feel like I can take a bunch of the stuff that was in my inbox and say, "I'm never going to do those things," drop them, and have a record, though, that I decided not to do that, don't get tempted to re-add them again later or something.

Brent Simmons: Yeah, so for many uses, it's better than just deleting it, or checking it off even though it's not a thing you did.

Ken Case: It depends on what kind of person you are.

Brent Simmons: Sure.

Ken Case: But for those of us, we like to have a record of all the things we've decided not to do, as well as what we did.

Brent Simmons: I'm the opposite. I delete everything.

Ken Case: Right, just hit clear.

Brent Simmons: I've done it. Get it away. Let's pretend it never happened.

Ken Case: Yeah, for sure.

Brent Simmons: So we also added optional subscriptions as a new licensing thing last year. So we have a couple different options now. We still have the kind of traditional pay up front, but now we have the subscription to get OmniFocus on all three platforms.

Ken Case: Right. Yeah, and that's obviously a big change for us as well. Up until this point, all of our software has been prelicensed. You would prepay for whatever you were going to get. If we did some new version of a product in the future, you would pay for an upgrade price and get that and start using it.

Ken Case: But as we looked at OmniFocus for the Web, in particular, we knew we were building something that adds ongoing costs to keep running. And so we needed a continuing revenue stream to support that.

Brent Simmons: Sure.

Ken Case: So obviously if you're going to do that, then the thing that makes the most sense is to do subscriptions. Well, if you're paying a subscription to get OmniFocus for the Web, you're probably going to want something that's simpler so that you just get it for everything at once, not have to buy a couple things up front and then pay this ongoing subscription. That might feel weird.

Ken Case: So we decided to make the universal OmniFocus subscription and then have a web-only counterpart for the people who had already purchased OmniFocus. We don't want them to have to buy it again.

Brent Simmons: Oh, sure, yeah. So in OmniGraffle land, last year we did Wrap to Shape. Tell me about that.

Ken Case: This has actually been a sort of long-requested feature, where instead of just having text formed into rectangles, where your paragraphs are always aligned to a left edge or maybe to a right edge, but there's some kind of alignment to a straight line on one side or the other, or maybe you have it centered.

Ken Case: But now with wrapped text, you can fill a circle, and so your first line is short, and the next line is wider and wider. And then it starts getting shorter and shorter. And [inaudible 00:06:40] and/or you could fill a star. You can fill a triangle. It's really good for some types of flow charts because those do have some different shapes and-

Brent Simmons: Oh, sure.

Ken Case: ... angles and shapes too.

Brent Simmons: Diamond or whatever.

Ken Case: Right. And sometimes you can fit plain text in there okay, but sometimes that makes the rest of the shape just be much bigger than it would need to be. If you could wrap your text inside there, it's a lot easier. So that's something I've wanted for a long, long time now. And it's nice to finally have it in OmniGraffle.

Brent Simmons: That's cool. And a big thing in OmniGraffle last year was performance. And we did at least one podcast episode on that. And I have some idea there was a awful lot of work that went into that.

Ken Case: That was a lot of work for sure. And that was partially a surprise that we ended up having to do that detour towards performance at all, because in fact OmniGrffle had been written in a way that was very performant on Mac seven years ago, but then the display architecture changed out from underneath us, and how we got bits to the screen the old way was no longer as efficient as it had been. And so we had to think about how do we break things up and put it into tiles and only draw one of these tiles at a time and so on, so that when you scroll, you're not redrawing the whole canvas.

Brent Simmons: Right. And of course these days, we have Retina screens. We have so many more pixels.

Ken Case: Yeah. So I think we've made a lot of good progress last year on that front. I'm not even sure that we're quite back to as fast as we used to be. So we're still continuing to work on performance even now. It's one of the things going into this next update.

Brent Simmons: Performance can always be improved everywhere, I mean, in any app. So-

Ken Case: Yeah. If you're noticing any delay at all, then that's too much.

Brent Simmons: Yeah, right. So WWDC last year was really big. And so we had to take a detour for, let's see, support for multiple windows, context menus.

Ken Case: Dark mode.

Brent Simmons: Dark mode. That was last year.

