Fantastical is Apple's Mac app of the year, but would you pay $40 for a calendar?

·5 min read

Why would anyone in their right mind pay $40 a year to subscribe to a calendar program when there are so many free ones?

My editor's pointed question, and a good one, when I told her I planned to write today about Fantastical, a nearly 10-year-old Mac favorite that just got named "App of the Year" for Mac computers this week by Apple.

Because Fantastical offers a better calendar experience, I explained. I was skeptical, too, at first.

Apple itself says it gave the award to Fantastical because it "showed how an old favorite could reinvent itself for a new age." Specifically, the app switched to a controversial subscription model this year and “added many new features we haven't seen on other programs."

Michael Simmons, the co-founder and CEO of Flexibits, which makes Fantastical, says the award, which he didn't see coming, "is incredible. What an honor and a way to end 2020 after the year we had."

I've always liked Fantastical, but I'm not a big calendar person. You tell me we're going to meet tomorrow at 10, and I'll remember it.

Fantastical named Mac app of the year by Apple
Fantastical named Mac app of the year by Apple

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Apple's Calendar app does the basics, assigning events and reminding me to attend them, Google Calendar is very good at snooping through my e-mail to find plane, hotel and restaurant reservations and adding them without me having to do anything. The Outlook calendar my employer provides is cumbersome and annoying. All three require too many clicks to fulfill the task. And all aren't much to look at.

Fantastical is pretty, with bright colors that make glancing at your day more pleasant and digestible. Other features I like:

Set up meetings with others. From within Fantastical, you can generate meetings with participants via an e-mail asking everyone to agree on the time. The winner goes into your calendar.

Weather. Each pane of your calendar shows the weather for the day, along with a 10-day forecast. Besides the temps, you can also add some other features like the date of the next full moon and date of the Winter Solstice.

TV shows and sports. When is the next episode of "The Walking Dead" set to return? When are the Jets playing their next game? Fantastical lets you do a search (in the "Interesting Calendars" section) and set reminders to tune in.

Work from Home: Fantastical helps you grab the meeting IDs of video calls from Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams directly into your calendar item.

(FYI: Fantastical works with Google, Apple and the Outlook calendars, weaving their listings into your master Fantastical calendars. And it lets you set up separate calendars, for say, work and home.)

Before switching to subscription, Fantastical had separate prices for various devices: $4.99 for iPhone, $9.99 for iPad and $50 for Macs, so a yearly subscription is theoretically cheaper, for one year anyway, to use on all your Apple devices. At least, until you start paying next year.

The move to subscription didn't go over well with fans. On the Mac Apple Store, many low-rated reviews offer comments like "Uninstalled and will never come back," and "I feel a bad aftertaste in my mouth every time I see it" (the app.)

Simmons has argued online that he needed to make the switch to have a more viable business model for his firm, while others pointed out that Apple's huge 30% cut of developer's profits for sales has all but forced developers like Flexibits to switch to a more generous and recurring payment plan.

He also points out that free versions of the original Fantastical and the latest, Fantastical 3, still exist. However, you can use it only on one device. And all the fun stuff, like syncing between devices, finding suitable meeting times from participants, extended weather, sports and TV reminders, programmable notifications (like the night before or the morning of) and adding Zoom IDs to your calendar items are only with the premium version.

The app offers a 14-day free trial at the Flexibits website.

In other tech news this week

Beyond Fantastical, Apple also announced its most downloaded apps of the year, highlighted by Zoom in the iPhone and iPad categories. In editorial categories, Apple said Wakeout!, a $4.99 monthly exercise app that offers quick workout routines, was iPhone app of the year, with Zoom selected for iPad app and the role-playing Genshin Impact as game of the year.

The Warner Bros. film studio did something no other company in Hollywood has ever done. It announced that its entire film slate for 2021 would play in theaters and on streaming, via the HBO Max $14.99 monthly subscription service. Upcoming titles include sequels to "Wonder Woman," "The Matrix" and "Godzilla vs. Kong." The move puts pressure on streaming player provider Roku, which dominates the market, to break down and add HBO Max to its lineup, which the company has refused since the May debut to do.

In other streaming news, content from the Discovery Channel, Food Network and HGTV is headed to yet another subscription service, Discovery+, launching Jan. 4 at $4.99 with ads or $6.99 ad-free. The original idea of cutting the cord from cable was to stop paying for so many cable channels, since the industry has resisted calls for a la carte programming. But with so many services available now – from Disney+, ESPN +, CBS All-Access and AMC, among others – it looks clear the 500 channels Bruce Springsteen once sang about is being re-created on the subscription dial. You won't save money; in fact, you'll probably pay more, but at least you'll get more choices.

Confused about which of the many new tech products to buy this year? We whipped together some consumer guides for you on iPhones, Apple Watches, cheap TVs, and more to come in the following days.

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Follow USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Apple's Mac app of the year Fantastical is $40 yearly – too much?

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