Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Fantastical 3


A beautiful new user interface. Feature parity on every platform. Beautiful full screen modes on iPhone and iPad (and the Mac has never looked better). Synced calendar sets (🎉). Weather. Interesting Calendars. Proposals with automatic scheduling. Even better tasks support. And so much more.

But let’s talk about the thing that’s likely on everyone’s mind, the Fantastical Premium subscription.

I previously paid:

The new version is $39.96 per year for all platforms. It also works in free mode, which includes most if not all of the features I regularly use. And if you had previously purchased version 2, you can keep using the non-free features that you had before.

I’m not interested in the syncing or collaboration features, so I was pleased to see that at least the Mac app seems to work just fine without creating a Flexibits account.

Jason Snell:

With this release, Fantastical is now stepping away from its attachment to Apple’s built-in calendar database, adding the ability to connect to all sorts of calendar and task services. It’s also connecting with Flexibits’s own new cloud service, which adds a slew of new features—and further possibilities down the line.


I’m a fan of the direct connection to calendar services, because a lot of the weird quirks I’ve experienced with my calendars end up being quirks of Apple’s calendar syncing system, including random duplicate alerts from both Calendar and Fantastical.


To use Fantastical 3, you have to sign up for a free Flexibits account, whether or not you subscribe to the new features.


I’m also thrilled to report that Fantastical’s natural-language parser has finally been upgraded to intelligently parse repeating events, something that I could never get to work right.


While the Mac version of Fantastical has tended to be more full featured than its iOS variants, with this release the iOS apps are more or less at parity with the Mac version.

See also: Zac Hall, Ryan Jones, Eric Slivka, David Sparks, Federico Viticci.


Update (2020-02-06): John Gruber (tweet):

Lots of complaining on Twitter, and Fantastical 3’s App Store reviews have been dragged down by angry users complaining about the pricing change. […] And if, like me, you used Fantastical across iPhone, iPad, and Mac (they previously sold the iPad app as a separate version from iPhone), $40 a year is quite reasonable. Fantastical is a professional calendaring (and now task management) app, and as Bohn points out, subscriptions are the best way for a developer like Flexibits to succeed in the App Store.

David Lynch:

Weirdly, I think the way flexibits has let themselves down with the upgrade level for previous users is that there’s no in-app indication of “you’re getting X for free because you bought the app”. So existing users only see the places they’re being asked to pay more...

Whereas if they’d swapped some of the “you need pro” stars into “loyal customer” icons, we’d all have a better sense of what we’re getting.

Bernd Pörner:

In re: to Fantastical 3 being a “pro” app, European business users would break GDPR by using Fantastical’s “pro” features, b/c other people’s personal data would be stored on Flexibits’ cloud servers, without businesses having an explicit order processing contract with Flexibits.

9 Comments RSS · Twitter

Happy to see the menubar calendar on the Mac stays running even when the main Fantastical app is quit. I've continued using the ancient Fantastical v1 for Mac simply because I use that part constantly. v2 only showed the menu item with the full app open, which didn't fit my typical usage, so I never upgraded. (v1 has, of course, been getting increasingly unreliable as the years and OS updates roll by.)

Thoughts on pricing:
* For personal use, it's harder for me to pull the trigger on an annual subscription than a one-off cost. And having gradually subscribed to various software/services, each additional one faces a higher barrier to my signing up.
* For work, the availability/event proposals feature alone would justify the cost if it lets me replace my use of Calendly.
* Flexibits has a great track record, and I hope this lets them better sustain their business.
* I'm glad they've made a free tier available which sounds very capable.

@Nigel I’m surprised that the free version is so capable, but I think it will help to raise awareness of the app. The Mini Window is so good—everyone should install the app at least for that.

Biggest question for me is whether or not I’ll be able to connect to an Exchange calendar without the app having to be authorized by corporate. Calendars 5 is the only app I’ve found that works.
I’m somewhat OK with the subscription model, as long as the app isn’t stagnant, or adding features and complexity for the sake of adding features to justify the subscription. I’ll need to think about this one. $40 a year is a bit steep, compared to the $70 ($50 Mac app, which is often on sale for $25, $10 for iPhone and $10 for iPad). Based on updates every three years, thats a big jump to $120 for three years versus $70.