Ken Case: Which we even hinted at last year, right?

Brent Simmons: Right.

Ken Case: We said, "You heard it here."

Brent Simmons: Yeah. So yeah, our summer and going into a bit of the fall, it was kind of every single app needed a bunch of work. We also adopted the standard document browser.

Ken Case: Yeah, the standard [inaudible 00:08:46], which has been around for a while. Was that iOS 9 when that came in?

Brent Simmons: Maybe.

Ken Case: But it was a little rough, shall we say?

Brent Simmons: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ken Case: Just start with something we weren't ready to implement. And of course there were last year, Apple introduced the new shortcuts actions that people can build into, the developers can add to apps direct, so yeah, lots of work over the summer based on Apple's announcements in June at WWDC, trying to get everything ready for this fall when all that stuff shipped for last fall.

Brent Simmons: Yeah. I wonder about WWDC 2020. Are we going to see as many really big changes like that?

Ken Case: Oh, I hope not.

Brent Simmons: I know. Well, part of me hopes so, because they're often great.

Ken Case: That's true.

Brent Simmons: Like you've mentioned the multiple windows can be a real productivity boon for people, but-

Ken Case: Right.

Brent Simmons: ... boy, it keeps us on our toes.

Ken Case: It doesn't leave a lot of time in our roadmap for the other things we want to get done.

Brent Simmons: Right. Sure. Yeah. It's always interesting. At least we always have a pretty good idea of when WWDC would be, instead of floating every year. So still, though, hard to plan.

Ken Case: And a pretty good idea of when the iPhone is going to ship, at least.

Brent Simmons: Yeah. That's right. Yeah. A little bit of predictability helps. So yeah, we've got a bunch more new OmniFocus actions. That was another part of what we were working on. I've been impressed by what I see with shortcuts in general but also what we've been able to do with OmniFocus and shortcuts.

Ken Case: Yeah, well, it's fun that… some of the work that we have done on shortcuts shipped right away, as soon as our iOS 13 update shipped for OmniFocus. Some of the work, we're still doing right now, and in fact in the current public TestFlight build, there are a few new actions that replace Apple's old built-in actions. But because we have more control over it, we can do things like, I want to add an item and then come back and manipulate that item in some way. And the power that shortcuts is offering us is really a lot of fun to see and play with.

Brent Simmons: I like how that introduces a whole new generation of people to, in a way, it's their first coding, right?

Ken Case: Right.

Brent Simmons: They're working up some logic and making a custom thing. And it's pretty neat.

Ken Case: Little different then BASIC programming.

Brent Simmons: Yeah. That's true. That was mine. Oh, man. GOTO 10. I still remember when my mom first taught me... There was a GOSUB command in BASIC, so you could have like a subroutine.

Ken Case: I remember, yeah.

Brent Simmons: And then come back from that. As I was just duplicating all my code and just using GOTOs everywhere, she explained to me about subroutines. I was like, that was the best one-day lesson I think I've had my entire life. My code got a lot better.

Ken Case: That's awesome.

Brent Simmons: It was nice having two parents who were programmers.

Ken Case: Your mom did LISP, or is that your dad? [crosstalk 00:11:40].

Brent Simmons: She did LISP. She did FORTRAN. And later life, she did Java and a lot of Ada. And that's probably all I'm legally allowed to say. Once Ada comes into the discussion, that ends the discussion. Yeah, so we had a huge year last year.

Ken Case: Yeah.

Brent Simmons: Got a lot done. Let's talk about 2020. One thing people ask a lot about is collaboration features. So we laid some of the groundwork for that. Dropped actions, for instance, was part of that. But people want collaboration in OmniFocus. So what's our plan there?

Ken Case: I don't want to sound like a broken record, but it's still a big priority for us. We keep making progress toward it every year. And our vision for how it works, the basic simplest feature at least for how you would share a task with somebody else, and I can give you a task, you and I both see the status of it. When you check it off or when I check it off, both of us see that it's been done. That basics part of it hasn't really changed.

Ken Case: We have of course thought over time about, well, is that enough? What else can and should we be doing? But before we get distracted down those lines, I really want to at least deliver the most basic feature and get that out there.

