The day the Omni Group releases a new iPad app always feels a little bit like productivity-nerd Christmas. There is always a lot of anticipation leading up to the event and, despite having spent far too much time thinking about how the Omni UI wizards will go about it, you always find a few unexpected surprises. With today’s release of OmniOutliner for iPad ($20), the Christmas metaphor holds up.
Last year, no sooner did we get OmniFocus installed than we all immediately started clamoring for OmniOutliner. So now it is here. How does OmniOutliner stack up against are expectations? I’ve been using the app through the beta and report the Omni Group delivered, again.
Interface and Iteration
What puts the Omni Group applications above others is their unwillingness to accept “good enough.” The Omni Group spends a lot of time getting the touch interface right. With each new iPad app, they realize they are blazing a trail. They generally throw out all the assumptions made with building an interface for a traditional keyboard and mouse and start over. OmniOutliner is not a simple port of the Mac OS X app. Instead, it is a ground up, outlining application built around the iPad’s strengths (and weaknesses).
Outlining real simple. Type an entry and then use the arrow icon buttons at the bottom of the screen to promote or demote entries. For speed outlining, that is it. No magic incantations or multiple button taps. Type the words. Set the level. Move on.
To type on a line, double tap it. A curser drops in and the iPad on-screen keyboard jumps to life. Once done editing, tap the row handle to the left and OmniOutliner exits edit mode. The row handles also include icons to display row level. Any rows without children appear as a dot. Rows with children have an oversized disclosure triangle. Tapping the triangle will collapse and expand the children points below it. OmniOutliner also includes the ability to add notes in an option text field below individual entries. This is one of the Mac OS X features that came over to iPad and it is damn useful.
Tapping the Edit button brings up a series of editing tools to move, group, and delete individual entries. Even easier though is grabbing and moving the row handles and moving manually.
Columns and Customization
It wouldn’t be OmniOutliner without columns and the iPad iteration delivers. You can add columns of various formats including text, numbers, date, duration, pop-up list, and checkboxes. Everything is intuitive and creating and styling new columns is easy. With certain formats, like numbers, OmniOutliner will optionally perform a math functions providing totals, averages, minimum and maximum values, and additional functions.
There is a lot of customization available under the hood. Tapping the Tools icon button opens a popover that lets you set styles and view for the entire document or the current selection. You can also create custom styles for certain outline levels. The screenshot, for instance set a tan background, bold typeface, and numbering for the level one entries.
One of the many nice touches are the built in color schemes. The color picker includes a series of custom palettes. These are the same color options available in the iPad OmniGraffle app and much better than those available in the Mac OS X color picker.
Document management is handled in the document view. This app feels a lot like Apple’s iWork apps in this regard. You flick between documents and tap one to open it. There are also options to open documents from iDisk or a WebDAV server. There is no Dropbox access. The Omni Group explained that they are still exploring ways to make online sync better. However, if you really need that Dropbox sync, you can use a DropDAV account and access your Dropbox files via WebDAV. You can also export outlines to iDisk, WebDAV, and iTunes or send them as a mail attachment. Export options include the OmniOutliner format, HTML (both simple and dynamic), plain text, and my beloved OPML.
When the iPad was first announced, OmniOutliner was one of those apps that I thought would be perfect for it. I often use outlines for brainstorming and organizing thoughts. I also use OmniOutliner to take depositions and prepare witness examinations. Furthermore, every one of the last fifty episodes of the Mac Power Users started life as an OmniOutline. I miss the templates available in OmniOutliner Pro on my Mac and native Dropbox support would have been nice but I’ve been using the iPad OmniOutliner exclusively for a month and the iPad has supplanted my Mac as my “go to” outlining device. Like mind mapping, outlining really lends itself to the touch interface. The Omni Group just “gets” the iPad and it is no surprise that they nailed it again with OmniOutliner for iPad.