OmniFocus v Things – Mac / iPad / iPhone

This must be the fifth time that I have written a OmniFocus versus Things post (not just for this blog), yet I find myself compelled to do so again. Every time I write this I come away with something different, for myself and the reader. It is unfair to judge either App by just one of its components (iPhone, iPad, or Mac) so I think it is best to look at each as a complete bundle – which sadly for my wallet I own them both for all devices.

A Bit of Background

I am far more versed with OmniFocus as I have been using it since day one (which was before Things was released) and even before that as it was known by the name kGTD and worked with OmniOutliner Pro back then. When Things was launched I was wooed away due to all of the positive press and the seductive looking screenshots on the product page – I made the switch from OmniFocus to Things for about 5 months before coming back to OmniFocus.

I had almost entirely given up on Things until the iPad was released, but after being patient (for entire month!!) for OmniFocus to come out on the iPad I decided the wait wasn’t worth it and switched back the Things.

My general take on both Apps is that they are both fantastic and really depend on which one you are more apt to use and like – visually and feature wise. The crux of all task management Apps is that they cannot make you do anything, they can only organize the things that you need to do. That being said they both do a wonderful job and you cannot go wrong with either one.

There is however trade offs to using either OmniFocus or Things, some are manageable and some will drive you crazy.

The Mac Clients

I am starting with the Mac clients because this is going to be the shortest section of the three clients, the reason being: the Mac client is no longer the most important client. That’s right the only reason you need the Mac app is for syncing and backup, and entry while working on your Mac, but it is certainly not the most important part.

Things for Mac

Things wins over most people with its beautiful interface, it is a modern looking app that has been made with design in mind. There are a lot of little things to love, here are just a few:

  • The HUD style quick entry panel.
  • The ‘Today’ view.
  • Ease of scheduling tasks.
  • Ability to assign tasks to people.
  • The ‘Someday’ List. (allows you to put goals and make a bucket list of sorts)
  • The ‘Logbook’. (see what you did and when you did it – the implementation could sure be better on this one, regardless it is a nice feature)

OmniFocus for Mac

The grandaddy of all task management GTD apps for Mac users is a complex beast. It is not nearly as seductive looking as its German counter part, but there is a lot to love about it:

  • Seattle based (OK not a plus, but gotta give props to my city)
  • User can change the colors and styling.
  • Entry of multiple tasks in the quick entry pane.
  • Over-the-Air syncing with other clients. (meaning your other devices can sync anywhere they can get online)
  • Custom Perspective (really just user defined views that show you only what you want/need to see)
  • Review mode for hardcore GTD users.

Key Differences

As you can see there are a lot of pluses with both apps on the Mac side and for most it will come down to which they like the looks and interface of best. There are however a couple of substantial differences between both apps that you must consider before purchasing.

Contexts & Tagging

Things allows you to tag each action, these are meant to help further define when and where you can perform each action. With OmniFocus this same thing is called Contexts where you define the same attribute. The key difference though is that in Things you can apply as many ‘Tags’ as you want to each action, whereas with OmniFocus you can only apply one ‘Context’ to each action.

This alone is not bad knock against OmniFocus for only allowing one context – it is matter of preference, as GTD users will tell you OmniFocus does this ‘correctly’. Personally I have always found the Context system of OmniFocus to be cleaner and less cluttering than Things’ Tagging system is. That being said Things certainly makes it easier to add a task and know what it is without assigning it to a project.

Syncing

Things is a Wi-Fi only syncing mechanism where all clients need to be on the same Wi-Fi network in order to sync. OmniFocus uses various Over-the-Air (OTA) solutions to do the same thing, giving you the ability to sync anywhere you can get online.

Now there are trade-offs with each of these solutions, the way that Things syncs the clients is incredibly fast and very accurate. OmniFocus wins on convenience and is best for those that are forgetful (meaning you can’t remember to sync up with your computer before going mobile) but it is a slower system and seems to be a much larger database. It is a performance versus convenience debate – the choice is yours.