Brent Simmons: I think it may be one of those classic cases where you deliver the thing and then you learn. Our users will tell us what the problems-

Ken Case: What they want next.

Brent Simmons: ... they still have. Right?

Ken Case: Yeah, absolutely.

Brent Simmons: And we'll figure out how to solve those. So that's coming up for 2020. That'll be exciting.

Ken Case: Yeah. I'm very much looking forward to finally getting that piece of work done.

Brent Simmons: So we're also better integrating OmniFocus and OmniPlan.

Ken Case: That's the same thing, where people working on a project really want to be able to say, "All these tasks are assigned to Ken. All of these other tasks are assigned to Brent. Let's have it automatically delegate those tasks out to each person's OmniFocus database. They can check things off, and it will automatically update the plan."

Brent Simmons: Right. So Mark's the project manager, right, running OmniPlan, and he's giving you and me tasks-

Ken Case: Exactly.

Brent Simmons: ... and shows up in our thing, and he sees when we check them off. That's pretty cool.

Ken Case: Yeah, and-

Brent Simmons: Mark's laughing at me.

Ken Case: Really cool.

Mark Boszko: I've got my eye on you.

Ken Case: So that's an important thing. That is not part of OmniPlan 4.0 Because I don't want to hold back 4.0 for OmniFocus having this stuff ready, but it's definitely something that I hope to get done by the end of this year.

Brent Simmons: Another big topic is, you wrote about improving the flow of our apps. That includes keyboard shortcuts and navigation on iPads, which is amazing how often people ask for that, but yeah, that's such a desired thing.

Ken Case: Yeah, well when we started building our apps for iPad, when we did this "iPad or Bust!" thing 10 years ago, we weren't really thinking very much about the keyboard. In fact, I'm trying to remember, did that even have, did Apple make a keyboard yet?

Brent Simmons: There was.

Ken Case: Or was there just the Bluetooth…?

Brent Simmons: Remember that weird stand?

Ken Case: Yeah, I mean that-

Brent Simmons: Was it-

Ken Case: ... wasn't that a little bit later, though? Maybe it was always there.

Brent Simmons: I think it was on the first one.

Ken Case: But it didn't feel like something I wanted to use all the time, let's put it that way. And the operating system didn't really make it easy to use all the time. You couldn't launch apps from the keyboard, for example. But over time, the operating system has gotten much better with its keyboard support. And our original designs, which were let's take advantage of the touch interface there, and we'll take advantage of the keyboard on the Mac, keyboard support has been great on the Mac. And I live on the Mac with my keyboard.

Ken Case: But more and more people are starting to use their iPads as replacements for their laptops altogether. Just when they go on a trip or something, they take their iPad, and then they're ready to go, and they don't need anything else. And we want that experience to be as good as it can be.

Brent Simmons: So we're all still looking at, not just keyboard shortcuts, but the general flow of our apps, how you navigate around and get things done.

Ken Case: Yeah, absolutely. Right now as you navigate around some of our apps, there are just too many taps to get from one place to another. As you navigate, for example, the sidebar in OmniFocus, you end up going into a perspective, and then maybe into a folder or back out again. And this in and out stuff is way too inefficient. We want something to be, to feel fluid, to feel like it's right there all the time and that you can get to it quickly when you need it, as well as good ways to jump from one place to another when you do want to make a more distant jump. Go to the search field and type the name of a project and hit return, and just quickly get there.

Brent Simmons: Quick open kind of stuff?

Ken Case: Yeah.

Brent Simmons: I'm sure a lot of people look forward to that too. But a big thing coming up is JavaScript automation will ship in OmniFocus this year, and that will be the last of four to get automation?

Ken Case: Yeah. And speaking of long-term projects that we've spent many years working on, this is something we started about five years ago. And as a programmer, automation is interesting in and of itself for me. But I know that's not where most of our customers are at. And that's not a good reason to justify putting it into our products.

Ken Case: For our customers, what I think makes automation interesting is that it helps them be able to extend the app in ways that we didn't anticipate, whether that's integrating with another app or communicating with a website, taking maps off the Internet and putting them into OmniGraffle to draw like a map of your city or something. Those are sorts of APIs that make a big difference.

