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Fantastical 2 Aims to Replace Apple’s Calendar

Bundled apps — such as Apple’s OS X Calendar — tread an uneasy path. It is of course a good thing that every Mac user has access to a generally capable calendaring app for free — that’s necessary to ensure that OS X remains competitive with other operating systems. However, bundled software has a chilling effect on competition, and thus on innovation. It’s hard to make a business case for the time and effort necessary to create a new app when you have to convince every customer to switch from a free alternative that’s already installed.

It’s always refreshing to see a Mac developer step up to take a swing at the incumbent, and that’s just what Flexibits is doing with Fantastical 2. The initial version of Fantastical was a focused menu bar utility that extended Calendar by showing your schedule with a click and making it easy to enter new events with natural language processing. Flexibits has now expanded Fantastical beyond the menu bar, making it into a standalone app with a full calendar window with standard day, week, month, and year views.

Notably, Fantastical boasts a left-hand sidebar that shows a mini month view and a highly useful list of both upcoming events and dated reminders (a quick click on a checkmark button switches the list to show only reminders). In this respect, it’s extremely similar to the company’s well-regarded versions of Fantastical for the iPhone and iPad, and if you already like one or both of them more than iOS 8’s Calendar app (as I do), you’ll be at home in the Mac version.

Rather than just tie into Calendar’s data, Flexibits wrote their own native CalDAV engine for Fantastical, which gives it direct access to iCloud, Google Calendar, and Yahoo Calendar. It also brings in and displays to-do items from iCloud (the things you’d usually access in Apple’s Reminders app), and can show birthdays and anniversaries based on date information stored in Apple’s Contacts app.

That can add up to a lot of calendars, and perhaps the most welcome innovation in Fantastical is its concept of calendar sets. It’s not hard to turn individual calendars on and off in Apple’s Calendar, but it gets tedious fast, so most people don’t bother. With Fantastical, you can easily separate sets of calendars, so, for instance, I can hide personal calendars for the school district and various clubs I’m in while pondering Take Control release schedule weeks. You switch between calendar sets using a pop-up menu at the bottom of the left-hand sidebar, but Fantastical can even change them automatically based on your Mac’s location. This is welcome — there’s far too little locational awareness among Mac and iOS apps.

When you want a new event, just double-click the appropriate day or click the plus button at the top of the sidebar. Either opens a new event popover into which you can type event details like “Snowshoeing at Hammond Hill at 6:30.” Fantastical turns such text into an event titled “Snowshoeing” with a location of “Hammond Hill” and a start time of 6:30 PM. You can define alerts to be applied automatically. My only minor annoyance with the natural language processing is that I sometimes want the location to be in the title of the event so I don’t have to double-click the event to see the location in a popover. The workaround for this turns out to be to enclose your desired title in quotes; Fantastical doesn’t try to parse quoted text.

With reminders, you can even add a geofence that transfers properly to Reminders or the iPhone version of Fantastical so you’ll be alerted when you leave or arrive at the specified location.

The left-hand sidebar is a key aspect of Fantastical usage, and that’s another small problem I have at the moment, since I like to put my calendar full-screen on my left-hand monitor (a 27-inch Thunderbolt Display, paired with a 27-inch iMac with Retina display), meaning that sidebar is so far away that I can barely read it. Flexibits tells me an update will let you swap the sidebar to the right side, where search results show up now.

Another slight confusion comes when you click a day in month view; the sidebar list scrolls to show that day’s events and events on subsequent days. That’s sensible, but since Fantastical doesn’t indicate in month view what day you’ve clicked, it can be hard to orient yourself in the list (the mini month view calendar at the top of the sidebar does always indicate the selected day). Since scrolling in the sidebar list also changes the selected day quickly, it’s easy to end up at an unexpected date. Plus, month view shows six weeks, which continually throws me, since most calendars show only five weeks, and that makes it harder to orient myself relative to the end of the month.

I’m also not enamored of the position of the arrows to navigate through days/weeks/months/years (in the sidebar, and at the top left of the main window, rather than in some way connected to the center-mounted Day, Week, Month, and Year buttons). That’s personal preference and likely wouldn’t be an issue on a single-monitor system, but I find myself instead relying entirely on Fantastical’s left and right arrow shortcuts.

Speaking of year view, it’s something Fantastical does so much better than other calendars that I might begin using that view more frequently. To start, Fantastical colorizes each day in year view as a heat map, so different colors tell you at a glance how busy each day will be. Also, if you hover the pointer over a day, Fantastical displays a pop-up showing the events for that day. Clicking a day scrolls the sidebar list to that day too. I’ve never had much use for day or week views either, since my days aren’t that scheduled apart from Macworld Expo weeks in past years, but it looks as though Fantastical does a fine job with those views as well.

If you’ve been using Fantastical 1 and like its menu bar approach, Fantastical 2 retains those capabilities. (Happily, it even has an option to colorize the menu bar icon so you stand a chance of finding it among the multitude of dreary icons in 50 shades of Yosemite grey.) You can now even detach the mini window from the menu bar; since it essentially replicates the contents of the full window’s sidebar, it’s a small but fully functional calendar in its own right. It even shows the little pop-ups from year view when you hover over a date.