Design

As stated before Things and OmniFocus take very different approaches to the design of their apps. Things adheres to a more Apple like standard where they pick the way it should be and you can’t change it. Luckily Things looks very nice to begin with, so the few things I do not like (spacing between projects in the Today view for instance) are not a huge concern.

OmniFocus gives you a very basic slate that you can work with, and further options to customize not only the looks but how the data is displayed as well. This is the ultimate for those that liken themselves to a designer and for those tinkerers among us (I hit on both of those categories).

Option Control

When you are modifying or working with your projects and actions in either App there are various options and controls that you can use – both Apps take a very different approach in presenting those to you. Things uses an expanded entry mode to allow you to add the particular options that you want and to control different aspects (such as whether it should repeat or not). OmniFocus uses the well known to Mac users, inspector method to present the plethora of options and controls to you.

Both are excellent and annoying at the same time. OmniFocus allows you to really control every aspect of actions, the sacrifice is that you must have the inspector open that takes up even more room on the screen. Things presents a much better laid out set of controls, but they are simple and not as ‘powerful’.

Wrapping Up the Mac Clients

I stated at the very beginning that you really can’t lose with either Things or OmniFocus and I very much believe that to be the case. This is why if you look around the web so many people struggle with deciding between the two, they are both excellent and it all comes down to a matter of preference.

This however, only holds true with the Mac clients of the two apps, as we will see in the next section the iPhone and iPad variants are not as evenly matched in my opinion.

iPhone Clients

Things and OmniFocus start to look a lot different when you purchase thier iPhone app counter parts. Here I think that both apps again are very good, but there are some really great standout features for OmniFocus that tip the scale in its favor.

Things for iPhone

The iPhone version of Things may make some wary when they see the $9.99 price tag on the App which is certainly higher than most iPhone apps. I would encourage you to ignore the pricing for both Apps and decide based on what you like, as choosing the cheaper option when you want the other will leave you with a broken system that is useless.

Pros:

  • Wi-Fi sync is very fast.
  • Great looking icon that matches the Mac version well.
  • Instant startup.
  • Quick and easy to enter a task with ability to quickly enter more data (tags, due dates, projects).
  • Local notifications of items that are due.
  • Universal search.

Cons:

  • Slow to add tags as you must scroll through a list that is not in alpahbetical order.
  • Adding a due date gives you the month, date and year – there is no indication what the actual day is (i.e. Friday) until you select a date.
  • If you forget to sync before you leave home or the office then you are out of luck.

OmniFocus for iPhone

If Things gave you a sticker shock, hang on, OmniFocus for the iPhone costs $19.99 – not cheap by any metric. Again I stress that you don’t fret about the price, but I feel it important to mention because OmniGroup is basically saying that thier App is worth twice as much as Things. Let’s take a look:

Pros:

  • Robust OTA syncing options (Local Network, MobileMe, WebDAV, as well as a Beta option from OmniGroups server).
  • Syncing of your customer perspective from the Mac app.
  • Ability to scroll through a list of projects and context, or add via a live search option.
  • Ability to attach a photo or audio clip to an action.
  • Universal search.
  • Ability to make a To-do list based on your location (some setup required).
  • Looks like the stock Mac app.

Cons:

  • OTA Syncing can be slow.
  • No way to add a custom perspective to the main screen view.
  • No plus button for adding a task, though the button is self explanatory it always causes me a bit of hesitation.
  • Looks like the stock Mac app.
  • Ugly icon (still).
  • Opening app is often delayed by optimization of the database or syncing.

Is OmniFocus Worth Twice the Money?

I say yes, on the surface these two apps look very similar. Once you really start using a digging into each you begin to see the level of complexity and thought that went into OmniFocus. Being able to hit one button and seeing what I need to do, or how far away (physically) I am from being able to do a task is very futuristic feeling. The convenience of being able to fly right back to the main screen with a tap of a button instead of having to hit back over and over, and the comfort of having your custom views travel with you is truly great. However the biggest bonus is that you can sync OTA without having to worry about where you are, that alone is worth the extra money.

