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QuickCal 3.0 Gets Redesigned UI and BusyCal Support

Back in May I reviewed QuickCal for Mac, an iCal add-on that, through a very straightforward interface, allowed you to create new events in iCal using “natural language input”. With a combination of keyboard shortcuts and direct iCal integration, QuickCal let you write down events in plain English (example: Lunch with Cody tomorrow at Italian restaurant), and have them automatically formatted as new entries in iCal, which would then sync them to a MobileMe or online service of choice. Alternatively, QuickCal also featured native Google Calendar support, so events didn’t have to go through iCal first to be synced online. With a clean menubar list of upcoming events, support for to-dos and smart reminders, I was quite impressed by QuickCal as an iCal add-on for desktop users.

With the 3.0 update released today, QuickCal adds a completely redesigned UI, a new dynamic dock icon, and a series of improvements throughout the interface. As with the previous version, QuickCal can be invoked by pressing a keyboard shortcut (mine is Control+Shift+Q), which will open a floating panel (think OmniFocus’ quick entry/Alfred/NotifyMe) to start writing down a future event. Focus is immediately placed on the text cursor; the new QuickCal entry box design is nice to look at, and it retains the underlying simplicity of the older versions. As you type, text is automatically formatted to reflect an event’s data points like date, location, and duration. For instance, “Meet with Chris at Apple Store, Viterbo tomorrow from 5 to 6” will result in an event called “Meet with Cris”, with location, date and duration fields automatically filled in. This hasn’t changed from the old QuickCal.

QuickCal 3.0 has a beautiful dock icon with a dynamic date on it (like iCal), although unfortunately, due to Apple’s rules with menubar apps and Lion, you’ll have to manually drag it from Launchpad or the Applications folder onto your dock if you want to see it. Once it’s there, you’ll be able to click on it to open the quick entry panel, and drop text on it as well. If you don’t want to use QuickCal’s own quick entry box, you can make its natural language input work with popular application launchers such as Alfred and LaunchBar.

Other features of QuickCal 2.0 have been maintained and refined in this 3.0 release. The app can still create to-dos in a specific calendar with the “todo” prefix – this works nicely with iCal’s Reminders in Lion. QuickCal also provides a summary of upcoming events and to-dos in the menubar, and you can play around with the app’s preferences to tweak sorting options, days to show, and completed events. You can set a default calendar for new events and to-dos, enable Google Calendar sync in the second tab of the Preferences, and, as with version 2.0, activate automatic conflict resolution, so the app will turn red if you’re creating an event that’s overlapping an existing one.

One of my favorite features of QuickCal 2.0 has been ported over to 3.0, and that’s Smart Reminders. With this functionality, you can set the app to automatically apply certain alarms for events that are a day, week, or month away. This way you’ll always have a reminder available and different depending on the kind of event you’re assigning it to.

QuickCal 3.0 comes with native BusyCal support, but I haven’t been able to test this. I’ve only tested the app with MobileMe and iCloud calendars, and I’ve noticed QuickCal still isn’t completely independent from Apple’s iCal in that it requires iCal to be open to sync events to the cloud. With iCal closed but QuickCal running, new events will be saved in QuickCal, but they’ll only be synced after you launch iCal. Another app with natural language input for events, Fantastical, comes at a higher price on the App Store ($14.99), but it syncs events immediately to the cloud thanks to native CalDAV sync support.

