Fantastical is a replacement app for the standard calendar that comes with the iPad. The developer, Flexibits, believes that the biggest problem with the standard calendar on iOS is the amount of time it takes to actually enter all the metadata for a new event: start time, end time, location, date — depending on how complicated the event is, as many as 11 different criteria need to be manually selected, and that's a lot of taps.
Instead, Fantastical has a natural language parser that allows users to add events using normal English (or French, German, Italian or Spanish) sentences.
For example, instead of creating a calendar event and typing "Lunch with Al" for a title, then moving to the location field to type "The Palace Restaurant", then manually setting start and end times, as well as the date — an overly complicated process — Fantastical has users type "Lunch with Al at The Palace at noon on Thursday." The app then figures out what the user means, displaying changes on the fly so the user can be sure they are entering the event properly, and adds it to the calendar.
Flexibits co-founder Michael Simmons says the parser eliminates the complicated song-and-dance required to make an appointment in a traditional calendar app. "I had a busy schedule and it was always a pain to click and click and go up and down and type," he explained. The app started as a simple calendar parsing tool, "you would enter an event in natural language and boom, it would create the event appropriately."
From there, the developers created the Mac version of Fantastical, a deceptively powerful menulet — an app located in the Mac's menu bar next to the clock — that includes the parser and a quick look at upcoming appointments.
Next came the iPhone version. "We didn't have an idea in our heads" for an iPhone version of Fantastical, Simmons said. "We're not making an app just to make money," and so the iPhone app trailed the Mac version by more than a year. The company felt like the built-in calendar app was pretty good, and they wanted to come up with something really unique.
For the iPhone — and now the iPad — the developers came up with the DayTicker — a at-a-glance 5-day view of the next week or so. Users can see their upcoming schedule and events, days of the week, and more. The company felt this was a superior interface to the built-in iPhone calendar and, when combined with the natural language parser, made for a strong app. "The DayTicker, the way it came out, people saw that this calendar app was different," Simmons explained.
Fantastical 2 and the iPad
Work on the iPad version of Fantastical was interrupted last June when iOS 7 was announced at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference. Simmons said he "loved iOS 7 from first sight" and decided to put Fantastical for iPad on hold to focus on a redesign and retooling of Fantastical for iPhone, the company's flagship product.
For an iOS 7 redesign, "we needed to rethink Fantastical, to rethink the DayTicker," Simmons told me. "We went back and made Fantastical 2 for iPhone. We compressed our time and scheduled it to have it ready alongside the iOS 7 launch." Once that was done, the team scrapped much of the work that had already been done on Fantastical for iPad because it needed to be redesigned for iOS 7 as well.
"We had been designing iPad for iOS 6, so it was a big change in our plans when iOS 7 came out," said Simmons. At this point, "it's been in development for more than a year."
Though it does not have any unique features to the iPad version, Simmons says "the biggest feature is the user interface." For many iPad apps, he believes, developers just take the iPhone version and make it bigger. Instead, Simmons says "you take an app that is really good and you make the user interface fit the screen. We built a truly native app that takes advantage of the iPad."
Fantastical 2 for Mac is coming
Simmons told me that the next project for Flexibits is a major upgrade to Fantastical for Mac, though he would not commit to timing or any feature commitments. "We're going to completely rebuild the Mac App, it's going to be Fantastical!"
Fantastical 2 for iPad launches today on the App Store for a special launch price of $10, rising to $15 later.
Fantastical 2 for iPhone is a standalone app available for $5.
Fantastical for Mac is available on the Mac App Store for $20.
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.