Fantastical requires OS X 10.10 Yosemite, and supports Handoff from the iOS versions of Fantastical, if you’re somehow incapable of finishing creating an event on your iPhone or iPad. It also features a Notification Center Today widget, plus Share and Action extensions that let you add events to Fantastical from other Yosemite-savvy apps.

At this point, it’s impossible not to acknowledge that Fantastical 2 competes not just with Apple’s Calendar, but also with BusyMac’s $49.99 BusyCal, previously the main alternative to Calendar. Both outstrip Fantastical in calendar sharing — Fantastical can subscribe to shared calendars, but not share them. You can add an attendee to an event in its popover or share an event with a contextual menu that attaches a .ics file to a new message in Apple Mail (but not other email clients) or by dragging the event to the Desktop to create a shareable .ics file. (Full disclosure: Take Control published Joe Kissell’s free “Take Control of Calendar Syncing and Sharing with BusyCal” in 2013.) BusyCal also does a better job showing the selected day and marks today more obviously; and it shows weather forecasts for the upcoming 10 days in month view, which makes it even easier to identify the current day and the near future at a glance. But it lacks Fantastical’s excellent list of events and reminders.

As compelling as Fantastical’s sidebar, calendar sets, year view, and natural language processing are, I suspect few BusyCal users will switch. But that’s not the goal — Flexibits is instead targeting those who find themselves dissatisfied with Apple’s Calendar, and if you fall into that group, you should give Fantastical 2 a serious look — or at least watch its video.

Fantastical 2 has a 14-day free trial, and currently costs $39.99 from either the Flexibits Store or the Mac App Store; the price will go up to $49.99 after an introductory discount period.


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Comments about Fantastical 2 Aims to Replace Apple’s Calendar
(Comments are closed.)

James Katt  2015-03-28 10:11
I bought both BusyCal (along with Busy Contacts) and FantastiCal 2. And I bought FantastiCal 2 for iOS.

BusyCal is simply SUPERIOR to FantastiCal 2 on Macs in day to day use.
1. It is far easier to assign events to calendars.
2. It is far easier to assign multiple events on a single day in the future (whereas FantastiCal 2 keeps jumping back to today's date after setting a single event forcing you to scroll back to the date you want to see.
3. BusyCall allows you to easily see your To-Do list.
4. I stronly dislike FantastiCal's dark look. And even with the white theme, FantastiCal keeps the left-hand pane dark in the calendar.
5. BusyCal allows you to attach attendees and contacts to events - which FantastiCal and Calendar don't. BusyContact then allows you to see each contact's related events on the calendar. This makes BusyCal+BusyContact a far superior CRM manager to FantastiCal and OS X Contacts. You don't have to do a search of a contact's events. BusyContact gives it.
James Katt  2015-03-28 10:13
Until BusyMac comes out with BusyCal and BusyContact for iOS, FantastiCal 2 is better than Calendar on IOS. Otherwise, BusyCal + BusyContact is FAR SUPERIOR to FantasiCal 2 both in interface and usefulness.
Andrew Tagliabue  2015-03-29 12:38
Adam, if you want the location in the event title, simply enclose the title in quotation marks. Typing:

"Snowshoeing at Hammond Hill" at 6:30

will keep Hammond Hill in the event title without fiddly clicking to adjust.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-03-30 10:34
Aha! Good to know, thanks!
Peter Terlingen  2015-03-30 04:29
I expected much from Fantastical 2 for Mac.
But I was disappointed to see that it was not possible to print a week or a month view.

BusyCal is far superior for me.
Robert Allen  2015-03-31 03:07
Date handling is just as messed up in Fantastical 2 as in Apple's Calendar. Flexibits says, "Apple's date picker uses whatever format it decides to and doesn't respect system formats" (Tweet). Comparison of the format shown in various activities - Yosemite system formats set to international (i.e., today is 31/3/2015):

1. cmd-shift-T: 3/31/2015
2. 2x click on event: 31 March 2015
3. Edit event: 03/31/2015
4. Search results: 31 March 2015

1. cmd-shift-T: 3/31/2015
2. 2x click on event: 03/31/2015
3. Edit event: 03/31/2015
4. Search results: 31/03/2015

Calendar gets format right (system format) 50% of the time; Fantastical 2 gets format right 25% of the time.

Fantastical 2 wins slightly showing currently selected day other than "Today" — selected day highlighted in sidebar calendar.

Apple wins showing current month in week & month view, scrolling in month view (1 week rather than month), & handling time zones.

