The new Fantastical

The free trial will end tomorrow (or the next day) for early adopters.

Who will keep/cancel the subscription and why?

(curious to know whether people changed their mind during the trial; I’m not sure yet myself)

I didn’t do the free trial because all the v2 features I need were carried over to the nonsub version of v3. I really like the tweaks to the UI of the Mac and iOS apps in v3. But if my needs ever change and those premium features become useful to me, I’ll subscribe.

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I subscribed during the trial period but have cancelled. It is just not worth $40/year to me.

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And questioning people’s integrity is?

Same here. One or two years ago I considered most of relay’s podcasts a good source of balanced and actually quite objective information mixed with entertainment. The best Apple enthusiast’s infotainment out there. And that was my perception despite podcasts being such an opinionated medium by their nature. I think I gravitated towards relay, because of those balanced views. This has changed.

As probably many others that ended up on this forum, I invested a lot of time in listening to episodes of various relay podcasts regularly. I have noticed that this number is going down rapidly for me recently. I skip through some of the episodes trying to find an actual somewhat objective piece of information between all the show’s host-fluff, direct/indirect ads and heavily opinionated contributions that seem out of touch with a majority of the listener base. I highly doubt that the majority of listeners are podcasters, tech-bloggers or freelancers in the content creation business with a similar set of problems. The balanced perspectives are gone since more hosts are switching to podcasting full time, which levels out their problem sets and unifies their views. I’ve noticed more often that I skip over entire chapters dominated by Federico for example, raving about yet another highly fragile iPad solution for his niche blogging needs.

Obviously this is fine. People change, interests change. It is just something that I’ve recently observed in regards to my relay podcast consumption. I’ve also heard this from other Apple enthusiasts that I talk to regularly.
Download numbers are not an indicator for whether a podcast is listened to at all.


Adding to the Fantastical discussion:

Because of me working with app developers, as well as tinkering on my own not yet published app, I considered the situation around Fantastical more so as a case study. I’ve taken a lot of time to read up on various opinions (as many in this thread have) and have thought long about, what I would have done differently and what actually was the issue.

The main issue: If the version 2 on iOS would have been somewhat feature complete as compared to the macOS version, the entire discussion around the introduction of a subscription model to finance software-services, such as the “power user” scheduling and development of additional features with version 3, would have turned out differently.
The issue is, it wasn’t feature complete … and it wasn’t for many years.

A brief timeline for those that are fairly fresh users or don’t remember:
Fantastical 2 arrived on iOS for iPhones in October 2013 and on the iPad in April 2014. Fantastical 2 for OS X was introduced in March 2015. It arrived on the Watch in October 2015.
Fantastical 2 on iOS were first time releases on that platform. Fantastical (v1) previously existed on OS X as just a menubar calendar. Fantastical 2 on OS X made it a full-fledged “window based” calendar with day/week/month/year view, support for calendar sets right from the start in addition to the natural language detection input and the appointment list style view that the menubar tool offered in version 1 and got Fantastical its enthusiast’s fame.

Fantastical 2 for OS X was a much matured Fantastical (v1). It was no longer just a handy little calendar tool for people that needed a simple, easy to access calendar overlay that was just one click away at all times. (Side note: Back then being in an out of the app to add an appointment or check the schedule as quickly as possible was the main selling point.) With the advancement of Fantastical 2 it became a competitor of (or Mac alternative to) other “real” calendar apps, such as Apple’s stock calendar app, Outlook, Sunrise or web calendars (Google etc.) … heck, even to Mozillas discontinued Sunbird or Thunderbird + Lightning extension that offered a similar feature set in terms of calendar views and appointment management. The added USP still was the natural language input.

However, Fantastical on iOS was basically just the menubar app crammed into the limited screen real estate of iPhones at that time (2013: iPhone 5S + 5C). The appointment list view remained and the month view, which took up too much space, was replaced with the small heavily abstracted week view shown atop. They called it “DayTicker”. The main information, such as title and exact dates of the appointments weren’t shown in that week view. You still had to gather those information by parsing the appointment list. The month overview, which was known from the menubar version, remained available with an additional swipe down gesture, as well as search.

Flexibits decided to include a “classical” tabular and therefore visually easy to read week view, but you were required to physically rotate the device to landscape orientation. This was a feature that only a small percentage of users actually knew of and only a even smaller subset of those actually used. (The current complaints prove this.)

While there was a short period, where it was trendy to include additional views in landscape only with the introduction of the iPhone 6 Plus, this UI fad never really caught on. Apple even removed the landscape Home Screen orientation with the introduction of the iPhone X in 2017 with its physically significantly taller screen. The changed screen aspect ratio and advancements in iOS’ UI, such as the bold spatious headlines that required more whitespace, made landscape views less useful and therefore less popular. For whatever reason Flexibits did stick to that idea (and still is for legacy reasons), despite a majority of their users not being able to discover the landscape week view, the entire industry gradually shifting away from it and more and more users requesting an addition of a classical portrait week view.