Ken Case: And so automation, if folks have heard about web APIs that are used for apps to talk to each other on the web, automation APIs or JavaScript APIs in a native app serve the exact same purpose, but for things that are native apps, that you don't talk to a native app over the web, you talk to it through its own local API.

Ken Case: On the Mac we had some great APIs in the form of AppleScript APIs. And customers had made great use of those over the years for things like Kinkless GTD in OmniOutliner. But when we started bringing our apps over to iPad, we knew the underlying app still had all that power, but we were missing the ability to have them talk to each other, communicate with each other, or do some of those same levels of customization to bring new features, like, "I want to put template into OmniFocus, assemble projects with it. With an API, you can do that really easily.

Brent Simmons: A few things I like about this. One is that you can share your scripts with somebody else, right? So for something everybody at your company needed to do periodically, there could be a script that someone writes, and everybody gets it. So you don't even have to be a scripter to get the benefits.

Ken Case: Absolutely. In fact, I think our goal is that most people getting the benefits shouldn't have to be writing scripts themselves. We want to make it as easy as possible for people who don't write code to find these things and to install them and use them, just like they would an app. Most people who use apps and benefit from them don't know how to write them. And the same should be true for these scripts.

Brent Simmons: Yeah, that's a good point. You don't have to be able to write OmniFocus to be able to use OmniFocus.

Ken Case: Right. But we do need to make sure that it's easy for you to use. And in this first iteration, now we've sort of laid the ground floor of, we're almost there with OmniFocus but with all the rest of the apps, at least the Omni Automation stuff, the JavaScript APIs are built in, and the coders can start using it. And that's needed for the next step, which is, okay, now let's get the product that the coders are writing out to people who are interested in using it, just like Apple had to give us APIs to use the iPhone and iPad or Mac so we could build apps, before they had an App Store that you could sell those apps in, not that we're looking to build an App Store, to be clear, just...

Brent Simmons: Another thing I really like about this kind of automation is not just that it saves time and you can share your things with other people, but it saves on errors too, right?

Ken Case: Absolutely.

Brent Simmons: So if you automate something, it's going to do it the same way every time, but if you're doing it manually, you can mess up every third go or something like that, right?

Ken Case: Yeah. When there's any sort of routine, that's a great time to bring in some automation. And then with things like Siri and shortcuts and its ability to trigger things, you could ask Siri to do something and you can have that trigger a JavaScript automation inside OmniFocus or whatever.

Brent Simmons: That's sweet.

Ken Case: Yeah, a lot easier. This is yet another way to quickly access some things instead of having to go tap around and hunt for things.

Brent Simmons: That's gonna be a lot of fun. I think particularly with OmniFocus, when this comes out, I think people are really going to enjoy it. So we're also adding a new thing, sign-in licensing. So this is an optional new thing, changing how people buy our apps. But tell me more about sign-in licensing.

Ken Case: We've been trying to make licensing seamless for our customers for, well, forever. In my ideal world, customers would never have to think about licensing or how to buy the stuff. They would just try it out, decide if this is for them, and then have some easy way they give us the appropriate amount of money to buy it and use it.

Ken Case: But there have always been the practical questions of, well, how exactly does that payment happen? Does it happen on our website? Does it happen through the App Store? Does it…? And some of… how the payment is made has dictated which version of the app you could install it in because we're not allowed to unlock the App Store apps based on like a license code that you would purchase somewhere else, because Apple understandably wants their cut for running the App Store.

Ken Case: But this has led to situations where customers will buy the app. They're on our website. They see the stuff. They download it. They run it. They buy it. They install it. It's all great. Then they go buy a new Mac, and they log in. They download it from the App Store this time. But they can't figure out where to enter the license code. And then we have to explain, "Ah, well you've got to go download the other copy." And, well, it's kind of a messy situation.

Ken Case: So fortunately we're not the first people to go down this path. Adobe and Microsoft have also experienced similar problems. And we think what Microsoft has done is actually a pretty reasonable model. So when you buy Microsoft Office, you get a login that you can use to unlock any version of Microsoft Office on whatever platform you're using, whether you're on Windows, or on Mac, or on iOS.

