An open feedback letter on iCal

by Robert Daeley

Related link: http://www.apple.com/macosx/features/ical/



While there are definitely areas that Apple's iCal calendaring application could be improved, it is generally a serviceable basic program. One area it could really use help with, however, is with its UI -- particularly keyboard interaction. Here's a bit of feedback (also submitted via the link in the iCal menu) about that very issue. I'm interested to know others' opinions on the latest iCal (2.0.3). Are that many folks using it?

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Hi, there. Thanks for a generally pretty cool calendar application. There is one particular area, however, that could really use some help, and that is keyboard interaction.

Scrolling through the Keyboard Shortcuts list (via the iCal Help menu), there are a number of handy commands available, even for some relatively rare or detailed actions along the lines of 'Make the selected all-day event start one day sooner' (Shift-Control-Left Arrow).

For the life of me, though, I don't see a shortcut for a simple, everyday interactions like checking off a to do item as done. I would suggest the spacebar, which OmniOutliner uses to good effect.

Also, it seems to be impossible to move from the main iCal window over to the Info palette, whether it's attached or detached, when creating a To Do item. When you create an event, whether by click on the calendar or hitting Command-N, you can tab from the event over to the Info window as long as you're still initially editing the event's name. I would really love that to be the case for To Do items as well.

Thanks again, and I hope iCal continues to improve as time goes by.

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While researching this entry, I came across a cool tip from Rob Griffiths (of macosxhints.com fame) -- you can customize the number of days the calendar window displays by using Command-Option-n, where n is a number between 1 and 7.

What's your opinion of iCal?


13 Comments

dsteinberg
2005-11-11 04:02:23
another keyboard thing
This might be in the same category as checking off an item as done - but when you enter the info for a new event. You can tab from the description to the location and enter it, you can tab to the date started and date ended and enter the info there as well. You can even tab to the check box indicating the event is all day - but I have no idea how to check that box from the keyboard.
hardcoreUFO
2005-11-11 04:52:53
terrible application
Hands down the worst app that comes with OSX. It is far too simple a calendar to be used for productivity. The whole multiple calendar concept does not work. I think Entourage is closer to the mark with its categories tags and projects.
scmmss
2005-11-11 05:07:11
another keyboard thing
Space checks/unchecks that box and also activates the drop down selection boxes for time zone, repeat, calendar and alarm.
BrentN
2005-11-11 05:53:28
terrible application
I don't think your criticism is particularly fair. Entourage is a lot more than most people need. (It's also buggy as hell and difficult to work with, but this is about iCal, not Entourage).


Remember - the Apple bundled apps are not power user tools! They are designed for the 95% of people who don't need a laundry list of functionality, but instead need a clean, simple, easy to use tool. Its a good strategy. If iCal doesn't meet your needs, that doesn't make it a bad application overall. It makes it a poor choice for you. Go find something else.

NSUser
2005-11-11 06:32:43
terrible application
I agree that "terrible" is perhaps bit strong, but iCal has always been, IMHO, the least "Mac-like" of any of the applications bundled with OS X. I've been a Mac user since about 1988 for one basic reason: the Mac OS never gets in the way of what I'm trying to do. Sure, it's not perfect (what OS is?), but it's always been the most productive and enjoyable choice for me.


Except for iCal. Perhaps it's simply my misunderstanding of how the application is supposed to be used, but it seems that everything is more awkward than it needs to be. Here's my favorite example: if I'm invited to a meeting using a group e-mail alias, iCal refuses to let me enter the invitation into my calendar unless I add the alias to my list of "me" addresses in Address Book. Okay, fine -- but if I do that, Mail always shows my name in the "To:" field of any message that I receive as part of that group. I have to dig a bit deeper or set up some sort of color-coding rule to identify those messages that went out to an entire group, rather than coming directly to me. Not a big deal, sure, (and you could argue that it's equally a shortcoming of Mail or Address Book) but it just seems like such an unnecessary requirement to impose in the first place.


