Category Archives: iPad

OmniOutliner and iThoughts, Harmony or Dissonance?

I’m a person who loves to study, learn, and research. As such my productivity apps on my iPad are many. One of my favourite tools to take notes with is a mind map. I’ve used nearly every one that is available for the iPhone, iPad and computer but only two remain on my device. iThoughts HD and myMind Grande. iThoughts is good for robustness while myMind is awesome for super-quick composition. Fortunately I can start a mind map on myMind and bring it into iThoughts for tweaking.

One of my favourite companies recently released an outliner for the iPad called OmniOutliner. I reviewed it in another posting. My review wasn’t exactly favourable but it is a first release. I trust that Omni will iron out some of the programs faults in time. What I’d like to talk about here is just how well this outliner works with our favourite mind mapping tool.

They are actually radically different ways of dealing with information and it’s likely you’ll start in one place and finish up in the other. Some of you will start with a mind map and then later work it in an outliner. Others of you will outline an idea and then bring it into a mind map so you can see a bigger picture. Both methods are valid.

So how do they dance? Or do they stumble?

iThoughts HD to OmniOutliner for iPad

To get a mind map from iThoughts HD into OmniOutliner you need to export it as OPML. To do that you need to look in the Transfer menu (that’s the little box with an arrow pointing from it) when viewing a mind map.

At the bottom of that menu is a command called Export Options. Open that up and make sure that OPML is ticked. It doesn’t matter if other formats are also ticked though you’ll end up with a file for each when you export. All you need for OmniOutliner is OPML.

Backing out of the export options you’ll see that you have a number of export methods: WiFi Transfer, Send to Dropbox, and Send Email are a few. For our example we’ll use Send Email but if you’re a subscriber to DropDAV you can use that for Dropbox support in OmniOutliner as well.

So send via email to yourself. Ensure that the OPML file is attached to the email.

Next, launch the mail app and retrieve your brand spankin’ new email. Tap the OPML file with your lovely finger and choose the Open With… command. Pick OmniOutliner from the list and VOILA! Your iThoughts HD mind map opens in OmniOutliner.

You’re not quite done yet though!

In your documents browser in OmniOutliner find your OPML file. Don’t open it, instead tap the boxed arrow icon and choose the Convert to OmniOutliner. If you do not convert it to OmniOutliner then any styles that you apply to it will be LOST when you close the file. No warning, just gone.

Once you have converted the file to OmniOutliner, style away!

What comes over: node content in the first column, notes in the notes field, links in a link column.

OmniOutliner for iPad to iThoughts

The steps for getting an OmniOutliner outline into iThoughts HD are as follows:

1. In the Document Browser in OmniOutliner for iPad find the outline you wish to transfer.
2. Tap the Export button (the square with an arrow extending from it)
3. Choose Send

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Filed under iPad, Research

OmniOutliner for iPad Review (updated)

It’s like paper…except it’s nothing like paper at all

OmniOutliner is an outlining app that supports multiple columns, images, and named styles. It isn’t much more than that, for £11.99 is it worth it?

After a couple of weeks of working my ass off to fit OmniOutliner into my workflow as full time designer and full time student who loves outlines, I have given up. OmniOutliner for iPad is UNFINISHED and any praise that you see for it on the Web is not based on real use. There is no good way to transfer outlines from OO into any usable format except OPML for other outliners. You can’t even copy/paste text into a word processor from OO. It’s BLOODY USELESS in the real world. I’m a huge fan of OO on the Mac and other Omni products and think it’s a tragedy that such a great little company can release such a crippled product.

The Good Stuff

Named styles – This is a BIG one. The ability to create, name, and template your styles is absolutely huge. Pages doesn’t even do this and it NEEDS to before it can be taken seriously. I would bet that Omni spent a lot of development time on this in order to get it right.

Basically you can create a style, give it a name, font, size, colour, background colour, and more. You can then specify that children of rows with that style also have a specific style. You can do this ad-infinitum. Very cool!

Colours galore! – Along with style comes colour. Yes, you can colour the text but you can also colour the background of the document as well as individual rows. You can also alternate colours for zebra striping. Yes, you can make some very pretty outlines that don’t even look very much like outlines. You can’t print em or export them in a truly usable format…but they do look pretty!

