iPad vs Desktop: Differences between Clients and Learning Curves – Part 5 of 5

In terms of raw power, the desktop version is the central pillar of the system. The iPhone and iPad clients, when used in conjunction with the desktop client, can function as satellites, albeit very important ones, to the desktop. In some cases, these satellites will occupy the majority of task management time spent. On their own, the iPhone and iPad versions are quite excellent in their own right and provide significant use towards productivity and getting things done.

I cannot say for certain who would benefit more from one over the other as so much is personal preference. If hardware is not an issue, and you are in the market for only one, a breakdown may be the following:

IPhone may be best when:

  • There are a small number of projects
  • Portability is of utmost importance
  • You do not plan on making many adjustments, conditional tasks, or subgroups
  • Mapping and location based tasks are important

IPad may be best when:

  • There are a moderate number of projects
  • Portability is important
  • Some modifications of tasks are anticipated
  • The default Forecast view is important
  • Mapping and location based tasks are important
  • You are new to the GTD organization of work

The reason for the last listed item is that the user interface is quite streamlined for both access and therefore teaching of methods of productivity in the line of breaking projects down into tasks and contexts.

The desktop/laptop client may be best when:

  • There are a large number of projects
  • When the ability to modify tasks in a workflow is important
  • When it is important to be able to build your own perspectives and workflow
  • When you want the option to use multiple windows
  • When you want the most robust system of the group to manage tasks

This concludes the series. I hope you have enjoyed these posts!

iPad vs Desktop: Differences between Clients and Learning Curves – Part 4 of 5


Multiple selection and changes of tasks

There are numerous aspects and techniques that are unique to the desktop such as making multiple selections and changes, duplications of projects, folders, and multiple selected items, and the general capacity to make adjustments to large swaths of projects and tasks.

For example, let us say there is a group of 10 tasks sitting in an Online context. Later, it becomes apparent that they would all fit better on a Laptop context.

On the desktop, one selects all the tasks, control-clicks, and chooses Laptop. All tasks would be changed. Meanwhile, the iPad and iPhone versions would require individual adjustments to each task.

Time, flag, repeat, etc. types of adjustments would involve the same difference of individual adjustment vs group adjustments. Being able to select multiple tasks also allows for rapid sub-grouping on the desktop whereas the iPad or iPhone requires a repeated move of each individual task into a parent task.

Multiple Windows

The desktop can have any number of windows open at once. As noted in Part 2, the ability to use multiple windows may be a detriment for some users’ workflows. Personally, however, I find it can be very beneficial for several situations such as comparing projects, moving misplaced tasks, using an adjustment project to modify another, having a central branching projects, among other uses. There are times where multiple windows are handy and times when a single window focus is more useful.

Many techniques can only be done, or at least practically done, on the desktop version of the software. Setting conditional tasks, creating templates, creating if/then projects, among other methods of using the software are simply impossible or impractical to do without a mouse, keyboard, and access to multiple windows.

Processing Power

iPhone processing is slowest, followed by iPad, followed by the desktop. (Though the later versions of the iPhone may tie that of the iPad). At large project numbers, this can become a significant issue. Especially when the number of projects one has gets large, the desktop will likely beat the other clients in terms of speed in processing tasks and projects.

Filter settings

All clients offer some capacity for adjusting filter settings. The iPad’s settings are easily reached from the top right of the interface and offer Next Available, Available, Remaining, and All (which includes Remaining and Completed tasks). The iPhone similarly has Available, Remaining, and All, though these are more remotely located in the preferences area and are out of the way in the moments of work and function.

The desktop client includes the capacities to sort, group, and filter by way of all of the above and completed states, Flagged, Due, time estimated, Added, Changed, and nearly any combination thereof. They can be set differently for context or project views. These are readily used by way of the spectacles on the tool bar or Shift-Command-v. Filters, by offering an increased array of choices, provide both power and the associated learning curve to wield that power.

Combinations of Clients

As noted earlier, perspectives can be synced across clients. There are additional aspects of preference adjustment that can also be synced. Two examples are the “Show/Hide Parent Items in Context Mode” and the ability to toggle “Mark complete when completing last item” for either individual or all new groupings and projects. These are the sorts of items that can have a significant impact on one’s workflow once learned.

To Be Concluded …

In the last post, I’ll summarize the findings and maybe give suggestions as to who may benefit from one client versus another.

iPad vs Desktop: Differences between Clients and Learning Curves – Part 3 of 5


An absolutely huge aspect of OmniFocus’ power derives from its perspectives. The built-in settings for contexts, projects, flagged, and otherwise are very useful. The Forecast and map views are crucial to some user’s workflows judging by various comments I’ve read. The Forecast view is exclusively available on the iPad and the map view is significantly more accessible due to the processing power and screen real estate over that of the iPhone. (Addendum 2011-03-01: CEO Ken Case recently tweeted that the Forecast view is planned for the iPhone.)

The ability to make one’s own perspectives and create key commands to go with them is a major strength of and contributor to the learning curve on the desktop. Perspective creation, alongside the myriad filter, selection, and focus options are exclusive to the desktop. Also, all adjustments may be saved for future use as a perspective.