QuickCal 3.0 is a simple and effective companion for iCal, now with a nicer UI. I prefer to call the app an add-on, rather than a mini-calendar replacement, as it requires iCal to be open to sync events to iCloud/MobileMe, and it can’t live on its own unless you’re a Google Calendar user. Natural language input is certainly more reliable than iCal’s in Lion, and the interface is unobtrusive enough to be there to assist you, but get out of the way as you don’t need it. If you’re an iCal user and you’re looking for a quicker way to enter events in plain English, QuickCal is only $2.99 on the App Store (a free 14-day trial is available on QuickCal’s website).
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QuickCal Mobile: Fast Calendar Entry On Your iPhone

Last night I reviewed QuickCal for Mac, a menubar utility that works in conjunction with the desktop iCal to provide a simple way to add new events to your calendars using plain English as natural language input. Unlike Fantastical, QuickCal can’t sync back to any calendar in the cloud if iCal isn’t running because of its lack of native CalDAV support (though it’s got built-in Google Calendar integration), but still it offers a cheap and easy to use way to create new events without having to deal with iCal’s menus, popups, and checkboxes. As I mentioned in my review, QuickCal also comes with an iPhone counterpart called QuickCal Mobile that, just like the Mac version, allows you to quickly jot down events using nothing but plain English.

QuickCal Mobile for iPhone may look like a stripped down version of the Mac app, but I was surprised to see it’s actually the same app, only integrated with iOS standard calendar features. This means events displayed in a list or monthly view can be edited and deleted with the same interface of for iPhone, and everything from alerts to location and availability status can be modified in-app without launching Apple’s Calendar. QuickCal Mobile recognizes all calendars already configured out of the box, allows you to specify a default one and comes with the same Smart Reminders functionality of QuickCal for Mac – you can set a default reminder, one for events that are weeks away, and another one for things you’ll have to take care of in the next months. The app’s icon badge can visualize the current day of the month, or you can disable it and enjoy the icon on your homescreen with no red badge.

QuickCal Mobile’s biggest feature is obviously support for natural language input, and I was pleased to see it works just like on the Mac. You fire up the app, start typing in a single text entry field, and QuickCal will recognize your words as values for a new calendar event. It’s really fast and results update as you type – again, like on the Mac. At this point, I wish QuickCal would also run natively on my iPad – most of the times I check on my calendar from the tablet, and being able to quickly enter events there would be nice.

QuickCal Mobile is available at $0.99 on the App Store, and if you’re fan of the Mac application you should definitely give it a try. The app won’t replace your Week Calendar or Calvetica, but it’s a very convenient way to add events in seconds.

QuickCal: A Simple iCal Add-On with Natural Language Input

When I reviewed Fantastical, a new calendar utility by Flexibits that lives in the OS X menubar, I was impressed by the design of the app and the support for natural language input, a feature that allows you to write down your calendar events quickly using nothing but plain English – say you have a meeting tomorrow at your local coffee shop, with Fantastical you don’t need to click on checkboxes and date fields to get your new event set up. You can just write “meeting at coffee shop tomorrow at 5.30 PM”, and Fantastical will know how to handle it. After my Fantastical review, several readers pointed out in the comments and via Twitter that QuickCal, another calendar app that works from the menubar, does more or less the same things of Fantastical, only with a more simple and standard UI and at $0.99 in the Mac App Store, as opposed to Fantastical’s $14.99 introductory price. Because I’m a sucker for new software I love to play with and I care about my readers’ app recommendations, I decided to download QuickCal for Mac and take it for a spin. There’s also an iPhone version available, but after the break I will take a look at QuickCal for Mac – the review of the iPhone version will follow later this week.

Surprisingly, QuickCal works a lot like Fantastical. That is not to say the Fantastical developers “copied” the main features of QuickCal – I’m just surprised I didn’t know about this app before. QuickCal is indeed very similar to Fantastical in how it enables you to write down events using simple, plain English, and it’s got some additional functionalities that integrate the app with iCal, or directly with Google Calendar’s online interface. QuickCal is also fundamentally different from Fantastical in how it lets you start adding a new event, and the design of the event list in the menubar has a simpler look that, unlike Flexibits’ app, doesn’t embed a full monthly calendar, bur rather only shows upcoming events in a vertical list. Both apps have some features in common, but the implementation is ultimately different and exclusive to each one of them. Read more