Ken Case: And in our case, as we've developed OmniFocus for the Web, we applied a very similar model, where if when you buy a subscription to OmniFocus, that subscription is associated with your sign-in, your Omni account, and you can log in on any device to unlock OmniFocus on that device. Well, and we quickly started hearing from customers saying, "This is so much simpler. Why don't you do that for all your apps?" So that is what we're looking to do.

Brent Simmons: That is an improvement over the old days of, I would have some special file somewhere with all my licenses and hope I always remember to add it there, and all this other stuff.

Ken Case: I think it's particularly useful for some of our business customers, where they're trying to manage license codes for, say, a few thousand copies of OmniGraffle. And they didn't buy them all at once, so they, maybe 50 at a time or whatever, and they got now many hundreds of license codes that they're keeping track of in a spreadsheet or wherever, I don't know what they're doing. And then how do they keep track of which people are using which ones? And it seems like a big mess. And we wanted to simplify that experience for them as well.

Brent Simmons: So we're going to get floating time zones in OmniFocus? Did I read that right?

Ken Case: We are. You picked that out of that little aside, did you?

Brent Simmons: I did. I don't travel a lot, but whenever I do, I'm like, "Everything seems wrong."

Ken Case: Yeah, well I don't travel a lot. Most of the time when I travel, I'm within the time zone. I'm just going down to visit-

Brent Simmons: Sure, California.

Ken Case: ... Apple or something. And clearly this is an area where we were not experiencing the pain as much as a lot of our customers were. For people who don't know, right now in OmniFocus, if you assign like a future time to an item that you're trying to get done, like you give it a due date or you give it a defer date, that time is associated with the time zone that you are entering it in right now.

Ken Case: So if I enter 8:00 PM, it's 8:00 PM Seattle time. And if I fly to New York, when the alarm goes off there, it will be 11:00 PM New York time, because that's when it's 8:00 PM in Seattle. Sometimes that's okay because sometimes, well, maybe I was trying to schedule something with you and you're still back in Seattle. And so the time zone makes sense.

Ken Case: But most of the time when people are entering tasks into a personal task management system like OmniFocus, they are wanting to enter times for their own clock and their own biorhythms. When the shift time zones, and it's particularly when they tell the device to go ahead and shift time zones, it's because they want to be on that new time, and they want all their 9:00 AM things to happen at 9:00 AM, not at noon.

Brent Simmons: Yeah, right. It just makes sense.

Ken Case: Yeah, I think the Reminders app, Apple's — if we go to the simplest, simplest case here — the Reminders app doesn't even have time zone support, as far as I can find. So we think that is the basic case, and we just started with it. Let's put it that way. So that is coming not in this very next release, but — the very next one that's coming up is 3.5, and I have a bit more to say about that in a second — but in in OmniFocus 3.6, we're planning to add floating time zone support. And that will be out in February.

Brent Simmons: So will that be when you're entering a date or editing, will that just be an option, like make this floating or non-floating?

Ken Case: I think the right thing to do is to make it always floating by default. And if you mean that you really want to fix this in time, like you want it to be associated with 8:00 PM Pacific and not float with you when you change time zones, then we'll have the option for you to lock it down and say, "No, I mean this time zone. Keep it there."

Brent Simmons: Yeah, that make sense.

Ken Case: But otherwise, think all of the time zones should move with you.

Brent Simmons: So OmniFocus for the Web will continue adding features, get closer and closer to parity. You mentioned it will get a focus feature and custom perspectives.

Ken Case: And actually since writing the blog post, I remembered that we've had in public test for quite a while some improvements to forecast, where we added support for defer dates and the forecast tag showing up there. We realized the approach we were using didn't leverage enough of the architecture that we already had in place in the backend for how do we manage where things go in the app. So we plan to ship all of those features. Let's just put it that way. Looking forward to doing that over the next few months.

Brent Simmons: So what's coming up soonest for us? Before we talk about OmniPlan 4, what are we shipping in the first half of the year that people could look for?

Ken Case: Well, OmniPlan 4 is in the first half of the year, and it's coming pretty soon.

Brent Simmons: Right, right, right. But I figured we'd save that for last because it's so cool. But-

Ken Case: Yes, but it is a pretty big one.

