Exploring BusyCal vs. Fantastical in 2024

Continuing the discussion from A Sad Goodbye to Fantastical … my Flexibits subscription is coming up for renewal, and lately I’ve been finding Fantastical a bit frustrating. Moreover it seems like Flexibits is focused on teams, now, and that probably means that development for individual users will stall.

So, I’m exploring alternatives. This is my fourth or fifth time messing around with BusyCal on macOS. It is a little clunkier at first than Fantastical, but it seems like you can slim it down to only what you want if you spend the time to configure it.

I like that BusyCal lets you define start and end times of your day. It then shades the calendar outside of those times, which makes it easier for me to say “no” to a meeting request that’s going to run too late. This was one of the feature requests I recently submitted to Fantastical where the response made me feel like a nuisance.

It also provides keyboard control over view, which is excellent. Being able to shift from a short view of the next few days to a longer horizon of 14 days without needing to fiddle with sub-menus was another request I had of Flexibits that seemed to go in the trash bin.

TIL that calendar sets in BusyCal do exist, they’re just called filters — and they’re more powerful than calendar sets! Why have I never heard of these?!

All seems good. Perhaps too good. For anyone else who’ve played with both Fantastical and BusyCal, what made you stick with Fantastical?


I switched to Busycal for my calendaring needs (having a grandfathered Fantastical license from the day), and I would say that Fantastical (and Apple Calendar btw) have better UI. Cannot tell why, but Busycal seems busier (pun intented) than the others when showing the same calendars. Apart from that, it’s a power user tool, no doubt.

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BusyCal, and I have used for years, is great for busy people. Fantastical is good for people who have time to put a premium on prettiness.

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It’s been a while since I tried BusyCal, but a big thing for me is the look and feel of the calendar GUI on iPhone. I found BusyCal’s month view to be way too…busy (:grimacing:) and I didn’t love the look and feel. It feels like an app I wrote in Visual Basic 6.0 back in 1998.

I also find views like this (taken from their site), to be too crowded. All the event titles are cut off and the columns are so narrow I can’t make sense of it quickly.
Screenshot 2024-03-21 at 9.23.43 AM

To be fair, I don’t use similar views in Fantastical either, but I find their month-on-top and events-on-the-bottom view to be perfect. And the fact the events at the bottom are scrollable (yes Apple, I shouldn’t have to peck on each day to see the events), makes it function perfectly.

I also like the natural language input, calendars for sports etc, calendar sets (I know, same in BusyCal).

Fantastical aesthetic and features are balanced really well. With the MPU discount it was worth signing up for another year.

I’ve long wanted to switch to TimePage but the functionality isn’t anywhere near Fantastical.


On mobile I am grandfathered in to a pre-subscription license for Fantastical and I have never found anything that I like better, including BusyCal. While I don’t have access to any of Fantastical’s newer subscription-only features, I don’t need them so that is a non-issue for me.

However, on desktop, I had not yet purchased a Fantastical license before it went subscription. Therefore, I purchased BusyCal and I am happy with it. Although, I am hardly a power user on desktop. Most calendaring happens on mobile for me.

I use both. I like the custom calendar views in both BusyCal and Fantastical. It kind of kills me that Fantastical won’t implement view filters like BusyCal’s and BusyCal won’t implement event hiding like Fantastical’s. And meanwhile, Google Calendar is still the best for ad hoc calendar viewing (when you know you need to view a calendar, but you don’t know whose yet.)

I guess it’s like that with the top apps in every category. They can’t all be best at all the features.

I think it’s cool how, because calendars are mostly viewing panes, it doesn’t matter if you have a bunch of views in one app or a bunch of views spread across multiple apps. It’s an app category you only use to manage cognitive load so it doesn’t matter what makes the load less burdensome for you.

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For another option, Readdle’s Calendars app for Mac just got added to Setapp today.

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I imagine you’ve thought of this, but what if you added a “hide” tag to those events you wanted to hide, and hid that tag in every smart filter?

The only thing keeping me in Fantastical is:

  1. ease of use (compared to others)
  2. natural language / parse
  3. calendar sets
  4. visual layout
  5. needs to be available on mac, iPhone, iPad

Ah, no, that’s a good idea. That alone didn’t quite get me there, but I’m thinking I make a base filter with the hidden stuff and duplicate it every time I need a new one that isn’t similar to one of the others. (I use a lot of sets.)

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I actually just decided last week to go back to Fantastical, after dropping it a few years ago when they introduced version 3. I’ve tried a number of calendar apps since, but the friction and frustration I’ve encountered with all of them has led me to the conclusion that Fantastical is absolutely worth it for me. I also spent some time looking at alternatives, which I’ll mention at the end. There are some interesting new players, but none that worked for me.

While many like to complain that Flexibits has been focused on stuff like Openings (which I couldn’t care less about), they’ve also done an excellent job supporting new features that Apple has added over the years. I’ve also added an iPad Pro and an Apple Watch to my stable of devices since I moved on from Fantastical 2, so having consistent feature support across platforms has become even more important (even something as simple as Cultured Code’s lack of support for custom widget themes in Sonoma and Smart Stack widgets, despite Things 3 introducing them on iOS in 2021, has been a point of frustration for almost a year now).

