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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Fantastical 2 goes beyond the menu bar

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.


Today Flexibits is releasing Fantastical 2, a $50 Yosemite-only calendar app that’s a huge upgrade from the first version of Fantastical. I’ve been using it as my main calendar app for the last couple of months, and I’ve been impressed. (The app is on an introductory sale in the Mac App Store for $40 for launch day.)

The original Fantastical has lived in my Mac’s menu bar since it first arrived on the scene. Its claim to fame was its ability to accept natural-language input for events, but it was also a well designed drop-down calendar that let me consult my schedule for the next day or two with a quick keystroke. It replaced the venerable MenuCalendarClock in my menu bar. And yes, I’ve absolutely gotten used to pressing a keyboard shortcut and typing out a quick phrase like “briefing call 1pm tomorrow” and knowing that Fantastical will drop an event on my calendar in the right place.

As you might expect from the price, Fantastical 2’s sights are set a bit higher. While you can set the app to behave just as the original version did—as a drop-down adjunct to another, larger calendar app—this app is designed to replace your other Calendar apps, the same role Fantastical serves in its excellent iPhone and iPad versions.

In addition to the classic drop-down calendar, which is still there, Fantastical 2 has a full calendar window, providing the features you’d expect plus a few you might not, such as configurable calendar sets that you can toggle between with a keystroke. (Or, cleverly, the app can toggle them based on your location, so certain calendars appear only when you’re in certain places.) Flexibits also wrote their own CalDAV engine, separate from Apple’s calendar services, so that it can stand on its own. There’s also a Today widget so you can view Fantastical information in Notification Center, and support for Action and Share Extensions.

When I asked Michael Simmons of Flexibits what the motivation was to take Fantastical from a calendar adjunct to a replacement, he said that the original goal of Fantastical in 2011 was “to fix iCal” by providing quick access and natural-language input. (Apple later added text input in an update to Calendar, but Apple’s approach has never measured up to Fantastical’s—even now, if I type “phone call tomorrow at 8 for 2 hours” into Calendar, it will try to make a one-hour-long event.)

Fantastical 2’s goal, Simmons says, “is to fix Fantastical itself. I love using the menu bar, but a lot of times I found myself going into Calendar to do things I just couldn’t do in Fantastical. I’d want to use the week view, the year view, get a bigger view, or maybe I just wanted to focus.” The result is a full app that definitely brings to mind the iOS version of Fantastical and is, to my eye, a more attractive design than the one offered by Calendar.

Fantastical 2 also adds Japanese support—and keep in mind, adding language support to Fantastical doesn’t just mean localizing the text in the app. Because it uses natural-language input, Fantastical has to learn how people describe calendar events in their native languages. Simmons said that some of the groundwork Flexibits has laid with the Mac version will probably show up in the iOS versions of Fantastical sometime later this year, too. An update is coming sooner to add Handoff support to those apps, which Fantastical 2 already supports.

Talking to Simmons, it’s clear that Flexibits doesn’t think the launch of Fantastical 2 as the end of a project, but as the beginning. “We have so much planned,” he said. There’s a lot more Fantastical development yet to come. In the meantime, Fantastical 2 has replaced Calendar on my Mac.

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