The rise of the brilliant app 2Do notwithstanding, I continue to utilize OmniFocus as my task management hub. I was eager, then, to try out The Omni Group’s outlining app, OmniOutliner.
Think of OmniOutliner as a thought structuring app, suitable for both creating and organizing content. You can use it for any of the following scenarios:
- making a grocery list
- taking notes in class
- writing a paper (and re-arranging sections easily)
- planning and following through with a project
- tracking and categorizing expenses
- writing and editing your podcast script
There are multiple other uses for the app–I’ve made good use of it in sermon preparation, as you’ll see below. Right away the Mac and iOS apps take you to a templates screen so you can get started without delay:
What’s Awesome About OmniOutliner
Getting content into OmniOutliner is fairly easy. It’s not as intuitive as just opening a blank Word document and typing, but it’s simple enough to open an outline and start writing.
Once you’ve gotten your outline going, being able to fold and unfold (collapse and expand) entire parts of the outline is a huge asset. If I’ve broken a book review down into parts, for example, I can just collapse the sections I don’t want to see at the moment:
Then there is the organizing power of OmniOutliner: you can take any node and indent or outdent it. You can drag sections of the outline around to quickly re-order them. And you can make batch edits when selecting multiple parts of your outline.
Perhaps the most helpful feature to me has been the ability to add notes to content, which you can then either hide or show. In this simple outline, I’ve set the note at the top to display (in grey), while the one toward the bottom remains hidden.
You can show the sidebar, which allows you to move back and forth between a lot of content in one outline. When preaching on David’s odious sin against Bathsheba and her husband, I utilized an outline that included both my sermon structure and accompanying research. You can see that reflected in the sidebar, at left, even while my Topic column could remain focused on a smaller portion.
You can add media (audio recordings and video) to your outline. Your files would be huge, but if you wanted to use OmniOutliner for classroom notes, you could also add a live recording of the session, straight into your outline.
And then there is the styling. My goodness. You can tweak every aspect imaginable of your outline.
I found this feature set to be impressive but overwhelming. For my purposes, I didn’t need to do a whole lot by way of formatting, but the options are there should you need them.
To that end, the help files for OmniOutliner are incredible. So is their support team! There are user manuals you can download in multiple formats, and they are outstanding. In a couple of sittings, I read some 100 pages of the iBook version of the OmniOutliner for iOS manual. Yes, it was that interesting! Other app developers should take notes.
OmniOutliner is also available as a universal iOS app, working on both iPhone and iPad. You can sync across devices using Omni’s own server or your own.
The keyboard shortcuts available for iPad make OmniOutliner a serious contender for best writing app for those who are trying to make a serious go of it on iPad instead of computer. Omni Group’s Ken Case announced the shortcuts last November.
This means that the iOS OmniOutliner app is close to parity with the Mac app. This rarely seems to be the case with other apps, where iOS versions tend to lag behind their desktop counterparts.
OmniOutliner has had Split View and Slide Over in iOS for just about as long as iOS 9 has been released.
One other really cool thing: you can import the OPML file format from a mind map to move from mind mapping straight into OmniOutliner.
If that workflow interests you, read more about it here.
A few things are lacking in OmniOutliner:
- I’ve experienced a couple of crashes when exporting my outline to other formats
- The precision and plethora of styling options makes the app feel wooden and clunky at times, especially when you want to just sit down and write
- If I want constant access to, say, a section of text in the second half of my outline, while I work on the first half, there is no way to split the screen or freeze a section so I can see easily disparate parts of my outline at once
- There is no word count feature (!). Omni has indicated this could come in 2016, but not having it has kept me from making OmniOutliner my go-to writing app
(Note: if you have OmniOutliner Pro for Mac (twice the price of the regular OO), you can go to the forums for an AppleScript that will help you with word count, but this is more than the average user should be expected to do.)
Byte for byte, OmniOutliner is worth your considering as your primary writing app. If you don’t need to be as structured with your writing, it may not be your top choice. Its integration across iOS and OS X, though, make it a possible go-to repository for collecting and organizing information.
You can find out more about OmniOutliner here and here.
OmniOutliner for iOS (Universal) is $29.99.
OmniOutliner for OS X is $49.99. OmniOutliner Pro includes a few more features and is $99.99.
You can get a free trial of Mac app here.
Thanks to the fine folks at The Omni Group, the makers of OmniOutliner, for giving me downloads for the Mac (OmniOutliner Pro) and iOS apps for this review. See my other AppTastic Tuesday reviews here.
One thought on “OmniOutliner for Mac and iOS, Reviewed”