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Personal Computing

Introducing Fantastical Calendar

Dismal Wizard auditioned another calendar. He likes this one enough to open his wallet. Find out what he didn’t like about Apple’s calendar and how Fantastical closes the gap

In his search for a better calendaring app, the Dismal Wizard remembered that he had been using CardHop for some time to wrangle contacts quickly. So he poked around some at the App Store to discover that the Card Hop people are also the Fantastical Calendar people. So he bravely plunked down $5 colonial dollars for a one month trial of Premium Fantastical Calendar. It is what the Wizard had been seeking for 18 years. He’ll explain after the break

References

  1. https://support.apple.com/guide/calendar/welcome/mac MacOS calendar user guide
  2. https://flexibits.com/blog/ 23 September post describing the new MacOS 11 and IOS 14 product

As a retiree, I don’t have much in the way of business appointments to wrangle. I don’t have an MS Exchange calendar or corporate mandated events, mostly meet ups and health care events for me or the dogs. Most event creation happens in the field with my iPhone 11 in hand.

Calendar had served well until the IOS 14 iPhone update when the workflow changed. Event entry became disjointed. To get started, you had to click a plus button (undifferentiated), enter a date as in a type in, then spawn a second dialog to actually name the event, and complete the remaining attributes including the vital alerts. The beloved fidget spinners had gone away to be replaced by a day of month calendar and time entry fields that are reached by the weird dance with the event title. Event creation did not flow well. The Wizard prefers

  • Enter the description
  • Enter the place (some providers have multiple locations)
  • Enter the date and time
  • Set up the reminders (optional)
  • Save the basic event for review at home

Even this rational work flow goes wrong often enough that the Wizard always gets a card to use for at home verification.

Apple Calendar

If you can stay on the Apple Island, Apple Calendar worked well until 2020. Then MacOS/iOS unification came along and Apple made some design decisions that made sense in the space ship but not out in the world. I’m surprised this made it through dog food testing let alone developer and customer beta test. Event creation starts by tapping a plus button. A type in asked for a date like Thursday or a month and day in the future. This pops up an abbreviated event attributes form with the aforementioned date stuffed in as the event title, 00ps. And this next bit of dialog leaves you guessing how to get the event date attributes up for entry. It was a bit step backward in the service of the new unified UI. And Apple took away our day fidget spinners. Boooo. Time to go shopping.

One Calendar

A visit to the App Store found OneCalendar which solved the basic issues but had not carefully addressed the screen layout. Since it shared back end databases with Apple (iCloud calendar), it solved the event creating problem. But, it couldn’t do event reminders requiring use of Apple Calendar.

Fantastical

So we took another bob in the App Store to find Fantastical Calendar. I found it by searching on Card Hop which I’d been using for contact entry. Flexibits also offered Fantastical, a name I’d heard before but, being cheap, had ignored. I decided to take another look. I pulled it down, fiddled around a bit in demo mode or basic mode as Flexibits calls it. I liked what I saw so I enabled “Premium” mode which enables the period views etc.

Calendar Support

Fantastical, like One Calendar, supports Apple, Google, and Microsoft calendar back ends. One Calendar supports a wider gamut of web portal associated calendars should you need that capability.

Dismal Manor has Apple and Google accounts but uses the Apple Calendar primarily. In reality, you need to use both as half your contacts will be in the Android multiverse. Fantastical organizes calendars into calendar sets. A set has one or more calendar service accounts, for example, Apple and Google. Calendar sets are a good way to keep home and work separate by creating a Family calendar set containing your family’s accounts and a Word calander set containing your work Exchange or Google calendar and others.

Calendar Set Selection in Preferences

Fantastical lets you select the calendars to be shown from those in the calendar set. I’ve had too many appointments go to the wrong calendar so I only use the iCloud calendar now that I’m sadder but wiser. Note that Fantastical also assumes the work of Reminders. A reminder looks awfully like an event at the attribute level so it makes sense to put the two in a common object hierarchy and app.

My Favorite View

I like to use the Fantastical Week View. To see this view, you must have a Premium account active (2 week trial, then $5 month to month with a full year discount). This view follows the new MacOS/iPadOS design language with a sidebar that navigates and a day by day view of the current week. You can pick the week start day to be appropriate to your lifestyle. I start the week on Monday to have the weekend days shown side by side. After all, God rested on the 7th day so Sunday is day 7, not day 1. Genesis say so!.

My favorite working view

This view has some neat things. The month thing lets you quickly identify an open day. In my wisdom, I plan at most two events per day with one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Given the realities of traffic, I prefer mid-morning and mid-afternoon so I can avoid the morning, noon lunch, and afternoon rushes. The sidebar shows a scrollable event list below the days of the month view. This is an ordered list of the upcoming activities that is scrollable. As you scroll this list, the week view in the main area scrolls with it so you can see the days from which the list is drawing.

Event Creation

Creating an event works much like Calendar worked before the iOS14 update. Double click on a day in the day grid and a form pops up above the days of month chooser. Go there and fill in the event attributes.

This form works like the old calendar did but with type ins for the times and a grid for the date rather than the fidget spinners of old. The event location will pull from your contacts using a best partial match anywhere in the contact name search. Add Event to save. Note that the Add button is at the end of the work flow and is an honest to god button rather than a red string up top. Just little things like this. Doesn’t Apple do peer review of the UI implementation.

Reminders are integrated

This is such a simple thing. Reminders are right there and can be completed from the scroll. They are also in the day column if assigned to a date. If assigned to a time, they’ll be shown in down below much like all day vs time span events.

So you have multiple calendars

Crash would like to get in on this Cookie Festival. Crash’s mum wears a tinfoil hat but son has Android stuff and Google at Work (he’s Small Potatoes Structural Engineering here at the Beach). To include Crash, I noticed that the event list event details popup had a link to set up a Google Calendar doppelgänger for the Cookie Festival.

The Event Details Pop-up

This same popup appears when you double click on the event in the week view. Clicking the link causes Fantastical to transcribe the event to the Google (or Exchange) multiverse. No repeated data entry. No goof ups.

Fantastical creates Google Calendar Cookie Festival view.

Fantastical Has a Widget

Fantastical has a widget that lives in the menu bar right hand side. I’ve longed for this capability like forever. Apple never thought to make a shortcut to the Calendar. Had to go over to the Dock if it was docked or to Applications or Launcher if it wasn’t or in the Spotlight era, launch from Spotlight. I launch anything I know by name from Spotlight these days. But I miss the launcher. The CardHop launch from the menu widget saw regular use to look up a name or create a new contact.

The FlexiBits Business Model

Flexibits had been selling CardHop and Fantastical Calendar outright but realized that caused a bursty income stream when they would like a regular salary and benefits. So Flexibits took the approach of offering an evaluation copy for free which would let you take a look at the product’s user experience and capabilities and offer a very basic functionality. Those who found the demo met their needs could continue on with it. Those wanting to use the main body views, multiple calendar sets, multiple calendars, etc could subscribe to the product month to month or by the year at a discount. This allowed FlexiBits to sustain the continuing development of the product needed to track MacOS, iOS, and iPadOS developments and to extend the functionality of the product. They just made the switch with the Fall 2020 releases so it will be a while before results are in.