Mobile Apps

Upgrade Your iOS Home Screen: Calendar

When the iPhone first came out, the functionality of the Calendar app was limited. You could track your calendar on the iPhone, but, since the iPhone couldn’t sync with an Exchange calendar at the time and, even if it could, Google wouldn’t release Google Exchange Sync for two more years, you could not sync your iPhone calendars over the air. Your only option was to plug your iPhone into your PC and sync with a desktop application like Outlook. Much has changed since then. Now you can not only sync your calendar wirelessly, you can do so with multiple calendars, whether they are with your work’s Exchange calendar, with MobileMe (now iCloud), or with Google. Still, there’s some room for improvement. For example, you can only look at your calendar in Portrait mode, not Landscape (this may change in iOS5). You also only have three calendar views in the default app. Fortunately, there are many iOS apps out there which can turn you calendar into the full fledged powerhouse that you need to keep organized. I’ve reviewed three of the best, although, in my opinion, one stands out above the others.

1. Week Calendar

It’s amazing that a $2 app can do so much so easily. Week Calendar by Utilitap is easy to use because it requires little in the way of setup. If you’ve configured your built-in iOS Calendar app, Week Calendar can see those calendars as well. This means that you’re able to view and edit your calendars without having to add them a second time. That, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. With Week Calendar, you gain a ton of functionality: Landscape view; custom calendar colors (YOU choose the color, not iOS); multiple calendar view including by week, year, and agenda; and search for appointments from within the app are just a few of those functions.

One VERY cool function is the ability to drag and drop appointments from one calendar slot to another, including across days in week view. You can also associate contacts with specific appointments without creating meeting invites, something which comes in handy when you only need to know who’s going to be there. You can create, edit, and delete appointments just like you would in the regular app. If there’s a type of event you create often, you can make an event template. Each time you make that event, you choose the template and just fill in the relevant information.

I’ve used this app for about two weeks and have had no complaints. Everything is snappy and, since the app uses the built-in calendars, all calendars are updated as they normally would be. I’ve actually found that I’m using the app more than I use Outlook or even Google Calendar on the desktop. I can only imagine what Week Calendar would be like on the iPad, because, to be honest, I would classify this as a “killer app” on a larger screen and a reason to look at moving up to a tablet. This app is now my default calendar app.

2. Pocket Informant

Up until I discovered Week Calendar, Pocket Informant by Web Information Solutions, or WebIS, was my choice for calendars on the iPhone.  Pocket Informant has been around for a long time, starting on Windows Mobile, where I first discovered it. On that platform, PI gave you almost as much functionality as Outlook on the desktop for calendars, tasks, contacts, and notes. I fell in love with PI on my Dell Axim x30 PDA and continued to use it on my AT&T Tilt smartphone. When I made the jump to the iPhone, I was glad to find PI available. Unlike Windows Mobile, where PI used the items synced to the device from ActiveSync or Exchange over the air sync, Pocket Informant for iOS syncs calendars with Google Calendar and tasks with Toodledo. Pocket Informant will also, like Week Calendar, work with your default calendars, so you can use PI in the same way.

Since there is much more involved with Pocket Informant, the app can run a little slow at times, especially if you’re syncing with Google Calendar and/or Toodledo. Syncing with these services are manual and not push like Exchange sync is. This isn’t an issue, but can be a minor annoyance if you forget to sync before switching between your PC and your iOS device. The other issue is the price: $12.99. While there is a lot of functionality for the price, especially the ability to create events from tasks and vice versa, this is more than we need for just replacing the default calendar app. I am a little sorry to let PI go, but Week Calendar does more than I need for much less.

3. CalenGoo

CalenGoo, by developer Dominique Andr Gunia, is our final recommended app. If you are a Google Calendar power user, then CalenGoo is worth checking out. Dominique essentially took all the functionality of the Google Calendar web service and dropped it into an iOS app. You can view your calendar in the same views as Google Calendar (day, week, month, year, agenda) in either portrait or landscape mode. CalenGoo makes switching between views fun and easy, utilizing the pinch zoom gesture to zoom in and out of views. Want to go from Month view to Week view? Just pinch your finger and thumb on the screen and zoom into the week you want to see. You can also invite attendees, create multiple alarms, and create recurring events, just like in Google Calendar itself. With the recent addition of Google Tasks, you can even sync your tasks to CalenGoo. You can then view them as a task list or see them appear on the days they are due.

I put CalenGoo in third because, despite doing a great job as an alternative calendar app and the most faithful interface with Google Calendar, it is still limited compared to the above two apps. For starters, CalenGoo only syncs with Google Calendar, so you can’t use it with any other calendar on your iPhone unless you sync that calendar to Google as well. This means you need to sync your iOS device, then sync your desktop calendar with Google (or the other way around) when switching devices. The other issue is the price: $6.99. While almost half as much as Pocket Informant, it is still considerably more expensive than Week Calendar. At just $1.99, Week Calendar gives users the most bang for their buck and, for me, is the best iOS calendar app out there by far.

We are slowly but surely making our way through the iOS home screen. Let’s take a look at my home screen now that we’ve picked our new calendar app:

As you can guess, my next article in this series will be on a replacement photos app. If you have any recommendations, feel free to share them in the comments section below. Also, if you have any thoughts on my calendar app recommendations, let me know in the comments, as well.