OmniFocus for iPhone review

There is a wealth of iPhone apps aiming to help you organise your life. Ever since the App Store arrived we’ve been wading through list managers, personal organisers and productivity applications.

Apple itself has, somewhat oddly, neglected to include the To-Do lists from iCal in the iPhone. It's a rather odd omission, especially from the viewpoint of Apple attempting to enter the enterprise space.

In some respects – at least from where we're standing – it doesn't matter whether Apple includes To Do items or not, because there is only one task manager that we're truly interested in, and it’s this one: OmniFocus.
As befits its name, OmniFocus is ever-present in our lives. Most of the Macworld team uses the desktop version of this app to manage our hectic day-to-day workflow. OmniFocus loosely follows David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology and it has steadily gained in popularity amongst GTD savants and workaholics worldwide.

And OmniFocus' reputation obviously precedes it. Whereas most to-do applications on the iPhone are either free, or have a nominal charge of a couple of pounds, OmniGroup is charging £11.99 for this app. It's the most expensive iPhone app we've paid for so far. The only iPhone applications we see that cost more are the dedicated science and health applications (plus the now removed £599 IAMRICH app). It may not be cheap, but then it’s not outrageously expensive for what is a business class app.

OmniFocus for the iPhone follows the desktop application in being the wrong side of accessible at the start, and then proving itself to be worth the invested time with its powerful feature set. For the first hour or so you’ll find very little about OmniFocus for iPhone makes sense.

If you are using it alongside the desktop application (and we gather most people will be) then be aware that you must download the beta copy of OmniFocus 1.1 "sneakypeak" and run that rather than the regular version.
You will need to use the beta of OmniFocus 1.1 to sync with your iPhone in the new preferences menu. You can sync via a file you save on your Disk, or via MobileMe or another WebDAV server. Obviously the advantage of syncing via MobileMe is that any changes you make on your iPhone are synced directly to MobileMe and will be there on your desktop Mac.

Another downside is that it's a bit temperamental. We initially had problems because we had iDisk syncing switched on. A conversation with OmniGroup’s tech support suggested that this is a known problem. iDisk syncing causes conflicts with OmniFocus that we couldn't solve. Eventually we had to switch iDisk syncing off.

Even then we find the syncing service sluggish, and it slows down OmniFocus on the iPhone to the point where it's awkward to use. It's a shame that a tool that is so fast at capturing and organising tasks on the desktop is so slow on the iPhone.

In many ways this shows the beta status of OmniFocus on the desktop (and the 1.0 nature of the iPhone application). There are kinks here that need ironing out.

Still, there are some great ideas here that still make the program worth investing in. You can check out items on your To Do list via Project, Due Date or Flagged Status, as you can on the desktop app, but the Context view takes on a new angle. Contexts are places in which things need doing (office, home etc). Organising things by Context makes a lot of sense when you’re using a portable device. OmniFocus on the iPhone also takes advantage of the iPhone 3G's Location Services to identify where you are and find tasks you need to do in relation to your location. It's a neat touch, throwing up things you need to do at work, home or elsewhere. You can even get clever and add locations such as shops, city centres, supermarkets and anywhere else you find yourself on a regular basis.

We also liked the ability to take photos and record audio from within the app and attach these to new To Do items. When you're too busy to type up notes, a quick header and a voice message does the trick. And we found ourselves taping a train timetable with the note to plan a journey.

Like its desktop brother, OmniFocus is perhaps too clever for its own good, and it does sacrifice user-friendliness for its pro feature set. They're good features though, and this range of useful and practical tools will help you keep on top of tasks.

We just wish the desktop app wasn’t so buggy and for £11.99 we think the compatible desktop application shouldn't really be in testing (it's not normal to pay to take part in a beta test). It’s also far too slow to launch and sync, which is a shame because the lack of spontaneity quite seriously hampers the application. Hopefully future updates will address some of the speed issues.

OUR VERDICT

It's a shame that OmniFocus for iPhone requires the beta test desktop app. Between the syncing bugs, slow performance and high difficulty curve we can't help but hope too many people aren't put off. Still, for all these complaints we wouldn't live without OmniFocus. Hopefully OmniGroup will bring it up to speed soon.

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