OmniOutliner: Great Expectations, Great Disappointments

by Mike Evans

OmniOutliner for iPad is all I hoped for but, at the same time, something I didn’t even fear. The absence of desktop synchronisation comes as a shock. These days, reliable synchronisation is my number one requirement, preferably via a Cloud server. At the very minimum, though, I expect wifi sync. To have to go back to simple import and export of files¹ is disappointing to say the least. I didn’t like this system, with all the problems of version management, when I came across it in iWork. I like it even less now.

It’s so sad because OmniGroup do synchronisation of OmniFocus with aplomb. I had expected the same with OmniOutliner and never even considered Cloud sync would be absent. After all, OmniFocus started life as an add-on for OmniOutliner (Kinkless GTD) and this common heritage is obvious when you compare the two Mac desktop versions. 

But take the new OmniOutliner app as a strandalone product and it is world class. With its easy, intuitive interface, the built-in themes, beautiful colour schemes, pop-up lists, checkboxes and spreadsheet-like calculation fields, OO for iPad is another triumph and a worthy companion to the excellent OmniFocus for iPad. Omni have now produced two iPad applications that are actually better than the rather dated Mac versions.

The disappointment among Omni fans over the synchronisation issue is palpable. Almost all the systems I use daily are capable of seamless cloud synchronisation, including a plethora of plain-text editors, 1Password and, indeed, OmniFocus. I do not use iWork because I cannot cope with the rigid and potentially dangerous system of import/export. Similarly, I am unlikely to make much use of OmniOutliner, despite having shelled out £12 for the privilege.

OmniGroup have come so close to another triumph, but this app will not mature until it offers OF-like synchronisation.

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¹ Files can be imported and exported to MobileMe’s iDisk or to a WebDAV server. I used iDisk for testing purposes and it works well. Any desktop OO file saved to iDisk can be imported into the iPad application. After amendment it can be exported back to iDisk, preferably with a new version name. This offers a rudimentary way of sharing files, but is cumbersome and clunky compared with the seamless synchronisation of, say, OmniFocus.