Entourage is a compelling alternative for calendar management, but I really like the clean simplicity of using Apple Mail for e-mail. I use iCal only because I have no other choice if I want to use Mail. And maybe that's really the problem: it's not that iCal is truly terrible, but rather that it stands out as the one blemish on an otherwise useful and well-polished suite of bundled applications.


Of course, that's just my opinion...

MarcusFahl
2005-11-11 06:38:38
A term for you ...
"RTFM" comes to mind. :-) iCal's keyboard shortcuts work exactly the same as any other application. Space activates/deactivates the currently-focused control. Tab moves focus between controls. I've had no problems whatsoever with this in iCal (I use the keyboard frequently and have not had to look up a single shortcut for iCal).


Further, I'd like to write an 'open letter' to MacDevCenter in general. This site has been less and less about Mac development of late and more 'opinion' and 'tips and tricks'. Is this site losing its purpose? If I don't start to see some more development-related articles, I'll probably be removing the MacDevCenter feed from my RSS reader; I come here for MacDev, not DevOpinion.

paulwaite
2005-11-11 07:36:53
iCal
Yup, I'm down with iCal. I particularly like recording people's birthdays in Address Book, and having them automatically show up in the birthday calendar in iCal.


I personally like the multiple calendars thing: I've got one for regular tasks, which I keep hidden (as I don't want them cluttering up my view), but which alert me to do things (like pay the rent).


I use it purely at home, not for any office-y stuff, so that might be why it suits me.

salamon
2005-11-11 07:38:40
Shared Calendars
My biggest issue with iCal is that you can't share editable calendars. This leads to a nasty profusion of calendars that seems very unnecessary to me.


As an example, I have three machines and two people: my work machine, my desktop with one account for me and another for my wife, and my laptop. That means we have three birthday calendars, and four event calendars. That just seems insane to me, when two calendars that could be edited by multiple people (on multiple machines) would be sufficient.


I know there are locking and synchronization issues, but can those really be that difficult? I thought WebDav at least had some kind of locking mechanism.

joshuawait
2005-11-11 08:27:37
terrible application
Just because an application doesn't accomplish what you want it to do, doesn't necessarily make it terrible.


I use iCal everyday for effectively managing my work schedule and sharing my calendar with other staff members.


I prefer iCal over Entourage for it's simplicity. I also prefer simple text editor called SubEthaEdit over Microsoft Word. I find that additional features only get in my way of being productive.


However, if you find yourself more productive with Entourage or some other application, then by all means use that application.

joshuawait
2005-11-11 08:41:01
Shared Calendars
If I'm stating the obvious and my opinion sounds like mind numbing drivel, I apologize. But here it goes.


In your comments, you state "my" work machine, desktop, and laptop. These comments sound like an individual environment. Apple does provide a service for a fee (.Mac) to synchronize calendars across computers. If you're simply wanting to have your calendar appear the same every where, you could spend the money to use Apple's .Mac service. I use .Mac in part for this reason.


The most requested feature that I hear for iCal is the ability to synchronize calendars in a group environment. Since iCal uses open standards to share calendars ".ics" for the file type and WebDAV for publishing, the missing component is synchronization.


To my knowledge, no one has provided a synchronization engine for iCal outside of Apple's .Mac services. Also, I don't think it's possible to even point a Mac to a synchronization service other than Apple's .Mac.


Perhaps we'll all get lucky and Apple will provide this feature in the next version of Mac OS X Server.

salamon
2005-11-11 08:52:06
Shared Calendars
It may be that I just misunderstood how .Mac works. If my wife and I are sitting at our computers can we both update the same calendar at the same time and not have our changes stomp on each other?


I've looked at the iCal UI but don't see anything that suggests you can publish and subscribe to the same calendar from two different machines.

MarcusFahl
2005-11-11 10:01:50
Shared Calendars
.Mac sync won't work for groups. It's intended to sync one user's data and settings, not share those settings between multiple users.
daeley
2005-11-11 10:21:39
A term for you ...
Space does work in the Info palette to check/uncheck -- it does not work in the To Do list.


And while I can't speak for all of MacDevCenter, I would venture to point out that user interface is rather an important part of application development. ;)