Fantastical Fixes The iPhone's Calendar

Smartphones are still kind of dumb. Even for features as essential as the calendar, built-in apps usually deliver the bare minimum instead of nailing the experience. That's why there's Fantastical for iPhone from Flexibits, which came out Thursday.

Fantastical is something I have used constantly since the Mac version debuted in 2011, and the iPhone app is superb. Its main feature is the ability to type in events in plain English (or French, German, Italian or Spanish), like "go to the thing at 6 on Thursday," and have the app translate it into an event on your calendar with the right description, date, time and everything.

There are no time spinners or drop-down menus or fiddly controls. Just describe the event the way it is in your head, and it shows up on your calendar.

Fantastical for iPhone also has the best mobile calendar view that I've ever seen. The default view shows a ticker of the past and next two days with today in the center, and there are dots on days where you have events. Below, your upcoming events are listed in chronological order. You can scroll up and down in that list, and the ticker above ticks along accordingly. You can always tap the title bar to return to today.

If you swipe down, it switches to a month calendar, with today's events displayed below. Swipe down again to return to the ticker. I find that kind of confusing — seems like swiping back up should return to the first view — but it's still very convenient.

How Fantastical For iPhone Was Made

"We've always been thinking about the iPhone," says Michael Simmons of Flexibits. "We've always wanted to do an iPhone version, but we never had something that let us say, 'This is right. This is going to solve the problem.'" Until May, that is, when Kent Sutherland, the other half of Flexibits, came up with the DayTicker concept.

The Flexibits team was working on a new contacts app for the Mac at the time (teaser screenshots), and they actually put that on hold to build Fantastical for iPhone. It took less than six months.

"For us, Fantastical as an application isn't about whether it's a Mac app or an iPhone app," Simmons says. "It's about solving a problem with calendaring." You can enter the event as a single stream of words; it even interprets shortcut words like "lunch" as meaning Noon. The natural language input makes life much easier on screens both big and small.

But phone typing is easier to fumble, so Simmons points to the built-in speech-to-text features of the iPhones 4S and 5 as an even easier way to add events. It's faster than the interaction with Siri, since it doesn't have to talk back to you, and having the rest of your calendar at a glance is a much more useful context.

Fantastical for iPhone is available Thursday for $1.99. It will be $3.99 when the launch sale ends.