Improving OmniOutliner on iOS

Yesterday I read The Omni Group’s look back at 2016 and look forward at 2017 plans. OmniOutliner is well featured in that post, much to my delight. OmniOutliner is one of my favorite apps for the Mac and something I truly love.

OmniOutliner on iOS, though, has always been hit and miss for me. It’s easily — and I have been looking — the best outlining app you can get for iOS right now, but it feels like it is stuck in the past. The entire document picker is tedious at best to use. With thumbnails for each file, and what good does that do when it is an outline, and no way to search it feels old and doesn’t scale well for someone like me who has hundreds of files.

The template system is confusing, and simply doing anything else in the app requires far too many taps. And yet, yes, it is the best outlining tool for iOS, or for the Mac. Hands down, any day of the week.

Which is why I am writing this, because I know it could be so much better and I really want it to be so much better. Here, then, are my suggestions for the Omni team responsible for OmniOutliner.

Fix the Document Picker

The way you select and manage documents is the slowest possible method for doing so. Add in search, the ability to group (yes folders are there, but useless) and organize documents, and a test it all with 100+ documents in the store. Make it easy to find any one of those documents and you have a winning system. I never want to spend a moment longer than I have to selecting documents, and I spend far too long with the current document picker and not nearly enough time working with my documents.

Tapping the Name To Edit

Tapping the file name to edit a file name is not only very hard to discover, but it is also very easy to accidentally trigger. Make it harder to edit a file name, but easier to figure out how to edit a file name.


I’ve always appreciated The Omni Group’s embracing of private technology to enable sync. Whether it is through WebDAV support, or the OmniSyncServer — it’s been great. But I need more, as a full time iOS user my file system is iCloud Drive, and by not using that, you are falling behind. Whether it is supporting import/export from/to iCloud Drive or building a system on top of CloudKit (OMG please), either would be a very welcomed change. At the very least, please fix the sync system so I am not constantly seeing “conflict copy number ten thousand” every other time I sync. I move back and forth between devices often and I should never have to wait on sync so that I don’t risk sync conflicts.


Styling a document takes way too long. Whether it is creating a new style, or just adjusting the current styling, it takes far too long and far too many taps. As mentioned in the roadmap post, adding sliding panels instead of modal popovers is the key to making this better. No matter what, it needs help.


I have all the latest iOS hardware, and OmniOutliner feels like the slowest app on any of my devices. Seeing the little loading spinner all the time, it adds to the feeling of “old” which I get a sense of throughout the app. Everything should snap, it’s an outline.

Template Sharing

I love templates in OmniOutliner and I think it is one of the best parts of the app, but build a template gallery into the app so that I can browse and install templates right where I would want to: in the app. I’d also love to be able to share my templates from the app. If I want to “build” something in OmniOutliner that I have never done before, right at the template chooser is the best place to let me look for a shortcut.

It’s Not All Bad

The sum of all my complaints here is that this is a powerful app, but one which needs help exposing all of that power while hiding it away enough to allow easier use of the app.

As a side note, I was thinking earlier today about app design in the context of how you can easily show what matters in an app and make a powerful app look simple. I came up with an example of an app with a lot of design, but which is not at all easy to use: iOS Music. It has all the features you want in it, but the features aren’t located in a single logical place. It’s confusing and thus it is hard to use.

Now, take a look at for iOS — some power users may want more features — but it’s the best Mail client for iOS. Sure, it doesn’t look flashy, but the design there is top notch. You don’t ever have to tell someone how to use that app, and what they discover on their own, only makes the app more powerful for them. It’s incredibly well designed from that aspect: powerful and self explanatory. If you understand the concept of email, then you can use Mail on iOS. And the more you use it, the more you find and thus the more useful the app becomes.

Now, stepping away from Apple, let’s go back to my good friend Ulysses. To me it is the epitome of the type of app which OmniOutliner should be. The document picker itself, working more like an outline than a file system. Everything slides in and out as needed so that you can work in whichever manner best suits you. And, like with Mail, there is a mountain of power lying in wait, and yet the UI itself is elegantly designed. Nothing ever feels overwhelming, which it could be, just look at Pages. Instead I can focus on getting my thoughts down and not focus on how to get my thoughts down.

So, at risk of being slapped by many other bloggers, I propose to add some Mail (again iOS, not macOS) and Ulysses design to OmniOutliner — because it’s one of my most used apps and, man would I love for it to leap frog some of the apps out there which are trying to best it. And, Omni Group, even if you don’t hit my wishlist, I’ll be happy with you just continuing to support one of the vital iPad apps I have.

Hugs and kisses.

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Article Details

by Ben Brooks
6 minutes to read.


My love note to the future of OmniOutliner.