Wrapping up the iPhone Clients

Again both of these Apps are excellent and both get the job done, however OmniFocus has a clear advantage on the iPhone. The use of location data in OmniFocus and the ability to sync OTA make the app far better than its counter part. Do not dismiss the ability to see a list based on your location – I often will put items I need to buy at certain stores on it and before I check out I will look at OmniFocus to make sure I didn’t miss anything (too often I have missed something).

iPad Clients

Ah yes the iPad – lack of an iPad client is the entire reason I switched from OmniFocus to Things a couple of months ago. The OmniGroup kept promising OmniFocus and that it would be truly great – meanwhile Things was there and was already beautiful. Things costs $19.99 while OmniFocus costs $39.99 – giving us the same paradox as on the iphone – is OmniFocus work twice as much money? Let’s find out.

Things for iPad

After waiting for a month with no task management app on my iPad I decided to purchase Things. On the iPad Things feels the same as it does on your make, very familiar.

Pros:

  • Styling is similar to Mac’s for familiarity and ease of getting to know the app.
  • Fast to open and fast to sync.
  • No features missing from Mac counterpart.
  • Nice page turn transition when switching views.
  • Nice icon that is the same as the iPhone version.

Cons:

  • They are not fooling anyone with the lined paper look of the tasks.
  • Page turn transition gets old after 5 minutes.
  • No OTA syncing.
  • Must sort through your list of tags to add them – no searching within the tags for a quick add.

Overall Things on the iPad is just what you expect to get, everything you see on the iPhone and Mac versions with nothing more or less. This is both a plus and a minus for the app. The UI has been well polished and looks much better than most all other Apps in the store.

OmniFocus on iPad

I was beginning to think that OmniFocus for the iPad would be vaporware and was really frustrated at how long it took to show up in the App store. That said I think the wait will be worth it for many people.

Pros:

  • Best looking version of OmniFocus by far.
  • Adding a task is stellar.
  • Location based lists, with map view.
  • Forecast view is by far the best feature.
  • Syncing of perspectives.
  • OTA syncing.

Cons:

  • Can be slow to start up due to database optimization and syncing.
  • Some of the controls are not intuitive (like holding on a Project / Context heading for more options or tapping it to edit).
  • Scrolling seems janky at times.

Overall OmniFocus on the iPad is the best version of OmniFocus and the best looking by far. You get all the features of the Mac and iPhone clients and then some. The forecast view alone is worth the purchase.

Is OmniFocus Worth Twice as Much

As of right now there is no doubt in my mind that it is worth twice as much money. I have never been a fan of the way that the OmniGroups apps have looked, but with OmniFocus on the iPad I am now a fan. This is one of the best iPad apps to date and there is a very good and well deserved reason for it being so hyped.

Wrapping up the iPad Clients

Things once again turns in another solid offering that is well rounded and as to be expected. OmniFocus however really raises the bar with its iPad offering, gaining features that many people want to see in the Mac app. If you were just picking based on the iPad I think it would be silly to pick anything other than OmniFocus, price is a concern, but what you spend on OmniFocus will be made up in productivity (hopefully).

OmniFocus versus Things Overall

There is only one way to decide which App is best for you, and that is to try both. Since you can’t try either for the iPhone or iPad, do so on the Mac first to get a feel for each. Whichever you prefer or think that you are more likely to use is the one that is right for you. It really is that simple.

Personally I can see the appeal of both Apps and for me OmniFocus is the best choice. I highly doubt that it will be the same for everyone.

From a straight feature look I have to give the edge to OmniFocus, this however does not mean that it is better. A Bentley does not make a better race car than a Formula 1 car even though it has a feature edge. The Bentley does however make a better road car, and as with those two cars choosing the right app comes down to how you are going to use it.

There are two additional notes to consider before your purchase. The first being that with OmniFocus you can sync the iPhone and iPad without every buying the Mac version, something that is not possible with Things right now. Secondly Things is always adding more features and they have a status blog here, where you can see the slated features and information about the timing of them.

The last thing I leave you with is a link to a screenshot gallery I have put in place to give you a better idea of the look and feel – also so you can see what I am talking about in some of the above points.

Enjoy.

Originally posted for members on: August 3, 2010
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