Fantastical 2 not enough better for $40-$50.
Robert Allen  2015-03-31 03:20
To be fair, Fantastical 2 is better at:
1. Year view: pop-up events when hovering better than clicking.
2. Overall look — especially the events/reminders list in the sidebar.
3. Calendar sets
4. Viewing event details and editing event in the search results — fewer clicks and, while date format isn't what I want, it doesn't change when I edit (Calendar changes from international to US format for editing).
5. Expanding the all day events list in Day and Week views without scrolling.
6. Menubar mini-calendar

Calendar is better at:
1. Sharing calendars
2. Exporting calendars (I don't find an export option in Fantastical)
3. Importing calendars (I don't find an import option in Fantastical)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-03-31 08:50
I'm not quite sure what you're looking for with import/export of calendars - it's not something I can remember ever having to do in the CalDAV era where you subscribe to calendars on a server. Can you explain what you're looking for?
Robert Allen  2015-03-31 10:08
I occasionally export a particular calendar as a .ics file (for example, Public Holidays for East Africa) to share with others on my team. Calendar gives me the ability to import a calendar that someone has sent me.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-03-31 10:22
Fair enough, though that's not something you'd want to share and then have them subscribe to so any changes would be reflected in their copies?
Robert Allen  2015-04-01 01:53
It's likely I don't fully understand calendar sharing with Apple's Calendar, but it appears that only those with a iCloud account or those who are on the same network can do this. My work group is dispersed across East Africa and don't work off the same network and some are still in the dark ages of Windows.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-04-01 09:50
Yes, you need a CalDAV-based sharing service to do this, like iCloud, Google Calendar, or the Web site Fruux. If you're dealing with a wide mix of systems, Google Calendar is probably the first thing to try.
Robert Allen  2015-04-01 11:47
Adam, thanks for all the back-and-forth on the calendar sharing. My biggest complaint about both Apple's Calendar and Fantastical 2 is that neither seem to handle dates based on Sytem Preference (Language & Region) settings. I realized today that Numbers doesn't seem to handle dates based on Preferences either. That's very frustrating to live and think in international formats and have to enter and interpret dates that are in US format and it puzzles me why Apple would do that. (Maybe something's messsd up with my system?)

I like Fantastical 2, but it just doesn't offer enough improvements to warrant the cost. Now, if it were $9.99, that would be a different story.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-04-01 11:51
You might check out BusyCal too, to see if it deals with the date formats as you want. Both Flexibits and BusyMac are quite responsive to bug reports and suggestions, unlike Apple.
Robert Allen  2015-04-03 01:25
I just discovered what seems to be another strike against Fantastical 2. My battery life has been TERRIBLE for the last 2-3 days. I just looked at the Energy tab of Activity Monitor and it seems that Fantastical may be to blame. It's average Energy Impact for the last 8 hours is 102.07 — the next highest is Safari at 12.93 and Xmarks for Safari at 4.09. Busy Cal is 0.07 and Apple's Calendar is 0.01. Hmmm — not good. DISCLAIMER: I'm not an expert on this stuff, so it's possible that the hit on my battery life is due to something else or to a combination of things, but….
Jolin Warren  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2015-04-14 05:15
Without trying to get too off topic, I think the date issue is to do with your system settings somehow. I have my date formats set to UK (e.g. 14-4-2015 or 14 April 2015) and Apple's apps always display it as such .
Robert Allen  2015-04-14 05:59
Thanks, Jolin. I've wondered that, but have had my system date formats set to UK formats for years without trouble until (maybe) Mavericks and now Yosemite. And, interestingly enough, BusyCal shows dates in **exactly** the way I have system dates set. I've always used a custom setting — UK/international date formats but US currency settings. If you have some thoughts about how I might sort this out I'd love to hear — bob (dot) temp (at) mac (dot) com
Robert Allen  2015-04-14 06:05
OK, on a whim, I changed Language & Region settings to Region: UK but set currency and measurements to US. That worked! Not sure why Region: US w/international date formats does not. Seems that the problem is solved. **THANK YOU** and Cheers!
Ian Eiloart  2015-05-06 09:08
BusyCal seems to get the right format in all of these situations. My system date display is set to International standard, too.
Higherterrain  2015-03-31 11:41
Calendar has a feature I like that doesn't work. Adding a attachment, were as Fantastical doesn't even offer it.
Mark Stoneman  2015-04-04 15:21
Is anyone else put off by the developer's attitude towards upgrade pricing? It's not the amount of money per se, but the idea that upgrade pricing shouldn't even exist. Makes me wonder why I bought version 1 through their website instead of the app store last year.

My attitude: regardless of features or value, I am dropping them. They got money from me for one round of the Mac OS and IOS. That's it. There have been so many other apps that I always upgraded over the years, but this won't be one of them.

Of course, I am thinking about upgrades within a given cultural matrix that might be changing because of the iOS and the Appstore, but I'm not sure this is a brilliant move by Flexibits, even if they have made Apple's "editors's choice" listing. Thoughts?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-04-06 09:10
I think this is basically caused by the Mac App Store. The "upgrade pricing" in place is the introductory price of $39.99 for a limited time (after which it will be $49.99); that's the only way they can do reduced pricing for upgraders and still sell through the Mac App Store.

If Apple would allow paid upgrades or the use of coupons, developers would have more flexibility.