From its humble beginnings on OS X, Fantastical's contextual input changed the way plenty of people set appointments and reminders. When it arrived on the iPhone last November, the app became the first calendar software to reach number one on the App Store. Almost a year later, and Flexibits is looking to build on that success with Fantastical 2, a $2.99 upgrade that offers a new design and plenty of iOS 7 specific features.
When you first load Fantastical 2, you'll notice that the app retains the the familiar DayTicker and event list layouts. Flexibits has dropped the skeuomorphic elements of old, opting instead for a brighter and more vibrant UI that fits with Apple's minimalist aesthetic. Fantastical 2 remains as speedy and lightweight as its predecessor with most of the app's improvements found below the surface.
To make it easier to upgrade, Flexibits figured out a way to read the settings from the original Fantastical app so you don't have to set it up all over again. The technique utilizes data stored in the iOS 7 keychain, a detail that many other developers appear to have overlooked.
When the app launched last year, it didn't use its own alerts. There was a good reason for that: Apple restricted iOS 6 background processes to its own titles. Relying on those own services wasn't the most desirable option but it allowed Flexibits to guarantee alerts were received and appointments were synchronized no matter what device they were created on. Released as an iOS 7-only app, Fantastical 2 eliminates that headache by taking advantage of Apple's new background app refresh APIs to automatically sync events, reminders, alerts and tasks, whether it is open or not. You can toggle between Apple's and Fantastical 2's own alerts in the settings.
Among the new features in Fantastical 2 are reminders, an improved parser, new themes, the addition of a week view in landscape mode, TextExpander support and birthday reminders. "We tried to focus on an doing an upgrade that had a ton of new features," Flexibits' Michael Simmons says, "truly making it a Fantastical 2."
The refined parser lets you create reminders by starting sentences with "reminder", "todo", "task", or "remind me to." Like the default app, you can set time and location-based reminders with a minimum of fuss. Fantastical 2 also has improved support for repeating events, letting you set reminders for the first or last weekday of the month and other contextual commands. Flexibits really has spared no expense bringing in all of your favorite features from other reminder and to-do apps.
Although Fantastical 2 supports any iPhone running iOS 7, it provides extra feature for owners of an iPhone 5 or one of Apple's newer models. Utilizing the bigger 4-inch display, Flexibits created a custom keyboard (displayed above) that positions a row of numbers at the top, so you don't have to keep switching between letter and number settings when you input dates and times. Birthday reminders get some love, allowing you to either text or call your friend or loved one on their big day. If you're feeling particularly generous or you've forgotten to buy a present, Flexibits happily allows you to "Give the gift of Fantastical" to make sure the person you forgot about can celebrate with you when you get another year older.
Simmons believes that the company's success helped show developers "that calendar apps can be awesome," inspiring them "to do a better job." While other app makers might be able to achieve better ways of fixing different problems, Simmons says that Fantastical's mission was always to be "the best, fastest, friendliest and easiest calendar app for the iPhone." He believes Fantastical 2 stays true to that mission but feels that adding social, assistant or lookup features would deviate away from the calendar and towards trying to do everything. "You can't do everything good, and it leads you down a path of over promising and under delivering," Simmons tells us.
Fantastical 2 really excels when you type like you talk. Tell it that you want to "Meet Daniel Cooper at 8pm tomorrow at Liverpool Street Station" and the app will automatically detect and create a calendar appointment with all of the necessary information filled in for you. Now that it has Reminder support, bringing in location notifications, it replaces Apple's own apps and gives you little reason to ever use them again. The design is simple and very easy on the eyes, allowing you to see at-a-glance what you need to be aware of the coming days or weeks.
If you're looking for Foursquare support or weather notifications, Fantastical 2 won't be able to help you. But if you're after a slick app that'll keep you on top of all of your appointments, to-do lists and reminders, today's update will deliver all of that in a way that no other calendar apps can match. While today's update is iPhone-only, Flexibits is working on a separate iPad app, which is expected to launch next year.