Last week, I received an email from Portland attorney Josh Barrett. (Josh started the great Tablet Legal website in January of 2010 when the iPad was first announced, and ran that website until he finally called it quits earlier this year.) He was writing to recommend that I check out Fantastical, a calendar app for the iPhone from Flexbits. Josh has been a fan of the Mac version of Fantastical for some time, but it was a new product to me. The app is only $1.99 right now (at some point the price will increase to $3.99), and I decided to spend the two bucks to see what all the fuss was about. Boy am I happy that Josh sent me that email. This is a brilliant and beautiful app that I think every busy attorney using an iPhone would really appreciate. Indeed, anyone who manages a lot of appointments will find a lot to love in this great little app.
The focus of the app is version of a calendar that is similar to the list view in the built-in Calendar app. I've always liked the list view on the iPhone because it is a great way to browse a bunch of upcoming events at one time. But the list view is improved in Fantastical because there is also a row of dates along the top that you can quickly flick to jump forward or backwards in days. Alternatively, if you want to see a traditional calendar, you simply swipe your finger down on the top of the screen to replace that row of dates with a calendar, and then swipe left or right to change the month instead of the day. (Swiping to change the month is considerably easier than tapping those tiny arrows in the built-in Calendar app to change the month.) Swipe down again to return back to the row of dates. The gestures are very easy and quickly become second-nature.
I can't show you my own calendar without showing some confidential information so I'll start with two screens from the Fantastical website that illustrate the two views:
As you can see, both the list view and the calendar view include small bars indicating other appointments that you have on that day, just to give you a small visual clue that there are (or every once in a while, are not) other items already on your calendar for that date. If you use multiple calendars (I don't) each will have a different color. In either view, you can jump to the current date just by tapping at the top (where in the above images it says "November 2012"). Tap on any event to see all of the details on a full screen.
If that was all that this app did, that would be enough to recommend it because it is such a fast and easy way to jump around a calendar and quickly see what is coming up. But that is just the beginning. The app also includes a nice search feature. Swipe down just a little bit on the calendar at the top (not far enough to switch views) and you will see a search box. Unlike the built-in Calendar app that only searches all fields, Fantastical also gives you the option to search by the Title, by the Location, or by the Invitees.
I notice that when I run a search in the built-in Calendar app, I only see results from the last 12 months. In Fantastical, I am seeing results from the last 10 years.
But I'm saving the best feature of Fanstastical for last. Creating an event in the built-in Calendar app always seems like it takes more time than it should. First you tap the + button, and then you have all of these fields to fill out. But in Fantastical, you can create events just by using natural language. Type "Meeting with John next Friday at 3" and the app creates that event. In fact, you can even watch the app create the different parts of the event as you type, an animation that is so neat and fun that you might want to spend the $2 just to see that at work.
Other examples that work, taken from the Flexbits website:
- Grocery shopping at Wegmans Thursday at 5pm
- Lunch with Matthew at 123 Main St at 1:30 Monday
- Family vacation from August 9-18
- Soccer practice every Tuesday at 6
- Sam's birthday every year on 5/16
When I see that big open field waiting for a narrative description, I often find myself tempted to just talk to my iPhone. You can do that too, and it works great — just tap the microphone icon and dictate. Of course, an iPhone 4S and 5 already have the ability to create events via speech thanks to Siri, and in some ways Siri is more powerful than Fantastical. For example, Siri will warn you if you have a conflicting event, and Siri will try to match the event with your Contacts (tell Siri "meeting with John" and it will show you a list of all of the John's in your Contacts so you can select the right one). But I often find that I cannot talk to my iPhone when I am creating an event because I am on a call, or working with another person, and it is faster to type a narrative in Fantastical then it is to tap in each of the fields in the Calendar app.
Here's another shortcut for creating an event. On the calendar bar at the top of the screen (either the row of days, or the full calendar), tap and hold on a day for a second or two. That brings you right to the New Event screen and you can just type the event title and Fantastical puts it on that date.
Deleting an event is also very fast. Remember that in the built-in Calendar app, you need to tap an event, then tap edit, then scroll down to the bottom, and then tap Delete. In Fantastical, just swipe across an event to see the option to delete (much like you can swipe across an email in the Mail app to delete it).
Fantastical is only an iPhone app. It runs on an iPad, but I don't recommend doing so because it is not formmated for that screen and the gestures are designed for something that fits in your hand. On the iPhone, it only works in portrait mode, not landscape mode. That one makes sense to me because the core of this app is to show lists, which works better in portrait mode. Also, this app makes great use of the iPhone 5's longer screen because you can see more entries in the list.
For just the 1.0 version of this app, it is packed with features, and I can't wait to see what is added in the future. One that I'd like to see is the ability to jump to a specific date so that you can see what was happening several years ago without swiping all the way back one month at a time. (Tip for the advanced user: you can use Launch Center Pro to create an action that takes you to a specific date within Fantastical.)
Fantastical lives up to its name. It is a fantastic alternative to the built-in Calendar, offering a faster and easier way to add events, search for events and browse events, all in an app that has a beautiful design. I was tempted to actually replace the Calendar icon at the bottom of my Home Screen with Fantastical, but I like the way that the built-in Calendar app tells you the current date on the face of the icon itself (a feature that Apple doesn't let third-party apps use). Also, there are still some things that you can only do with the built-in Calendar app, such as accessing alerts or creating new events with invitees. (Fantastical uses the same databse as the built-in Calendar app so you can switch back and forth.) But for most of your calendering needs, Fantastical is all that you will need. Thus, I have placed Fantastical on the very first page of my home screen, prime real estate reserved for only my most favorite apps.
As noted above, the developer says that the current $1.99 price is 50% off of what the app will eventually cost, so you can save a few bucks by buying it now. But whether the price is $2 or much more, it would still be worth it. I strongly encourage you to give this app a try and see if you like it as much as I do. I suspect that you will.