Fantastical: Your Personal iCal Assistant


In my preview of Fantastical, a new Mac application by Flexibits, I noted how developing a new calendar utility for OS X wasn’t an easy task at all: not only does the competition offer some great alternatives, Apple itself bundles the free iCal into the main installation of Mac OS X Snow Leopard, giving users a relatively powerful tool to manage appointments, invites, to-dos and all sorts of calendar needs. Whilst iCal – and on iOS, the Calendar app for iPhones and iPads – makes it super-simple to see all events at a glance with the supported Google Calendar, MobileMe, CalDAV and other protocols, it appears Apple didn’t really focus on letting users quickly and easily add new items with a few keystrokes and commands. To enter a new event in Apple’s default iCal, you have to open the app, head over the day you’ve chosen (or hit a keyboard shortcut) and type in every single field for the new event. That includes things like name, location, all-day checkbox, date and time, repeat, invitees and status.

Being forced to manually type all info and move the cursor around every single time is boring, and annoying; that’s exactly what Flexibits wants to fix and improve with Fantastical.

As I highlighted in my initial preview, Fantastical’s biggest feature lies in the way it allows you to enter events with natural language. Plain English, that’s it. Once the app is configured with your calendars and up and running in the menubar, you’ll be able to invoke its main window with a shortcut (or by clicking on the menubar icon), be automatically focused in the text entry field, and start typing. Before I delve deeper into this, a quick note about Fantastical’s calendar support: being the app an external tool that can be integrated with iCal, the app perfectly supports all the protocols already supported by Apple out of the box. That means MobileMe, Google Calendar, CalDAV, shared calendars – anything, really. In my tests, the app (and iCal, set as my default calendar app, more on this in a minute) worked just fine with a personal Me calendar, two Google Calendars, as well as a shared cal configured through Exchange both on Mac and iOS. As far as calendar support goes, there’s nothing to worry about if your calendars are already working in iCal. In fact, the app looks directly into it to fetch local and online calendars you might want to use, and iCal doesn’t even need to be running for Fantastical to add new events. Furthermore, the app also supports Outlook and Entourage, Yahoo! Calendar accounts as well as delegates both on Google and Yahoo.

Fantastical’s natural language system is without a doubt the most important feature that sets it apart from other calendar utilities for Mac and Apple’s own iCal. As I noted in my preview, writing “Meet with Cody tomorrow at Apple Store, Viterbo 5 PM to 6 PM” in iCal does nothing, in spite of the sentence being correct and relatively simple to understand for a computer. Writing the same sentence in plain English in Fantastical adds a new event with all the fields already filled in. I’m talking about the event’s name (Meet with Cody), location (Apple Store, Viterbo), relative date (tomorrow) and time (from 5 PM to 6 PM). Fantastical understand what you’ve written, and leaves room for typos such as “Thrsday” or “tomorow.” The system implemented by Flexibits is very powerful and, as the company’s name reflects, flexible, allowing you to enter an event’s name in almost any way you want with the app still recognizing it correctly. Why is it a big deal? Because it’s smart and it helps me save time. Instead of having to move my cursor to select checkboxes and repeat the same actions over and over again, I just write a quick sentence like I’m used to and the app does the job for me. Indeed, Fantastical is the closest thing to a “calendar assistant” the Mac has ever seen. More importantly, the system is smart in the way it knows when I’m referring to people already in my Address Book. In the screenshot below, you can see how I wrote “Meet with Cody” and the app knew “Cody” was an entry in the Mac’s Address Book. From there, it fetched the two email addresses saved with Cody’s contact information and enabled me to send an invitation without leaving the app or having to open a browser. Overall, Fantastical’s natural input technology is the best thing that ever happened to a calendar application, for all the reasons listed above.