The iPad app was basically the iPhone app’s main view, the DayTicker, blown up to the 9.7" screen. However, at least the DayTicker’s week view didn’t just use stylized colored blocks, but actually displayed the appointment titles and additional information, just like you would expect from a full screen tabular week view, as you know it from the stock Calendar, Outlook, Google Calendar etc.

The problem is that after the release of Fantastical 2 for OS X in 2015 the advertising shifted towards the notion to offer the same experience across all platforms by claims like:

"Better together. – The Fantastical family.
Fantastical is also available for your Mac and iPad as separate apps which all sync seamlessly."

Fantastical 2 for OS X was the outlier with features that the iOS apps didn’t have.
Fantastical 2 for OS X raised the bar in terms of features that users now expected, as it was no longer that little menubar utility.

In the following almost 5 years Flexibits did not make any serious attempt to catch up to the Mac version on iOS, despite iOS becoming a more and more serious and productive computing platform. In its core the app remained the toolbar utility ported to the small iPhone screen with natural language parsing.

Sure, Flexibits was busy keeping up with the ever change demands that new Watch complications, the switch to retina across all platforms and the growing mess that is caused by the various changes/additions of screen sizes (iPhone Plus/X/X Max, iPad Mini/Pro/12.9" Pro) brought, along with the introduction of Shortcuts.
I don’t deny that Fantastical was and still is a well-programmed, somewhat elegant, platform native and performant software. Surely the Flexibits’ devs know their tech. Also Fantastical 3 looks great!
Yet, it is undeniable that it got fairly quiet around Flexibits’ Fantastical in the last years. It seemed that despite minor fixes and maintenance updates the development was on total hiatus for at least the last ~3 years. (Well, to be fair, they were also working on Cardhop, which however hasn’t really grabbed any market attention.)

However, if you wanted the full Fantastical experience—following their claim of being cross-platform—you ended up paying $4.99 for the iPhone app, additional $9.99 for the iPad app and $49.99 for the macOS app … or $64.97 in total.
Given the recent outcry, undoubtedly quite a lot of users paid that.

I did. My vector into the “eco system” initially was via Fantastical 2 for Mac. Quickly thereafter I bought the iOS apps and was actually shocked to see that they were still relying on outdated user interaction paradigms (landscape rotation) and weren’t even close to cross-platform feature parity (views, calendar sets).
I have to admit that due to their cross-platform claim I didn’t even look for a detailed feature list to compare the different platforms. Especially not after I already swallowed the pill to buy the most expensive version. I and probably many others simply expected it to deliver the same functionality, which it didn’t. (I know, my fault … yet, I’m not alone, judging by comments after the v3 release.)
Returning software is bothersome, so I saw the $65 as an investment in the future of the app. To be able to use it for a long time and I hoped for the addition of the missing features that Fantastical 2 for Mac introduced.

Not seeing any progress for years to get the iOS apps to the same set of functionality (views, calendar sets etc.) already left a sour taste. If you informed the customer support about it, you were quickly fobbed off, which was disappointing.
To see that those basic features that were needed for cross-platform feature parity, which would allow to finally use the apps without compromises, were then added in Fantastical 3 with the omnipresent and initially alarmlingly red premium nag icons, as well as nag screens was what was driving the outcry. It’s not alone them switching to a subscription model to finance their “service side” of the business for power users. It is the previous 5 years of neglect and subsequent decision to make those demanded features available, but inaccessible (by outpricing them) for the majority of the user base. That very user base, who’s purchases carried the company for almost 10 years.

The entire outcry would have been avoided by introducing Fantastical 3 with the following pricing tiers:

  1. Free: Basic functionality (DayTicker only + natural language processing input)
  2. Grandfathered Fantastical 2 “pro” user: Feature set of the Fantastical 2 versions that you’ve purchased before on the regarding platforms. Pay $19.99 (unified iOS/iPad OS/watchOS/macOS) as a one-time IAP to unlock all additional and future v3 features that are not a service.
  3. New Fantastical 3 pro user: Buy lifetime access to all platform’s apps v3 pro features for $49.99 (still cheaper than the previous $65 charged for all v2 apps) and additionally get one year of the premium subscription for free (no cancellation needed, opt-in to extended the premium service subscription) to make the offer more appealing to new users.
  4. Additional premium service subscription: $3,49/month (annual billing), $4.99/month (monthly billing) for the advanced scheduling features for the tiny group of true power users that require such tools.

Undoubtedly a very large percentage of their existing users would have upgraded to get the long requested features without even hesitating. (I would have.) Throw in 3 months of the premium services to have your existing users check out the new additional services (14 days is not enough).

Entirely new users that stumble upon Fantastical can first try the basic version for free, but won’t be immediately deterred by an overpriced subscription as the only available option. With the agenda style model it would be possible to lock the v3 features in for life with a single one-time purchase.