Brent Simmons: ... what's coming up in Focus and Graffle and things?

Ken Case: Well, so I think this automation work that we're doing, and we see several updates here to try to smooth out this experience for the nondevelopers, for people who just want to use scripts that other people are writing and to be able to find them, and quickly install them, and so on. So we're going to make that experience smoother, as well as making the experience for the developers who are doing automation easier as well, like give them some of the new APIs that they might need to get things done and of course finishing off the APIs in OmniFocus, and making that officially available.

Ken Case: It's in a preview right now. So if there are developers out there who are looking to script OmniFocus with JavaScript today, you can look us up. Send us an email, and we'll tell you how to get that enabled in your copy. Yeah, so we'll be working on the automation stuff. We'll be working on of course the floating time zones.

Ken Case: When we shipped OmniFocus shortcuts for iOS 13, we added some really great new capabilities, like, I want to be able to find items in my database. Previously we had some automations in place that were URL-based. They even integrated with shortcuts, built into the shortcuts app, where you could add things to OmniFocus, so it was kind of one-way.

Ken Case: We always have wanted to be able to let scripts not just add things to OmniFocus but also read from the... maybe show you what are the things that are due this week, what are the things that I accomplished this past week?

Brent Simmons: So various types of searches and queries and things.

Ken Case: Searches and reports. And then you can take that and do whatever else you want to do with it. Maybe you want to mail it to your boss. Maybe you want to mail it to your spouse about upcoming vacations. Whatever, we added a find items shortcut this last year when shortcuts added support for building in these shortcut actions.

Ken Case: But the architecture we used for that model, it was designed for earlier iOS extensions where they only needed access to a small piece of the database. And so we were copying out that small piece of the database, and then they could work with that. That really is no longer... If you're doing a general shortcut, you want to be able to get to everything. And over the years, the architecture on iOS for extensions and on Mac, for that matter, has gotten better and better. Now it's possible for us to have a framework of code that is shared between the Mac and iOS.

Ken Case: And so what we've done for this upcoming 3.5 release that's in public test right now, is we've moved that entire database out to where all of the extensions can see it and work with it directly. And we've given them direct access to our normal app's model code so that they can do the full range of calculations that the app does.

Ken Case: So, for example, if you're using the today extension, you have a perspective in there, and you're checking items off, it knows when you check an item off and that was a prerequisite for another item becoming available. That other item can now show up in that thing immediately instead of waiting for you to go launch the app, and kind of sync up and refresh what was in its external data model. And that also applies to what we're doing in our shortcut actions.

Ken Case: So now the shortcuts have full access to the database. They can get to everything. We can start looking at things like, I want to add an action that will let me edit an item, manipulate it or delete items, for people who delete things.

Brent Simmons: I just want a shortcut that deletes everything!

Ken Case: Delete everything that's already been completed. Send a quick report of it, and then get rid of it. That will be possible as we finish out this round of shortcut improvements.

Brent Simmons: Our biggest app update coming in the first half here is probably OmniPlan 4. So what's coming in OmniPlan 4?

Ken Case: Well….

Brent Simmons: It's a lot, right?

Ken Case: Yeah. So the first thing that jumps to mind is the thing that I teased in the roadmap blog post, which is a new feature for interval tracking. So this is a feature that a lot of customers have asked for or that they have entered their project plan data into OmniPlan, and maybe this is a two year project or something. And they have dozens or hundreds of people involved. And they're wondering, "Now that I've got this all planned out, I'm ready to get going. I need to know what to budget for each month as I go along. How much money am I spending in January? How much money am I spending in February?" and so on.

Ken Case: And OmniPlan, in the past, you could look at the Gantt chart yourself and try to figure that out. But we didn't have any way to calculate that automatically for you. We didn't have any interval-based reporting of here's what happened in this month. Here's what 's gonna happen—

Brent Simmons: So-

Ken Case: ... in the next.

Brent Simmons: ... it would give a total, I assume?

Ken Case: Yeah, and a breakdown. So now, and there's a screenshot in my roadmap blog post, now you can turn on this interval tracking and see month by month or week by week, whatever intervals you're looking at, how much money does this group of tasks cost me? How much money are we spending on development? How much are we spending on testing? How much are we spending on documentation on a month-by-month basis?