Fantastical, however, is also a great utility because of its intelligent and clever design. Let alone the fact that the app looks beautiful (just take a look at the screenshot or download the trial and play with it for 5 minutes), the design is functional to what a user has to accomplish: entering events quickly, in seconds, without opening a full-featured calendar app. Fantastical is unobtrusive, sits in the menubar and can be launched with a keyboard shortcut. If you feel like you want to look at it all the time, you can pin the app to stay above other windows. I don’t do that, but the feature might come in handy when adding events from other applications. The calendar design is minimal, tasteful, and allows you to navigate between months with ease. Marked days and events are done the right way with subtle indicators and graphics overlaying the main calendar. Nothing about Fantastical is “too much” or redundant: events can be previewed in a small popup if you head over them with your mouse, and if you double-click them iCal will launch. Events can’t be deleted from within Fantastical, but the app allows you to enter a new one from any app or browser – as you can see in the screenshot below. The system-wide service is incredibly useful when dealing with receipts and expenses in PDF documents, or just about any date displayed on screen. It’d be nice to be able to delete events in Fantastical, but I think the focus for the developers now is to let users add events in any way they want, as fast as possible.

There are other functionalities worth mentioning, too. From Fantastical’s window, you can decide how many “next events” or “next days” to show, so you’ll always be focused on the right amount of time and events. From the same menu, you can jump to today’s view. There are some things to tweak in the Preferences as well: you can choose a default calendar and calendar app, which will be the one that handles event management in the background as you add new stuff in Fantastical. The keyboard shortcut for quick entry can be customized, alongside the menubar icon that can show date, date and weekday, or date and month. Calendars can be managed in the preferences’ second tab, and you can set default alarms for timed and all-day events so you’ll always end up with a standard alarm for every new event – very useful.

Fantastical is the calendar assistant to install on every Mac that has to deal with calendars. Not because Fantastical is more powerful than other solutions like iCal and Outlook, but because is smarter and different. Fantastical wants to be the best, fastest and most intuitive way to add new events, whereas other desktop applications focus on letting you manage your calendar, sometimes packing features that slow down the whole process of adding new events. Fantastical is available on the Mac App Store at an introductory price of $14.99, with a free trial available here. Read more

Office for Mac’s SP1 Update Bringing iCal, Tasks, and Notes Syncing

When I wrote the tutorial on how to get Gmail working inside Microsoft Outlook for the Mac, one of the things they didn’t include was Google Calendar syncing (even after a quick stability update). To be frank, they didn’t include any kind of syncing outside of the mail services provided by Exchange or IMAP. While the first service pack (arriving next week) will not be brining Google Calendar syncing to Outlook, Microsoft will be delivering a substantial update that will tie into your Mac’s Sync Services, meaning iCal calendars, tasks, and mail notes should be fair game. While it isn’t supported directly, you should be able to sync your Google Calendars with iCal, then to Microsoft Outlook. It’s a busy solution, but that’s not to say we’re out of options. For those asking (begging) me about writing something up about Google Calendar support, you’ll have the option to do it through iCal as of the SP1 update. In other words: bananas.

I also wanted to note a couple of the other new features coming with SP1:  Outlook support for Exchange based server-side rules; Outlook Redirect button (you can redirect the message to the intended recipient and the replies will go to the original sender); Outlook Resend button; Outlook edit of existing messages; and Solver integration support in Excel.

MobileMe syncing has be axed unfortunately, as MobileMe will no longer require Sync Services to communicate with your Mac. However, you will be able to sync notes down from MobileMe if anyone uses those.

[Office for Mac Blog via The Loop]

Week Calendar 3.0 Is A Powerful iCal Alternative for iPhone

In the past months, I’ve taken a look at different calendar applications for the iPhone and iPad that aim at bringing more functionalities (either through particular interface approaches, extended Google Calendar support, or other features) to a device’s built-in calendar software from Apple. The iOS calendar app, a tiny version of iCal for the desktop, is fast and elegant and works just fine for most users, but sometimes you want or need more from a mobile calendar or agenda. For instance, the possibility to have more views available (rather than the List, Day and Month ones designed by Apple) or “do more” with events and reminders. And while I know most of MacStories readers are huge fans of Calvetica and Cloud Calendar for the iPhone and iPad, respectively, I’m pretty sure some of you have been looking for a slightly more “powerful” or, dare I say, “geeky” alternative to If so, meet Week Calendar.