For the true hardcore calendar users the service features of the subscription should be constantly improved upon. Become a competitor to Doodle, Acuity, Calendly, Exchange etc. over time and offer increasing value for the subscription.

All the other regular “pro” users are off the hook for the next 3-4 years, until another major version jump/redesign is done. The combination of upgrade pricing via one-time IAPs + cross financing further development via the recurring subscription revenue should allow for continuous development of minor “pro” features for v3, as well. Examples for this would be new Watch OS or Shortcuts capabilities or other calendar management features, such as improving presets.

In contrast to this hypothetical and honestly quite appealing scenario it seems as if Flexibits has lost far more than 99% of their customer base that would have been willing to pay again instead.

That continuous delivery of features is only possible with subscriptions is simply not true. You aren’t forced to hold back features for the next major version jump. I doubt that Fantastical will see a major design change in the next 3-4 years. Integrating new features is possible with the now established design language of v3. Continuously deliver and your customers will be happy to pay for another upgrade as support, even if the version jump to v4 might be mainly just a UI redesign.


Stellar analysis. Thanks for writing this up.

This is the key question for me. Armchair analysis from the “favourite subscriptions” thread is that we all love subscriptions for apps we depend on, but very few people directly responded to my prompt:

If you conceptualize an app as occupying a “feature space”, most apps have filled that space plenty before switching to subscription. Few, I think, have grown more in post-subscription mode than pre-subscription mode. That’s an important consideration. It’s not even a new one, though:. Revenue growth has rarely directly led to meaningful development. Twitter is probably the most obvious example of this, as their app/service has practically regressed recently.

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An excellent analysis, for which many thanks

I was especially struck by this:

I’m finding it increasingly hard to get serious analysis and opinion on the things I might want to buy and use. Nit just podcasts - what used to be decent review sites as well. I suppose it’s inevitable - as the Apple ecosystem becomes more mainstream, the audience skews away from Apple enthusiasts to “the general public” who (if Youtube is a guide) want entertainment with their information. The podcasters and bloggers have to make a living, so they go where the money is.

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I’d like to subscribe to your newsletter

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I don’t know exactly where the subscription pricing model came from in this industry.

Personally, I first encountered it when Adobe launched the Creative Cloud platform, however there may have been other companies that were even earlier adopters.

To me, this approach appears to be a “win/win” for both the company and the consumer. The company derives a steady stream of income which makes it much easier to budget monthly operating costs while the consumer ends up paying a bit less overall that they would have by upgrading to each new version of the perpetual applications.

I do understand that in scenarios where a user may not have wished to be continually upgrading to the latest version or where a subscriber wishes to cancel their plan that the subscription model is not as advantageous.

However, at least in the case of Adobe, while the user can not continue using many of the features of the applications without a subscription, they still allow you to access your cataloged work so that nothing a user had worked on as a paying subscriber is lost.

Other companies that have adopted this model need to likewise make sure that any subscription services that were used to create content remain available to the user in a locked manner so that no content is lost.

Beyond this issue, I agree that it is up to the user to determine whether a product provides enough value to them to make the expense worthwhile. This is no different than how we purchase items otherwise.

As long as content can be saved/exported to a standard format that can be reused in another application if a user wants to change providers, I see no problem with this model.

I was already spending the money for my software anyway…now I am just spending it in a different manner.

I do tend to stay on the latest versions of applications I use regularly, so this model works well for me. However, I am sure for some other users it could be more expensive.

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I like your analysis. Should be some food for thought for a lot of podcasters.

Mid 1960s, with IBM middleware.

You should be on the guest list for MPU. I would love to hear from you on the podcast.

For clarification I meant for Apps. I dont have any subscriptions for Apps.

I kinda regret having created this thread. I just wanted a place to discuss some of the great new features in the new version if Fantastical, but there is seemingly no end to this thread. I think the end will be that the whole forum blows up.


You can mute a thread’s activity if it’s bothering you.


As @tjluoma said. However, its very easy to switch between computers. So if I need SetApp at home or on my laptop I might have to go to the SetApp site and sign out of my work version before logging in on another device.

I think we’re also seeing some of the effects of groupthink in the Apple podcasting space. This is inevitable, probably. Five years ago, it seemed that the various shows existed almost in their own silos, separate from the others. As time has passed, the hosts have naturally met and communicate more often, especially those within a network like Relay. The varied interests of the hosts have converged somewhat, which means their opinions have also converged. They’re all listening to each other, reinforcing each other, and generally agreeing with each other. I know it’s not 100% conformity, but on a topic like app subscriptions, the answer is more uniform than I think it would have been a few years ago.


You don’t like people to have an open and honest discussion?

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Which proves my point: the hidden +300% price increase is something people care about more than a set of new features. And while “features” are widely addressed by podcasters/influencers, the elephant in the room ist left unaddressed.


@KevinR - Is that your quote, or someone else. :laughing: Awesomeness!