Recently, there have been tweets and posts commenting on the difficulty in learning OmniFocus. Some writers also note a preference for the iPad over the desktop versions. See the following for a sampling of opinions on the matter:

These comments all touch upon the learning curve inherent to the program and bare some discussion. Besides my ephemeral basking in the consideration that I have achieved cool kid status, I thought I could discuss some of these points touched upon in a series of posts. Today’s post will start a weekly series of five posts on the differences between the versions and the learning curves involved. I plan to release them on Mondays until they are done.

The iPad’s ease of learning, carefully considered feature amount, and user interface make it a sweet spot for many. Its fewer features than that of the desktop make the iPad more useful in certain situations. Meanwhile, the desktop’s larger feature amount and, consequently, steeper learning curve may cater more to the advanced user who desires crafting a system to his or her liking. Such statements are clearly subjective, and I encourage you to contribute your opinion in the comments as the series progresses.

There are currently 3 different clients for OmniFocus corresponding to the hardware on which they reside:

  • The desktop/laptop
  • The iPad
  • The iPhone

Each client can be useful in its own right, and they compliment each other well when used in conjunction.

Input Interface

OmniFocus is a task management system, and as such, it is used to input, organize, and act upon tasks. Any step between thought and the action of these steps entails risk in derailing the process. The main question to ask is how efficiently can you, as an individual end-user, access these steps?

To present my bias upfront, I personally prefer the desktop client over the iPad in most situations. Having used the various clients for some time now and having reached a certain point on their respective learning curves, the desktop simply does more and does it faster. Much of how I use the program can, in fact, only be done on the desktop version. Still, I find the iPad and the iPhone versions very useful to my workflow and by no means do I disparage them.

Some differences between the clients directly result from the features and/or limitations of the hardware upon which the programs exist. The touch interface available on the iPad and iPhone clients allows for a direct interaction with creating and checking off tasks that does not exist with the keyboard and mouse. Meanwhile, a physical keyboard allows for rapid entry of full sentences and access to key commands. This difference of input can have a significant impact on experiences of using the clients, both in terms of their capabilities and the subsequent learning curves involved.

For example, consider the process of task entry. While the Inbox for the iPad is more visible and intuitively accessible, the Inbox for the desktop is more ubiquitously available once learned. With Control-Option-Space, Quick Entry is accessed while using any other program. Typing Command-K closes the quick entry. One never really leaves the program of present focus.

While the iPad’s recent 4.2 iOS update allows one to “multi-task” applications, the speed of entry is slower than that on the desktop version and consequently the distance between thought and action is longer on the iPad. One needs to call up the OmniFocus application while closing/hiding the present application, enter the task, then close/hide OmniFocus while returning to the prior application.

Both this ease of access and the physical keyboard input also make it more likely for the user to type a well worded task, allowing for better delegation to one’s future self. This process is particularly longer when using the iPhone version. Still, one may be more likely to get a task at all into the Inbox of the iPhone or iPad versions simply because of their portability.

This example highlights one of the main themes in comparing the desktop and iPad/iPhone versions. While the iPad presents an arguably more immediately intuitive interface, the desktop can provide greater power and finesse once learned at the cost of portability.

To Be Continued …

The next post will focus upon general layout and portability.