Ken Case: Or maybe it's not money. Maybe you already have the resources in your organization somewhere, but you need to know how many hours am I going to need from each of these teams, right?

Brent Simmons: Oh, I see. Okay.

Ken Case: The same problem applies. So I'll call it more cost-tracking than money-tracking, whether that cost is time or cash. So we think that will help a lot of our planning for customers who are working with these project plans.

Brent Simmons: Yeah, it sounds like a-

Ken Case: It's a big….

Brent Simmons: It sounds huge.

Ken Case: Yeah, it has been a long-requested feature. So beyond interval tracking, one of the other things that customers have been asking us for for years has been the ability to add recurring tasks to their project. So sometimes you're doing something, and it just repeats week after week. Like, you have a meeting that the team is all going to. And as long as the press is going on, that meeting is going on. But you didn't want to have to write down 50 different meeting projects for every week that you were going on. Now with repeating tasks, you have that ability.

Brent Simmons: Yeah. That sounds like a pretty common need, I would imagine, yeah.

Ken Case: Yeah, for some types of projects it makes a lot of sense for it. If it made sense for every project, it would've been there from the start, I guess. It's been one of the things we've been listening to our customers tell us that they wanted to see. So we decided now is the right time to build that in.

Ken Case: We also have been looking at doing task roll-up. That recurring meeting thing is an example of this. It's not the only example, but if you have something that's happening week after week, you don't want 50 different line items for each one of those occurrences. You would like to collapse that and show it all on one line, where the event just repeats on the timeline as it happens.

Ken Case: We didn't want to do it just for recurring tasks, we wanted to make this a more general feature. And so now you can, for example, if you have a number of milestones, you can have just one milestone group. And if you roll that up, you'll see each of those milestones listed on that line instead of on their own separate lines.

Ken Case: So those are a couple of great features. We've also just been working on the navigation and interface. How do we get to things more quickly? How do we make them more discoverable? And a number of things along those lines. And I won't spoil all of the news because I'm sure Ainsley would like to share it in a future episode.

Brent Simmons: And yeah, we'll certainly talk to her on the show about it, and are we shipping OmniPlan for Mac?

Ken Case: Some of the work has already been done in OmniPlan for iOS. But what is about ready to start testing, public test now is the Mac version, and that's what we'll be shipping in the first half of the year.

Brent Simmons: Have we covered everything? Our listeners want all the details, of course. What else? Is there anything else that we could tell them?

Ken Case: I think we have covered the highlights of specific plans that are going on. Yeah, there's a lot of extra detail about each of our products that I didn't have time to get into. And I don't know that now is the right time to get into them either.

Ken Case: As I was writing the roadmap, I wanted to make sure that people at least had a sense for what we're working on, what we're planning to do, and whether we're going in a direction that is aligned with what they're wanting to see.

Ken Case: The things that are very important to us hopefully are reflected in our plans. And our values there. So we're trying to make sure that customers are able to accomplish more work every day and make that work as easy and fluid as possible.

Brent Simmons: Cool. Well, thank you, Ken. How can people find you on the web?

Ken Case: You can find me on the web at omnigroup.com. Look for-

Brent Simmons: Right, omnigroup.com.

Ken Case: Look for the blog. Look for this blog post, I'm sure it will be linked in the podcast notes.

Brent Simmons: Yes, it will be in the show notes, yeah.

Ken Case: You can find me personally, if you want to reach out to me directly, best places to do that are probably Twitter, where I am @kcase, so k, my first initial, and case, C-A-S-E, my last name. And you can also send me email at kc@omnigroup.com.

Brent Simmons: Kc@omnigroup.com.

Ken Case: Yeah.

Brent Simmons: That's easy. I'd also like to thank our intrepid producer, Mark Boszko. Say hello, Mark.

Mark Boszko: Hello, Mark.

Brent Simmons: Mark's voice is coming back. He had a little bit of a cold, I guess, this week. Poor guy. But he made it. He's here for the recording. And especially I want to thank you for listening. Thank you. Music.