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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Fantastical 3 steps out of Apple’s shadow

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

Fantastical 3 on iPad is a huge upgrade. The left sidebar can come and go with a swipe.

I’ve been using Fantastical as my calendar app across all my devices for years now. I’ve come to appreciate its thoughtful interface and its excellent natural-language parsing for event entry.

But with Fantastical 3, Flexibits has transformed the product—it’s got a refined new look, yes, but what’s going on behind the scenes is the biggest part of the story. With this release, Fantastical is now stepping away from its attachment to Apple’s built-in calendar database, adding the ability to connect to all sorts of calendar and task services. It’s also connecting with Flexibits’s own new cloud service, which adds a slew of new features—and further possibilities down the line.

As you might expect in this era of App Store apps, there’s also a new payment model for the app. Existing Fantastical 2 users will be able to upgrade and get access to all the version 2 features while using version 3. But access to the new features (across Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch) will require a $5/month or $40/year subscription.

“Every month we’re making the app better,” Michael Simmons of Flexibits told me during our briefing, explaining that the company’s goal is to regularly roll out new features to the apps and via the cloud service. Flexibits seems to understand that asking for a subscription means delivering new stuff on a regular basis, rather than dropping a standalone update and then going into hibernation while the subscription fees roll in.

If you’re offended by the idea that a calendar app would want you to pay $40/year for its services, that’s fine—every device you use has a built-in calendar app that’s free to use and does the job fine. If you want more, you can pay for more1—and if you’re a version 2 user who doesn’t like the subscription model, Flexibits isn’t going to force you to upgrade unless you want those new features. (Update: Version 3 seems to nag version 2 owners way too aggressively about upgrading, though. Flexibits needs to back off a bit.)

The Mac version, showing off the time zone sidebar (far right) and per-day weather at the top.

Now, about those new features.

I’m a fan of the direct connection to calendar services, because a lot of the weird quirks I’ve experienced with my calendars end up being quirks of Apple’s calendar syncing system, including random duplicate alerts from both Calendar and Fantastical. By default Fantastical 3 will keep using Apple’s calendars on iOS, but I added my Google calendar and turned off calendar syncing in iOS’s Passwords & Accounts setting, meaning there’s just one set of calendar data on my devices now, and it’s in Fantastical.

To use Fantastical 3, you have to sign up for a free Flexibits account, whether or not you subscribe to the new features. By offering its own cloud-syncing service, Flexibits says that it can keep better the apps and their preferences in sync across devices. Calendar sets, for example, are now available on iOS, making it easy to toggle between different views of different calendars.

You can now easily change between calendar sets on iOS.

The Flexibits cloud service also lets the company build additional features that go beyond standard calendar protocols. For example, Fantastical 3 launches with a cloud meeting scheduler that will generate emails and try to negotiate a common time among invitees, and then send out official invites. You make the proposal from within Fantastical, the cloud service does the rest.

I’m enjoying a bunch of the extra data sources Flexibits has pumped into the app, as well. There’s now AccuWeather data on my weekly calendar, so I can see that today’s rainy but tomorrow it’s going to be sunny and warmer, all at a glance. Clicking on an event with an associated location will display a map and a weather forecast for that event—so you’ll know if it’s going to snow when you’re on that business trip to Denver.

Fantastical 3 also offers “interesting” third-party calendars via Schedjoules, so you can add things like TV shows and sports teams to your calendar directly from within Fantastical (without searching for a remote calendar subscription URL).

Despite a lifelong aversion to task management, I’ve been using Todoist for a while to track some of my recurring tasks. It’s going pretty well, but I’m more enthusiastic about it now that I can view my tasks right within Fantastical 3 via its direct Todoist integration. (The app also supports Google Tasks and iCloud Reminders.)

I’m also taking advantage of Fantastical’s integration with Zoom (and Google Hangouts) for meeting scheduling. After linking my Zoom account to Fantastical, I’m able to generate Zoom meeting invitation URLs right within an event, rather than needing to open the Zoom app.

There’s improved time zone support, too. You can set up favorite time zones, and then click any event to see what time it will take place in those locations. You can also optionally display a second time zone on your calendar, on the side, if you find yourself endlessly adding or subtracting hours to figure out what time it is wherever your collaborators are today.

I’m also thrilled to report that Fantastical’s natural-language parser has finally been upgraded to intelligently parse repeating events, something that I could never get to work right. If I type “Picard every Wednesday at 11pm for 9 weeks” it does the right thing and creates an event called Picard on Wednesdays at 11pm, with the repeat ending in nine weeks. Similarly, “Newsletter check third thursday of every month” will do exactly what you’d expect it to do.

While the Mac version of Fantastical has tended to be more full featured than its iOS variants, with this release the iOS apps are more or less at parity with the Mac version. The iPad version, which I never really liked, is vastly improved, with a better calendar view and an optional event-list sidebar that you can drag in and out with the swipe. It mirrors the excellent iPhone interface, which has been retained. Even the Apple Watch app can work in standalone mode, so if I’m out running with just my cellular watch, I can get a live view of my calendar.

I realize that a premium calendar app is not for everyone—and free calendar apps and services abound. But I’ve always felt that Fantastical was worth the extra price, and this new slew of features hasn’t changed my mind. This is an impressive update.

  1. If you think you can pay a developer once and you own their work forever, check your entitlement. 

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