Multiple columns – Is this a spreadsheet or an outliner? Summary columns, popup menu columns, free-text columns, currency columns, number columns, and checkboxes. What is particularly cool about these columns is that you can resize them without going into a mode and scroll them independent of the first column. This is also something I’m sure Omni spent no small amount of time on.

OPML – All in all, OmniOutliner’s handling of OPML files seems robust enough. Tests were run with CarbonFin and iThoughts HD. iThoughts mind maps were brought in with hyperlinks intact in their own column. I thought that was rather slick.

HTML export – Kind of cool though not sure how useful it will be. You can export outlines in simple HTML or dynamic HTML which includes javascript to open and close levels of your outline.

The Bad Stuff

What? The bad stuff already? Are you sure this thing costs 20 (US) bucks?! C’mon, it’s a first release product and is bound to have some flaws!

No Dropbox – A productivity app of this price to not include dropbox is inexcusable. OmniOutliner does support iDisk and webDAV so one can use DropDAV when it works.

No copy-paste from OmniOutliner – Yeah, a text editor that you can’t copy text from. This is probably something that got by the testers. I can’t imagine they’d actually do this on purpose.

Can’t resize images – You can copy/paste from your camera roll or another graphics app but you cannot resize the image once it is in your document. The sample screenshots that Omni used in its advertising literature are a bit misleading as they show thumbnails. Not only do you have to make those thumbnails in another app, there is also no way to link them to larger size images.

Can’t drag and drop images – The teaser video showed a user dragging an image on her notebook to a place in her outline. Unfortunately you can’t do that.

No import image, only copy paste – There is no import from camera roll option, you have to copy paste an image in. Kind of non-standard. Fortunately you can copy paste from many places (graphics programs, omnigraffle, etc…)

No carriage returns in rows – Each paragraph must be its own row in an outline. You can make notes for each row and those notes can have paragraph breaks in them. This seems a bit of an oversight for a text editing tool.

UI is cluttered – There is no way to hide the two toolbars. If you’re writing you don’t want the UI cluttering up your screen. Unfortunately you don’t have a choice here. Couple that with the fact that there aren’t many tools and you wonder if Omni couldn’t have dispensed with one of the toolbars altogether. This would have given more screen space to what is important to us: our data.

Oh and the UI is brown. Whose idea was that?

No PDF – PDF export would be kind of obvious given the styling options you have available. You can create some really pretty outlines. Too bad nobody will see them.

No real way to get your outline elsewhere – It’s got OPML which is great for iThoughts and other outliners but if you want to bring your outline into word or pages, forget it. The HTML export puts bullets in front of all your outline items whether you want them or not. To some extent you styles are saved but you’ll have to redefine them in Word once the file is there. What we need is a good solid word processing format output.

Cover flow for document management – Probably the biggest workflow issue of all. If you have more than 20 or so outlines (and most of us will) then the cover flow method of organising them is absolute FAIL. Couple this with the fact that they are sorted by recent modification date and you might as well just write it off. Until this is fixed and we get folders and a file list this program will be more toy than tool.

The Mediocre Stuff

External Keyboard Support – It’s okay to a point. If your insertion point is at the start of a row then tab or backspace will indent/outdent the row…most of the time. Sometimes backspace will back up to the previous row. It’s not always predictable.

It’s a no-frills affair when it comes to the external keyboard, which is unfortunate really.

But is it an outliner?

Over the last few days I’ve been wondering if OmniOutliner can even be classified as an outliner. I mean, it does indents and numbering like an outliner should but are there other facilities that are inherent in a tool that we’d call an outliner? The ability to collapse all of a certain branch level of a tree is conspicuously absent. This feature seems to be fundamental to reviewing outline material. Instead a user has to manually collapse each branch.

Also, an ability to export the outline in a format that is accessible by word processors is also noticeably absent. Isn’t an outline a mechanism for organising one’s thoughts in preparation for a report or paper or book? Why do I have to jump through hoops in order to get the outline into a format that Pages understands? It seems the very process of outlining was forgotten in this revision and what we got was an outlining engine in its absolute simplest state. Let’s hope subsequent releases put some meat on these bones.

