Why I'm not upgrading to Omnifocus 2

Bronze Coast Alameda , CA
California US

I like Omnifocus1 a lot. I can’t say that I’ve mastered it to the point where it has fully become a trusted repository for my tasks, but it is useful for keeping track of the things I have to do. The new version looks great. I got the demo version to test out before buying the upgrade and it is a big improvement. The price tag is somewhat high but in my opinion it’s a worthwhile upgrade.

So why wouldn’t I buy the upgrade?

There are two reasons. One of them is because of Omnigroup’s decisions (in particular a decision I wouldn’t fault them for, but you’ll see that it is a dealbreaker) and the other is Apple’s fault.

Apple’s fault?

Yep. I hate to punish one party for the decisions made by another, but it can’t be helped. The reason: Apple has blocked every attempt to add a Bitcoin wallet application to the iOS catalog (meaning the Apple App store).

People have complained about this since the advent of the App Store: it gives Apple monopolistic control over the market of software for iPhones (and iPods and iPads). I actually appreciate that Apple acts as a gatekeeper to keep malware out of the iOS ecosystem. I really do. What I object to is that Apple uses this position to control the kinds of apps that its customers can and cannot have.

App developers are not allowed to sell or even give away any apps that compete with Apple’s built-in apps. They can’t get away with it for high-profile apps—too many people have complained when, for example, Apple dragged their feet in approving the Google Maps app after they switched Apple’s Maps app to a non-Google map source. But Apple wants a lock on anything that looks like commerce. If you sell stuff, there are only two ways to do it: away from your device (or inside a browser where you may as well be away from your device) and using Apple’s gateway.

A Bitcoin wallet application would apparently undermine Apple’s grand strategy of controlling (and taking a cut from) all payments made through their devices. If you can make a payment in some form that Apple doesn’t provide, then… I don’t know. It’s the slippery slope to anarchy, I suppose.

But who really cares about all this? Yes, they control their devices and their device’s ecosystem, but it doesn’t really directly affect us, does it?

It affects me, because I use Bitcoin. So there is a practical downside to getting an iOS device. Moreover, I don’t like the idea that Apple is telling me that I can’t use Bitcoin.

In case Apple is listening, I am in the market for a cellphone, and I am the sort of person that spends money on Apple products. I’ve owned three iPhones so far: an original first generation iPhone, the iPhone 3GS, and the iPhone 4S. I’ve owned two iPads, and purchased two other iDevices as gifts: an iPad and an iPod Touch. I have put hundreds—perhaps thousands—of dollars into software for iOS. Switching to Android will be a fairly major expense as well as an inconvenience.

Also, the last time I owned an Android device, I hated it. Hated it. It was a difficult, unintuitive device devoid of any evidence that there was thought put into user interface or user experience. It goes without saying that there was no consistency of interface from app to app; even on iOS there is very little interface consistency between apps, but there is some.

People say Android is better now, but people always say that when the device they’ve always preferred has a new version and they are talking to someone who didn’t like an earlier version. But I hope that they are right. The Android device I had was a Droid Incredible which ran (and still does, according to the person who I gave it to) Gingerbread. They’re up to KitKat now, so that’s four revisions since Gingerbread. Perhaps stuff is in fact better now.

It’s not only Bitcoin. I also consider privacy and security to be a premium. If there’s one thing that you ought to be able to compile and install yourself, it’s encryption software. I’ll take proprietary no-source applications for many things, but encryption must be open source, or it cannot be trusted.

In practical terms, there are just as many barriers to compiling and installing software on Android as there are on iOS. Does it really matter whether you «root» your device or «jailbreak» it? Yet somehow it’s not the same. Perhaps it’s an irrational response to the FUD2 Apple has spread about jailbreaking iPhones. I’d install CyanogenMod without thinking twice, but am highly skeptical about jailbreaking an iPhone.

On further consideration, even if the difference between rooting an Android and jailbreaking an iPhone exists only in my head, the reason that that idea is in my head is because of the statements I’ve read coming from Apple. So again, if I stop buying iPhones, it’s because of decisions that Apple made. Apple has successfully convinced me that an iPhone is an unsuitable device. Good job, Apple.

What about Omnifocus?

I consider Omnigroup to be an unfortunate casualty here, though they sort of did make their own bed. Omnigroup only makes software for Apple devices. They make software for iOS and Macintosh. Nothing else, and they have no plans to ever change that.

I can’t blame them. Omnigroup is sticking to their core competency and developing for the platforms they love. Good for them. But this means I’m stuck with the choice between Omnifocus on the one hand, security and privacy on the other. Unless I change my mind about some of the above, Omnifocus will lose.

In the meantime, 2do3 looks like a decent replacement with versions on Android, iOS, and Mac. Sorry, no Windows or Linux but that’s not something that is likely to affect me.

Is it conceivable that I will change my mind? Sure. Nothing is carved in stone. My current plan is to get a relatively inexpensive Android phone and see how it goes. If my experience with it is anything like the last time, I’ll probably give up and buy an iPhone, or get a featurephone with buttons and forget about having a smartphone. Or go back to only having a landline, as is currently the case.

However, if it goes well, I have my eye on the Blackphone. It’s pricier and it’s not even guaranteed not to be vaporware, but it’s got good people behind it and it can (probably) be trusted.

Trusted?

Yes, trusted. I don’t want to hear about how Android can be trusted. Yes, perhaps CyanogenMod can be trusted. But Android? Google has already been proven to include security compromises on purpose. The idea that Android could be a secure platform (as it currently exists) is laughable. Is iOS better? Not really, but sort of. I trust Apple to keep other people from spying on me without Apple’s permission. Those last three words are key. I don’t for a second think that Apple would hesitate to hand over the entire contents of my phone or hard drive if they could get away with it. But they’ll do whatever they can to make sure that anyone that wants my data goes through them to get it.

That’s a cold comfort, but ultimately mobile security requires the same kind of common sense and vigilance that desktop security has from day one: don’t install software from untrusted sources. Yeah, sometimes malware sneaks its way into trusted sources, but that’s pretty rare.

The first step is making sure the system itself can be trusted. Apple and Google both have made it clear: they want us to trust them rather than trust their systems. I do trust both companies—sort of. You know the old saying about how you trust your mother but still cut the deck when you play cards with her? What if someone you trusted refused to let you cut the cards? I don’t know about anyone else, but I wouldn’t play for any stakes in such a game.

That’s what Apple and Google both want us to do. They assure us that they can be trusted and that we don’t need to do anything to protect our privacy and security. Yes, I trust them. But they are refusing to let me cut the deck, so I don’t want to play their game.

I’m sorry Ommigroup. You are a casualty in Apple’s refusal to act like the trustworthy partner they (probably) are.


  1. Available on Mac App Store and iOS App Store ↩︎

  2. Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. ↩︎

  3. Available on Mac App Store and iOS App Store ↩︎