OmniOutliner 2 can change your mind about creating outlines

If you hated creating outlines in college, Will Kelly says you may still find a lot to like about OmniOutliner 2 on your iPad.

OmniOutliner 2
After college, I went on a rebellion against outlines for a number of years. The outlines the professors made us create never seemed to fit with my thought process. However, the first version of OmniOutliner changed my mind about creating outlines. Using it on my iPad brought outlining back to my writing workflow. Now, OmniOutliner 2, which is the iOS 7 update from The Omni Group, is available for $29.99 (USD) and sets a new a standard for outlining apps on the iPad.

Creating outlines

Creating an outline on an iPad using OmniOutliner 2 can be done from scratch or through a template. When you tap the plus sign [+] from the main screen, the Choose a Template screen will appear (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A
Choose a Template screen.

I highly recommend using one of these templates (at least initially) to start out your first outlines and learn about the features, styles, and themes that you can use to compose your own outline. Figure B shows the Level Styles template, which is an ideal starter template for creating your first outline.

Figure B

Figure B

Level Styles template.

Starting an outline from scratch uses the default template. When you tap on the outline title, you can then rename the outline to something more meaningful. It’s easy to build out a detailed outline using just the touch screen to type in text and the virtual keyboard to add new rows. The app is quick and responsive and makes use of the iOS 7 user interface and performance improvements. There’s a wide range of styles available that you can use to format selected text in your outlines.

OmniOutliner 2 creates hypertext links automatically from any URL you place in an outline. Another nice feature is the ability to copy and paste images into your outline. Figure C shows a screen capture that I copied and pasted into an outline.

Figure C

Figure C
Using an image as part of an outline.

One feature that I expect to use a lot more in the future is Notes, which enables you to attach a note to an outline row. You can hide or reveal all notes in your document with a tap or two. You can use the Notes feature to backup points in an outline and then export your outline into *.docx format for importing into a new document or for starting a new document.

The Contents option that controls some of the higher-end formatting features is where the app gets a bit too complex in my opinion. However, it’s nothing you can’t figure out with some trial and error. Contents tabs include:

  • Columns where you can setup headers with formatting
  • Styles include template themes, structural styles, and named styles (Figure D shows the Text Style option)
  • Document where you can specify background color and alternative row colors

Figure D

Figure D
Text Style option.

OmniOutliner 2 includes external keyboard support if you use a Bluetooth keyboard with your iPad. If you're already an OmniOutliner for Mac user, you can use the same keyboard shortcuts. 

Audio notes

One element of OmniOutliner that I’ve never gotten is audio notes. I tried testing them again in OmniOutliner 2. All you have to do is click the bubble at the bottom of the outline to record an audio note, but the iPad microphone doesn’t pick up much sound. I've tried to use this feature to record interview calls, but I just can’t find the use case for this feature in my own workflow.

Export options

Your outline won't be very helpful if you can’t get it off your iPad. As such, OmniOutliner 2 supports export to DOCX and CSV format, depending on your needs.

Cloud option

OmniOutliner 2 also enables you to add a cloud account. This is useful if you want to share outlines with other OmniOutliner 2 users or back to OmniOutliner for Mac. My one bit of advice is to enter your OmniSync Server credentials, because copying my OmniSync Server password from 1Password led to WebDav server errors.

Final thoughts

OmniOutliner 2 might be a bit pricey as iPad apps go, but it can be worth it if you currently use (or want to use) your iPad for composing ideas for personal and professional projects. I found some elements of the app complex, both as a user and reviewer, but those features are all higher-end formatting options that anyone can learn if they want to create more format-rich outlines.

Are you currently using OmniOutliner 2 for iPad? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.


Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management ap...