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Current state of iOS/macOS outliners

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Posted by Luhmann
Nov 5, 2017 at 07:50 AM


Personally (by my admittedly idiosyncratic standards) there are only four outliner apps for iOS/macOS that I think are worth mentioning: Workflowy, Dynalist, Outlinely, and Mubu. As the state of these outliners seems to constantly be in flux, I think it is useful to have an occasional update on their development:

Workflowy hasn’t shown much improvement on the iOS front, but they have hired new staff, started updating the web app more regularly, and introduced a desktop app, so I think we can expect to see some improvements soon on the iOS front as well.

Dynalist keeps improving their web app and desktop apps very regularly. In my mind their web app is currently the best all around outliner. They are also aware of the problems on their iOS app and claim to be working on them.

Mubu have also shown regular improvement. Because of the Chinese interface and Chinese servers it is not recommended for everybody, but in my mind it is currently the best compromise between a native iOS app and a Workflowy-like desktop app. I still hope, however, that Dynalist or Workflowy eventually release an iOS app that is at least as good, if not better than Mubu’s. But because they don’t plan on writing native apps (as far as I know) I feel that this might not happen any time soon.

Outlinely, an early favorite of mine, seems to be dead in the water. There have been no improvements or even updates to their blog or twitter feed since June, over four months ago. I wouldn’t mind so much, except they charge a heck of a lot for the app and the subscription fee, so one would like to see some regular updates and much needed improvements (especially on the desktop) ...

So far I have not seen any new players enter this increasingly crowded field. My personal fantasy would be for Dynalist to buy Outlinely and incorporate the app into their own product…


Posted by MadaboutDana
Nov 5, 2017 at 11:04 AM


I’m fond of Outlinely, and use it a lot, but I’ve sent them a list of things that really do need to be improved.

Glam Development have a history of going very quiet for months at a time. It’s very irritating when a subscription app is involved, however. And it doesn’t increase one’s confidence in what they’re doing. I haven’t had any replies to my e-mail, either; when I sent them some suggestions last year, they responded quite quickly.

I haven’t heard of Mubu - thanks for the tip.

OmniOutliner remains very irritating. For a relatively high-priced app, it has some extraordinary failings. I only use the “Lite” version (Essentials), but after trying to set it up to be as neat as Outlinely, I was frustrated by a very simple thing: if you switch off checkboxes for certain items, but not for others (for a list of tasks under headings, for example), when you sync to and fro from iOS, you find that checkboxes have automatically been restored for all items, even though you explicitly switched them off for some of them (headers). This is remarkably stupid for such a (potentially) powerful app. I shall write to them.

I agree that Dynalist is making impressive progress. I shall have to decide about Outlinely. I’ve been urging Bear and the team behind Ulysses to include folding for a long time, but they’re both being slow/coy about doing so, despite expressing (mild) enthusiasm. If Bear had folding, it would be the obvious shoo-in for Outlinely. Despite Ulysses’s many admirable qualities, I find it remarkably slow to load, which makes it a less-than-ideal notes manager (although it is, of course, a great writing tool).


Posted by Hugh
Nov 5, 2017 at 12:54 PM


Neo (on the Mac App Store, successor to Tao) remains a very full-featured, if relatively uncelebrated option (uncelebrated perhaps because its UI takes a degree of learning).

And of course there’s always Tinderbox, which is a lot more than an outliner, but can function very successfully as one.


Posted by Hugh
Nov 5, 2017 at 12:54 PM


Both of course, however, only macOS.


Posted by MadaboutDana
Nov 5, 2017 at 02:03 PM


Yes, I think the true value of outliners only really becomes apparent when you can use them across multiple platforms.

Actually, having just run another experiment with OmniOutliner, I have to say it looks laughably outdated against Outlinely, even though the latter has been languishing for a few months. The whole thing is just so much more sophisticated with its library (irritatingly, you can’t reposition items in the library easily, one of the things I’ve whinged about to the developers), its fast keystrokes, its broad range of formatting options, checkboxes, done status, support for Markdown AND rich text, etc. No, it’s not got the same support for styles as OmniOutliner, but I find the rather rigid style-based approach of the latter somewhat off-putting. And it doesn’t work well in Essentials, either (the style hierarchies aren’t applied correctly).

Let’s just hope the Glam Development team redeem themselves with another slew of updates! Their last burst of activity resulted in a number of impressive improvements to Outlinely. And I won’t mind if they don’t include support for styles…

I have to say I consider Outlinely superior to both DynaList and Workflowy. But obviously that’s just my own opinion ;-)


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