Widgets and complications

In both respects, Fantastical has little or no competition. This is important to me because widgets are one of the few truly meaningful improvements to calendar apps since I first got an iPhone, and my preferred way to keep track of what’s coming up most of the time.

Busycal has some nice widget views in theory, but the customization options are surprisingly limited for what otherwise appears to be a power user’s app. Consider the medium ‘Up Next’ widget in both apps:

Busycal Fantastical
Appearance (System/App/Light/Dark/Black)
Calendar Set (Mirror/All/Choice)
Show Events (Y/N) Show Events (Y/N)
Show Tasks (Y/N) Show Tasks (Y/N)
Show Banners (Y/N)
Show Weather (Y/N) Show Weather (Y/N)
Font Size (Reg/Sm/Med/Lg)
Show Today Only (Y/N)

I love using widgets on both my iPad and my desktop, but only in dark mode—being able to set the widget theme independent of the system is a requirement, so daily driving Busycal requires finding a second app just for widgets.

Fantastical’s “Show Today Only” setting is also quite unique, as far as I can tell. No such feature is present in Apple Calendar, Busycal, or Calendar 366. This is also one of my favourite features that Fantastical offers—I don’t want to see what I’m doing at 3pm tomorrow once I finish my last event of the day.

I also appreciate just being able to see one upcoming event at a time. Most other calendar apps insist on providing me with a list. I struggle with time blindness, so staying focused on the next event and knowing when I need to transition towards it is much more important to me than seeing the next 2-3 events in my calendar.

Even more importantly, I want to see what I’m about to do or what I’m currently supposed to be doing, not have an event disappear from my watch face/lock screen/home screen as soon as it starts. This popular vanishing act feels inconvenient at the best of times, unhelpful when I’ve blocked buffer time before an appointment actually starts, and downright counterproductive when I’m running late. I also don’t want to be shown what I’m doing tomorrow. The worst offenders (imo) are the ones that, given the opportunity, will show me upcoming events from today, tomorrow, and sometimes even further into the future. Fantastical is the only app that meets these criteria, and it even lets you customize these options!

Calendar sets

When I first left Fantastical, I thought my main reason for using it was Calendar sets, which is why I tried Busycal in the first place. Busycal has one tiny setting hidden away under the settings for calendar sets which lets you chose one calendar set applied to all your widgets and your watch, which is quite disappointing. Being able to customize these views is even more of a deciding factor when you consider Lock Screen widgets as well.

Experimenting with other apps, including Apple Calendar, has taught me that calendar sets are less important than my means for accessing them. In this respect, I’m torn between Fantastical and Busycal: Fantastical lets me choose calendar sets for each widget, but Busycal lets me specify preferred views for each calendar set in the app. What I really want is to be able to do the latter in reverse—specify calendar sets according to the view I’m in. It seems intuitive that I would want different levels of granularity at the day/week/month levels, but nobody seems to offer this as a default feature. I’m currently trying to figure out how to script it in Fantastical on the desktop with Keyboard Maestro.

Live Activities

Finally, Live Activities. Fantastical has them, and lets you choose how far in advance (<8 hours) they should appear on the lock screen. Nobody else, including Apple (!) offers Live Activity support for calendar events, which is astonishing, frankly.

Other apps I tried or looked at:

  • Minical (iPhone/iPad) - Limited feature set, but has a nice monthly view in the app and widgets. No support for Mac, though, and the iOS widgets can’t request Calendar Access in Sonoma.
  • Solid Calendar (iPhone/iPad/Mac)- I quite like this one, but it’s missing some necessary features like travel time. Really nice minimal calendar app if your needs are few.
  • Amie (cross-platform) - I need to go back and take another look at this now that they’ve released on iOS. It combines todos, calendars, and email in a nice looking package, but it’s probably not for me. The free tier supports todos and calendars.
  • Across Calendar (iPhone/iPad/Mac/Watch) - Worth considering vs. Fantastical/Busycal
  • FirstSeed Calendar (iPhone/iPad/Mac/Watch) - Also worth considering
  • Calendar 366 (iPhone/iPad/Mac/Watch) - Another viable alternative. I found the interface clunky when switching views, especially on mobile.

Why do calendar apps suck?

Some findings from my research. Calendar apps aren’t a money maker, and it’s hard for them to keep afloat. This was also part of why I changed my mind about the subscription cost of Fantastical.

2016 - Sunrise is dead, and so is the dream of an excellent calendar app

Think about what your calendar app looked like in 2011 and what it looks like today. Mostly the same, right? Now think about your _maps_app in 2011 – a godsend, to be sure, but a pale imitation of its 2016 counterpart. Today your maps app will start your trip by telling you when you will arrive. It will nudge you when it’s time to change lanes. If there’s an accident up ahead, it will alert you. And if it finds a better route, it will change up your driving directions on the fly.

Meanwhile, calendar apps brag that they can now support… printing! The future of scheduling has never looked more like the past.

