12 Oct 2011

OmniFocus location-based alerts

iOS 5 is released! While I’m happy about a lot of new features, the one that has me the most excited at the moment is background location monitoring. Apps can now register with the OS to get notified when your location has significantly changed. The most obvious example of this, included with iOS 5 itself, is the new Reminders app. When you create a todo item, you can add a location to the item, and tell the app to alert you either when you arrive at or leave that location. It’s pretty cool.

OmniFocus 1.12 takes the new API and integrates it beautifully. In previous versions, you could already assign a location or search (like “walgreens OR CVS”) to a context. Once you’ve set up locations, OmniFocus can provide you with a map showing nearby places with tasks assigned.

Now that you can add alerts, though, things get really interesting. You can get an alert two ways: when you arrive at a location or when you leave a location. Arrival alerts are great when you need something from a specific place, or questions to ask someone in person when you see them. Departure alerts are great for general errands that you don’t want to think about until you go out.

You can also set how close you need to be to trigger the alert. The distance options are about 500 feet, 1500 feet, and 6 miles. The closest option is great for home, work, or any context that depends on you being at a specific street address. The middle option is useful for grouping stores in a single neighborhood, reminding you that you also wanted to do something a few blocks away. The 6 mile option is aimed at entire cities. It lets you do things like remind yourself of everything you wanted to do when you arrive somewhere you don’t visit that often.

Although I’ve only been using them for a few days, I’ve already found the location-based alerts very useful. It just makes me happy to see my grocery list pop up automatically when I pull into the parking lot.