The name says it all: Week Calendar’s biggest feature is the weekly view that’s the focus of the entire experience and undoubtedly something that Apple’s calendar app really lacks. In the app’s weekly view you can pinch & zoom vertically or horizontally to show / hide hours and days, double-tap to focus on a specific event or rotate to landscape mode to gain an even broader view. Tapping on the top toolbar allows you to select a date to jump to, whilst selecting an event opens a desktop-like popup with related information. Tap on the popup, and you get to another screen with all the details you’ve entered and buttons to share, print (that’s right, AirPrint) or create a template off the event itself. You can edit an event at any time, and even display the assigned location on a map. Something that I really like about Week Calendar (well, weekly view aside): you can link contacts from the Address Book to an event. Like I said, everything’s pretty full-featured to offer a wide array of options and choices.

“Choices” seems to be a prerogative of Week Calendar: from the main screen, an iPad-like popover lets you switch between 7 different views: List + Search, Day, Week, Month, Year, Agenda, and Today. The “Go to a Day” shortcut lets you manually enter a date to open. Switching between sections and views felt fast and highly responsive to me, although I have to say I’ve only configured the app with two calendars: my personal one, and US Holidays. The app comes with this kind of optional, built-in subscriptions that you can activate from the Settings. Speaking of which, there’s a lot of stuff to choose from in there: from Time Zone support and “Week starts at” to an auto-coloring system for events with a specific title, you can stay assured the option you’re looking for has been implemented in Week Calendar. I can see how many will prefer the simplicity of an app like Calvetica, but sometimes an application for “nerds & power users” is more than welcome. Other features of Week Calendar that impressed me for the quality of the implementation were fullscreen support (you can activate it with a single / double tap and choose what UI elements to hide), possibility to cut and drag & drop events in any view for easy re-arrangement and TextExpander integration.

Week Calendar is an app that needs to be used for weeks – even months – to be fully appreciated. There’s so much stuff to play with, configure and customize it’s not really easy to fit everything into a single article – plus, I believe all these options have the added value of turning the app into a completely different experience depending on how you use calendars. So, head over the App Store now and buy Week Calendar 3.0 – at $1.99 it’s possibly the most “serious” calendar app for iPhone I’ve seen so far. Read more

CalendarBar Tucks Event Reminders In Your Menubar

Clean Cut Code is known for making beautiful apps like Cloud Calendar, and it was only a matter of time before they brought some of their talent to the OS X desktop. CalendarBar takes on the inefficiencies of a traditional calendar client by providing a quick list of events in a beautiful timeline that can grab events from iCal, Google Calendar, and Facebook. Clicking on an event takes you to the event listing in its parent application – CalendarBar removes the distraction of busy calendar utilities, but provides shortcuts so you can add entries and gather additional information. The app features a some iOS overtones in its design, most obviously via the settings and exit button that adorn the bottom of the pop-up panel. Launching yesterday, the app is only $1.99 in the Mac App Store.

BusyToDo Syncs Tasks Through iCal & MobileMe

If you happen to live buried in a desktop calendar like BusyCal, assumedly it’s become your central hub for tracking the waterfall of meetings and seemingly endless to-do’s that direct your daily actions. Being mobile, we hate being tethered to our desktops or using clunky software on our phones when tasks could be simplified: BusyToDo from BusyMac free’s iCal’s To Do list and keeps your personal agenda synced across the cloud with MobileMe. Push notifications may remind you via any alarms you’ve set, and BusyToDo will update in the background as you move to other applications on your iPhone. Whether it’s checking off URLs, adding new items for next week’s agenda, or simply looking for the perfect mobile companion for BusyCal, BusyToDo is a brand new release that’s launched for $5 on the iTunes App Store.

[BusyToDo via Macworld]