Accessibility of perspectives changes depending upon one’s knowledge of the program in its various forms. At the beginning of the learning curve, the iPad is likely the easiest to use. Its direct display of the perspectives on the left presents an intuitive means of switching between perspectives. Later in the learning curve on the desktop one learns the ability to customize perspectives and assign key commands. These and the other multitude methods of accessing perspectives on the desktop provide a more flexible work flow to adapt to the individual user.

If you are facile with creating and using key commands to access perspectives, you will have many more customized perspectives readily available using the desktop. While the iPad’s left hand column lists perspectives including the star-selected perspectives one creates on the desktop, key commands on the desktop work from the power of one’s memory. When used, accessing key commands become a part of intrinsic memory and do not take up any “psychic RAM”. As such, learning key commands allows a much larger and even more accessible listing of perspectives.

Key commands are an exclusive and major factor in the interface of the desktop client. Learning these can make a significant, if not the entire, difference towards enjoying the desktop’s use.

When the iPad and desktop versions are used together, though, one gets the best of both worlds by being able to create context-based perspectives on the desktop and subsequently import them into the iPad.

Project Focus and Multi-Select of Projects

Entirely unique to the desktop client is project focus. While one can, in a sense, focus on a project on the iPad, one cannot then readily view that project’s tasks in their respective contexts to the exclusion of other projects. This could be useful when you wish to work on a large project or group of projects to the exclusion of others, but still want to view the tasks broken down into the individual contexts or assigned particular filters. Personally, I find this sort of workflow indispensable.

The only way one can make this happen on the iPad or iPhone is by designing a perspective on the desktop with the purpose of doing so. The desktop client would then need to be synced with the iPad or iPhone clients.

This situation again presents the power and finesse available to the desktop client which also contributes to its steeper learning curve.

To Be Continued …

In our next installment, we will focus on multiple selection, windows, processing power, among other topics …

iPad vs Desktop: Differences between Clients and Learning Curves – Part 2 of 5


Today’s post is part 2 of 5 in a series describing differences between OmniFocus clients and their subsequent learning curves.


In terms of portability, the iPhone wins, hands down. The iPad follows with the desktop/laptop version falling into last place. Walking around the house or office with a laptop vs an iPad clearly shows the utility of one versus the other.

The fact that one has an Inbox ready at any time is a fundamental aspect of GTD. One can even readily audio record thoughts into the iPhone or iPad versions of the program. While one can always have a pen and paper handy, one’s mobile phone may be as, if not more, available in today’s technological world.

General Layout

The iPad’s features and capabilities are very nicely laid out in plain view. Accessing contexts, projects, perspectives, and even a Forecast view are all readily reached with a touch of the finger. One can later learn to adjust the view of Next Actions, Available, Remaining, and All Actions from the menu across the top of the interface.

Delving further, one can touch a task and get easy access to many of the other characteristics which make OmniFocus powerful. Time tasks of start, due, and repeat are grouped meaningfully together. Notes, attachments, and the assignment of contexts, projects, sequential or parallel are readily made. Even further, one can jump to a project or context by selecting the arrows next to the present projects and contexts.

In addition, adjusting an individual task from context view can be more reliable on the iPad. The iPad version waits until you are done adjusting the task before it moves to its new location, whereas the desktop’s filters immediately work upon the task even as it is adjusted.

The iPhone presents many of the same features as the iPad, but the interface is generally less accessible chiefly due to the limited screen real estate. One can still access projects, contexts, and perspectives but must do so from a home screen. This extra step is not an insignificant one. (Addendum 2011-03-01: the iPhone update 1.9 has made significant improvements to menu accessibility of the availability filter and date adjustments.)

The desktop allows for all of these views and actions in addition to other characteristics such as time estimates. Their access is in general faster, though not as readily apparent. For example, one can move to a project from a task by either double-clicking the task handle, selecting “Show in Planning Mode” from the View menu, or typing Option-Command-R. In addition, an advantage is that the double-clicked task opens the project in a separate window where both the task in the project can be viewed as well as its resulting view in Context mode simultaneously.

Also, much of the detailed work one can do in the desktop client is consolidated in the Inspector window. The use of an inspector window, judging by the comments made, is a turn off for some users. However, once a user becomes facile with the key command to toggle it on and off (Shift-Command-i), the inspector becomes much more accessible and useful.

Single vs Multiple Window View

What may be an advantage to one situation may be a disadvantage in another. The desktop version allows multiple windows offering additional possibilities for adjustments and work. However, in some situations, the strength of the iPad and iPhone versions may be in the very limitation of focusing on a single window.

For example, when I sit down to do a review, I find that the review of individual projects themselves to be an easier task on the iPad. Each project is presented exclusively for its review, whereas on the desktop, I see multiple projects simultaneously. During this part of the review, having available only a project under review helps me to limit my attention to the project itself. This forced view allows for a better focus upon the project as it is squarely placed in front of me with no other projects contending for my attention.

Meanwhile, other parts of the review process such as modifications to the folder hierarchy, comparing and consolidating projects, archiving, etc, sit better on the desktop.

To Be Continued …

In our next episode, we will take on perspectives and project focus …

iPad vs Desktop: Differences between Clients and Learning Curves – Part 1 of 5


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.