Better than CarbonFin Outliner?

If you like ‘pretty’ outlines then OmniOutliner wins this battle hands down. If simple functionality is all you need then it’s almost a draw. CarbonFin’s web integration is hard to beat. You also get one extra row (16 instead of 15) when the iPad is horizontal. CarbonFin will likely have DropBox integration soon as well. If your wallet is the deciding factor then you can’t really lose by choosing CarbonFin over OmniOutliner as you’ll get a very slick functional outliner with a better file management system than Omni’s.


Omni bills its products as premium products and in the case of OmniGraffle and OmniFocus for iPad that holds true. OmniOutliner is an exception that I hope Omni rectifies in the coming weeks. OmniOutliner works when you work within its limited scope but that scope is very limited.Even if you dig the text stylings and the scrollable columns, when it comes to actually using the program for a productive task OmniOutliner for iPad breaks down. It’s worrying that the Omni Group is already ‘voting’ on additional features when what they’ve released is nothing more than a sketch. OmniOutliner is an incomplete product and for it’s cost it just isn’t worth it.

If Omni makes good on the product I will update this review and let the world know. This is a product I want to work well. I need a good outliner on the iPad and I believe Omni can do it. Their Mac product is awesome. Until then, keep it honest and avoid the hype.


OmniOutliner iPad Forums


Filed under iPad

Taking notes on the iPad – Noteshelf and Boxwave

Just a quick note that will hopefully save some new iPad owners some money.

I love to take notes on the iPad. The ability to scribble away on in a virtual notebook is just freakin’ cool. That being said, I still do my serious (as serious as it gets with pen and paper) writing in traditional notebooks. Still, if you want to take notes on the iPad there are some choices to make.

After spending far too much money making bad decisions, I found that some of my first decisions were the best. Here’s a summary.

The Pen: Boxwave brand stylus. Hands down this is the best stylus you can buy. Gone are the cruddy foam tips of old, this slick rubber job slides across the iPad’s screen like a dream. I’d suggest you get one with the built-in pen for its length…the pen is nice too I guess but the longer stylus in the pen model feels a little more like the real thing than the pen-deficient models.

The Apps


Might as well get the best out of the way first. Noteshelf is the best of the note taking apps out there (for hand written notes). There’s no typing in this app and image insertion is limited to some stamps. However, this app’s responsiveness to the pen is unrivalled. Every other note taking app (‘cept Penultimate) seems…clunky. This app has a fantastic zoom writing feature which helps with legibility. Explort to dropbox, and the usual others (email, iTunes, etc..) is also supported. Forget the rest, get Noteshelf.

The rest hardly bear mentioning. Penultimate is responsive but lacks zoom mode which limits its ability to take good dense notes. Notes Plus, Note Taker, PhatPad, and WritePad all convert your text to line art, smoothing it out. I find this very annoying. It also lowers the responsiveness of those apps considerably. My handwriting is bad enough as it is, I don’t some app making it look worse!

I’d love to recommend Note Taker HD but sadly it’s text conversion (icky response) combined with some major redraw issues in zoom view (no data loss, just very disconcerting seeing what you write disappear and reappear randomly) and some UI clutter make it less usable than Noteshelf.

In an ideal world I’d like to see a program that could combine typewritten notes with handwritten notes but nobody has done it seamlessly. I want to be writing and then immediately switch to the keyboard (I’ve got a bluetooth one) and have my typewritten text follow my handwritten notes.

Every app that combines media makes me jump through hoops to switch between modes and that is just too slow for my needs. I’d rather double-tap my home button and immediately be in Notebooks (my typewritten note app of choice) than fiddle with some cumbersome UI.

The handwriting recognition in PhatPad and WritePad are nothing more than a novelty. Albeit one that works better than I expected…I just don’t want to be forced into a ‘mode’ for it to work and it’s not up to the rigours of heavy note taking by any means

I love doing research with the iPad. If anyone has stories to tell about their trials and tribulations please comment below.


Filed under iPad, Research, Writing