OmniFocus Mail Drop: Adding Web Services to a Traditional Mac App

We’re used to syncing — so used to it, in fact, that it’s more strange when an app doesn’t sync on its own or over iCloud these days than anything. But for native apps, that’s typically where it ends. Even in new “cloud” offerings for the Mac, such as Adobe’s Creative Cloud, the only part of the app that’s online is the file and setting sync (and the fact you can download apps, but that’s anything but new). Web apps, even ones with native app counterparts, have the advantage of always running online, so they can often have nice extras like collaboration and options to add stuff via email and more.

The Omni Group is well known for their Mac and Web apps, but they also make a little free extra online service for their apps: the Omni Sync Server. It’s what powers OmniPresence, their new iCloud-like document sync service, and is also the default way to sync OmniFocus if you don’t choose to use your own server for syncing. And they’ve now taken that sync server and added something you’d expect from an online productivity app: Mail Drop.

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OmniFocus Mail Drop works much like the “Send to” email addresses so many web apps have. You login to your account (this time, the Omni Sync Server), activate the “Mail Drop to Inbox” feature, and copy the unique email address it gives you — one you can reset at any time that you need. Save that to your address book, perhaps under the name OmniFocus, and then any time you want to add something to your OmniFocus Inbox, you can simply send an email to that address.

Essentially, it turns any email into a Quick Entry dialog that you’d use on your Mac — but, of course, that dialog isn’t available on your iOS device or on your PC at work. So you’ll use email instead. Just write an email to that address, and the subject line will turn into your task and the body of the email and any attachments will be added as a note on that task. Seconds later, said task will show up in your email inbox — there’s no way to schedule or save the file to a specific project via email, so you’ll need to do that from OmniFocus.

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OmniFocus Mail Drop just works, no matter what version of OmniFocus you’re using, since the magic is happening in OmniFocus’ sync server online. Most obviously, this feature is great for the iOS versions of OmniFocus, since email is the simplest way to send data out of most apps in one tap. It’s also a great way to clear out your real email inbox into OmniFocus tasks without using OmniFocus for Mac’s Mail Clipper. But it’s best for the more ingenious uses, since an email address gives you a way to add tasks from your PC or Android device, or have IFTTT automatically make tasks based on online triggers, or perhaps let others assign you tasks (though we wouldn’t recommend letting too many people take over your task inbox). And the fact that it’s included for free along with syncing makes OmniFocus’ price not feel quite as bad, especially since most web apps cost per month.

Now what if…

I’d highly doubt the Omni Group — or most other Mac and iOS developers, for that matter — plan to make web app versions of their apps any time soon. I’ve speculated that it’d be neat if Apple opened to 3rd party developers so we could have online versions of every iCloud synced app right alongside Apple’s own iWork and Mail/Calendar/Reminders web apps. Somehow, though, I just can’t imagine that’ll actually happen — and even if it did, it’d mean so much work on developers’ parts that it’d be hard to see being that popular.

But adding web hooks to iCloud that’d let developers add similar email based features to their apps? It’d be even crazier to imagine Apple allowing that, but it sure would be neat. Sure, you won’t want to email info into every app — that’s the bane of iOS file management right now, after all — but there’s a ton of unique things you can do with web integration that native apps simply can’t do. And it’d be rather awesome if Apple, who’s already running the sync for so many apps, added them natively to iCloud so developers could add similar features without needing another online service.

Or maybe, that’s why we still need alternates to iCloud so we can get cool stuff like this. Leave it to the Omni Group to push forward and show how limited Apple’s existing cloud approach is today.