Critics and users alike love to throw shade at those built-in macOS and iOS apps—Mail is often panned for being out of date, most of us don’t want (or need) Stocks, and Maps still can’t hold a candle to Google Maps, four years after the latter was unceremoniously evicted from iOS 6.
For me, Calendar is the weakest of Apple’s built-in apps (with Reminders a close second). While the Mac version is passable enough, the iPhone app is borderline useless, even with split-screen month and list view enabled.
After initially cozying up to the iOS-only Calendars 5 ($7 on the iTunes Store), I eventually settled on Fantastical 2 ($3 on the iTunes Store, despite initial reservations about the lack of a good month view on iPhone. Occasional bugs with recurring to-dos aside, I’ve never looked back.
That is, until the recent release of BusyCal 3, a sequel four years in the making. Back in 2012, OS X Mountain Lion 10 and iOS 6 were the latest and greatest Apple had to offer, and BusyCal 2 was a refreshing change of pace from the now widely-scorned skeuomorphic look and feel of Cupertino’s gaudy Calendar apps.
At $50, I didn’t pay much attention to BusyCal at the time, although Macworld sang its praises in a review, calling the integration of Calendar and Reminders “far superior” to Apple’s dual-application approach. And while that’s still true today, the folks at BusyMac had their work cut out for them catching up to younger rivals like Fantastical.
For the most part, they’ve succeeded: BusyCal 3 has been overhauled with a modern user interface that ironically takes more than a few design cues from the Calendar in OS X El Capitan, aside from the Info panel along the right-hand side, the two applications could almost be mistaken for one another.
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With version 3.0, BusyCal ($50 from BusyMac) plays a bit of catch-up, most notably adding travel time, a feature Apple introduced in the OS X Mavericks edition of Calendar three years ago. If you’ve used it before, the implementation here is identical: While adding location-based events, BusyCal displays how long it takes to drive or walk there, then uses current traffic conditions to alert you when it’s time to leave the house.
This “me too” feature aside, BusyCal 3 delivers impressive enhancements in other areas, such as smooth infinite scrolling for trackpad owners (Calendar now seems downright creaky by comparison), and a revamped Info panel which integrates synced Apple Reminders as a to-do list. To-dos can be assigned specific times or dates, and now appear in the main calendar view alongside regular events.
My favorite feature is the forecast powered by Weather Underground, which displays high and low temperatures for the next 10 days, along with moon phases adjacent to the date. This data is acquired by manually entering a city, ZIP code, or using your current location, and really helps when trying to plan outdoor activities for the week ahead.
Last but not least, BusyCal 3’s menu bar app has received a makeover, adding a mini-month calendar perched atop a scrolling event list. While it’s a welcome improvement, the menu bar is mostly for show and nowhere near as functional as Fantastical, where you can not only add but also edit events without ever opening the main application.
The return of BusyCal is reason enough to celebrate, but this time it’s not alone. For the first time, there’s now an iOS version as well ($3 on the iTunes Store. That means Mac users can finally have the same experience across platforms, rather than being forced to use a different calendar on mobile.
For the most part, the iOS app is a faithful port of the desktop edition, so there’s no steep learning curve. However, it’s lacking a Today widget, 3D Touch, and sharing extension support, so it doesn’t feel quite feature-complete yet. You also can’t sync accounts or settings, a minor inconvenience for those of us with multiple devices.
After missing a good month view on Fantastical, I was quite happy to see one in BusyCal 3, although it feels a little cramped even on my iPhone 6s Plus. Rotating into landscape mode helps, but it’s strictly for viewing; you can’t add or edit events with the iPhone held this way. I had the opposite problem on my iPad Pro; text is too small and there’s a lot of excess white space, but no settings to compensate for either.
There are a few fun flourishes to be found: Emoji and icons added from the Mac’s Graphics panel show up on iOS (but you can’t add new ones from mobile); when adding a new event, BusyCal 3 conveniently scrolls that date to the top of the calendar for better visibility, briefly animating with a subtle confirmation.
While I remain partial to Fantastical 2 for its full-featured menu bar app alone, BusyCal 3 is a winning combination for anyone looking to make a break from Apple’s underwhelming built-in apps.