I have to wonder how much of this is Apple’s skim. Personally, I tend to buy direct from developers when I can, and avoid the Mac App store. I’m 30% more profitable right off the bat. It will be interesting in a year or two to see what the cancellation rates are. Unless they are cheap apps, the subs make me think about whether or not an app is worth comitting to, instead of a one off purchase. It’s also incredibly annoying to have random charges coming multiple times a month, at different intervals. Apple really needs to offer an easy way to sync subscribtion payments to a given date.

Doing the math, you paid $55 for all of the versions and upgrades, of which there has been no major upgrade in nearly 5 years. Under the subscription model that same $55 would cost $200. My problem with subscriptions is that I don't know when a new release will come out. While $55 for 5 years of useable and supported software is a steal, if it's another 5 years to see a Fantastical 4 then it's way over priced IMO. I don't mind paying one-time for software or an upgrade but this "rental" model is a non-starter with me.

@Jay It’s complicated because I don’t actually want major changes or a lot of new features. I just want them to keep maintaining it, which they did a good job of during those 5 years.

Kevin Schumacher

Based on the fact it's been five years since Fantastical 2.0 and the new pricing on a monthly basis, they're asking $300 for the next major version. I don't care how shiny it is or how often it gets minor bug fixes and little new features, it's not worth $300 for one major version, even across multiple platforms.

On the topic of their pricing, on Flexibits' website, they don't actually tell you the "amount to be charged today" price of a yearly subscription until the very bottom of the very last page of the purchase flow, and even then it's on a disabled button with decreased contrast that doesn't become enabled until you enter your credit card information. The top of that payment page still reinforces the effective monthly price of that yearly subscription instead of giving you an actual number that will be charged today. There's a reason that Apple prohibits such behavior on their platforms. (I know Apple doesn't control Flexibits' website. I also know that I can do the math myself. My point is it's a dick move and anti-consumer. If it was an airline website they'd be required by law to post the total amount right up front.) Screenshot:

I also have a big problem with "beautiful new user interface" when the screenshots they have posted are identical to v2.5 that's on my Mac right now. Perhaps the views on iPad are different. I don't know because I've never used it on iPad. But if that's what they meant, they need to be clear about that. Their screenshot: Screenshot from my Mac running 2.5:

@Kevin The Mac and iOS interfaces are definitely not identical to the old versions. You’ll see the differences if you use the apps. But I would agree that, at least for the views I use, the changes are less drastic than I would have expected based on reading the copy.

I put together a little guide to recovering the previous version of Fantastical:

Working around Apple's arbitrary limitations, or Extracting IPA files from an iPhone

@MIchael ... I want bug fixes and tweaks as much as the next guy and will and have gladly bought new versions when released. Fantastical now costs about as half as much as an O365 subscription for one app versus four or five in the Microsoft suite. I don't see that as good value for money and will move off of Fantastical and Cardhop (though that isn't yet a subscription). I can't support a company that I feel are gouging their customers. Yes, I know I can keep using Fantastical as is without a charge. Those apps can join Airmail, Ulysses, Mindnode and Day One in my bit bin.

For clarity, my problem isn't developers making a living for their work (I was a software dev for the first 15 years of my career). It's having someone in my pocket every month/year and my having to remember that they are there should I no longer use their software (or use it enough to justify the price). With a OTP I click buy knowing I'm going to pay whatever the hit is and hope it's a realistic price that allows the dev to earn a living. With a subscription the onus is on me to remember who is going to charge me, when and for what. That's more trouble than the value any software subscription delivers. If that limits my access to "great" software, so be it. The ideal solution would be to offer OTP for those constitutionally opposed to subs and a subscription via something like Setapp for those who don't mind paying automagically every month and where the extortion can be centrally managed.

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