Why is this the case? In May, former Facebook executive Sam Lessin offered an answer. Writing in _The Information _this May, Lessin described what he called “the non-monetizable product blind spot.” “There are plenty of products people want, but they’re not good businesses,” wrote Lessin, who is currently building a bot company named Fin. Notes, to-do lists, address books, calendars: the vast majority settle for the good-enough, preinstalled apps on their phone

If you’re a tiny startup with a brilliant idea for how to improve calendars, you face two intractable problems. The first is that the glut of free calendar apps makes it very difficult for you to charge customers more than a few dollars. Unless you can continuously acquire thousands of new customers, that’s not a sustainable business. The second is that it’s going to cost money for you to acquire customers – your best bet is probably to buy installations with ads on Facebook and the App Store. Very few companies have or are willing to spend this kind of money, and venture capitalists aren’t likely to invest in them.

2017 - “Calendars: Shame of the Software Industry”

The underlying problem: These system vendors do NOT believe that your calendar data is data that really matters. In more than 20 years now of connected devices (first, networked computers and then internet-connected mobile devices), none of these vendors have acted as though your data was important enough for each of them to decide to work with all the others to make that data secure, permanent and accurate.

This is why, over the past 20 years, I have lost most of the calendar data that I (or others on my behalf) have entered into computers as well as the contact data for people I know, lots of the email data and even some of the photo data and music and other media-related data that I have stored in computer systems from time to time. Much of my personal history that could have been recorded permanently has been lost because the vendors were so tied up in their strategic issues that they forgot to take care of my concerns as a customer.


I see Busycal has a “Hide” option on right click, what is exactly Fantastical doing? I’m curious!

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Wow, thanks for this review! Post of the year nominee.

I hadn’t yet bought Busycal on iOS, but had been assuming it had decent widget/live activity support. Based on your observations (which line up with the things I like about Fantastical), I think you’ve convinced me to stay with Fantastical despite my gripes.

I just wish they’d provide some kind of feedback on feedback. Rote responses never feel good. I’d prefer to be told if a feature request of mine is basically never going to happen, hahah.

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(and for me the basic features are “free” because I’m grandfathered in on iOS/iPadOS/macOS)


I’ve been a paid Fantastical user since v1. For me, the fusion of events and Reminders in the MacOS month view is pretty close to ideal.

I’m not a great fan of Fantastical’s iOS app, although I still use it every day. I’ve long wondered why the week view in Readdle’s Calendars iOS app isn’t copied by anyone else. It’s the best way of displaying a week I’ve seen in any iOS app.

Screenshot from Readdle’s promo website.


Re: calendar widgets. I wasn’t happy with the information density on Fantastical’s iOS widgets. So I designed my own using the Widgy widget-maker app.

After a lot of fiddling, this is what I settled on.

It’s the smallest iOS widget size (i.e. equivalent to the space used by 4 app icons) and always shows:

  • the next 3 calendar events (top half)
  • the next three Apple Reminders (lower half).

They’re automatically colour-coded (red = personal; green = work)

  • Tapping the top half opens Fantastical.
  • Tapping the lower half opens the Remind Faster app

It’s not beautiful, but I prefer it over the Fantastical widgets because of greater information density.

I made a similar one (which only shows the next 3 calendar events) as a complication for my Watch.


A meta thought about this thread: it goes to show how difficult is the calendar app space. No single vendor can funnel their users into a subscription because the data itself is stored somewhere else (Google Calendar, iCloud Calendar, whatever) and that makes switching a relatively simple process.

What I find more interesting is the low level of differentiation: they all do basically the same (after all, calendars were invented long time ago and the feature set is provided by the calendar & scheduling standards). What is there to be done? The only thing I’ve seen slightly useful is in Readdle Calendars which provides templates for time blocking.

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Sheesh. Yep, it’s there and works the way I want! :slight_smile: Added in 2020, looks like.


Yeah, so this is great, because the thing I wasn’t going to bring up in this thread is that I’ve been working on the root causes of needing to juggle so many calendars. (Only a few of them are mine so it’s not self-inflicted.)

The other thing I’ve been doing is widening my use of Hey calendar (works for me because Hey works for me, plus I like the design, to no one’s surprise.) I’ve drawn a line there where I’m only showing free/busy information there from work calendars and only subscribing to mine.

And, I only own Mac BusyCal so it’d be easy to not start running with that on mobile as I do Fantastical.

If I can simplify the calendar juggling for work to one app, and then be ignorant of what those events entail when away from the only computer with that app installed…

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Solid Calendar has a view like this, which I liked. Very easy to see which days will feel busier than others.

I actually forgot to mention Reminders in my above post. This is another area where Fantastical sets itself apart. Busycal and some others do offer support for importing Reminders to the calendar, but Fantastical has a lovely feature where if you include a bracketed duration code in the reminder title (e.g., [90m]), it will show the reminder as a pseudo event with a 90 minute duration.

I use this to block activities that repeat regularly but I don’t want to clog up my calendar. For example, I have a standing appointment with myself to go work at the library twice a week, but it’s entirely flexible when or whether I actually go. Creating a repeating calendar event will clutter up my monthly view, but reminders only repeat once I actually check them off. This also works great for something like a weekly review.

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