Looking more into app subscriptions and Fantastical alternatives

There was much debate this week about Fantastical’s move to a subscription app and subscriptions in general. Now, I’m not against developer’s adding subscriptions to their apps, they have to make a living somehow from the software that they produce.

My concern with Fantastical is the price. I find the subscription price quite high in terms of how much I use the app and what Fantastical are offering in their premium subscription.

Is Fantastical worth it?

Just as a comparison, I decided to look at the apps on my home screen and their subscription amounts. In total, I have 12 apps on my first home screen. Given these are the apps that I use daily, then it’s apparent that I do place a lot of value on these I have subscriptions for apps on other screens, but these are used less regularly.

Here are the apps that I pay an annual subscription for that are on this first home screen:

  • Micro.blog ($50)
  • 1Password (~$60)
  • Todoist ($35.99)
  • Bear ($14.99)
  • Day One ($31.99)
  • Feedbin ($24.99)
  • Instapaper ($29.99)

Now taking these annual subscriptions into account, there is one that I can’t do without and that’s 1Password. Being able to save my logins securely and across multiple devices is such a time-saver. I’m not saying that price isn’t an issue on this one, but this app is essential.

The rest of the apps that I pay annual subscriptions for aren’t essential, but I do use them daily and usually on multiple devices. There, I do find them valuable. At the top end of the scale in terms of price are Micro.blog, Todoist, Day One, Instapaper and Feedbin. At the bottom end of the scale is Bear.

If I were to pay for Fantastical’s pricing, it would put it at the top end of the subscriptions that I have. It’s not going to break the bank, but I do find it a bit steep. And that’s why I’m not 100% convinced that Fantastical’s new subscription app is for me. Despite using Fantastical most days to manage my schedule, I would not consider it to be worth its subscription price.

It isn’t straightforward to compare apps and their usefulness as there are used differently by everyone. For example, I use Bear and Feedbin daily, and I find them both very useful, but over the year the price difference in the annual subscription is $10. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider that you might have other app subscriptions, they can quickly rack up. So while I accept that it’s hard to compare apps and their subscriptions, I still think that the price for the Fantastical subscription is quite high.

The Fantastical alternatives

Right, so we’ve established that I find the Fantastical price a bit high, so what are the alternatives?

As for alternatives, I tried Apple’s own Calendar app this week and found it sadly lacking in features. I didn’t expect a whole lot from the app as I know it’s free, but it doesn’t appear to have been updated very often.

There are other calendar apps on the App Store, but some that I have seen are free and have ads in them. You then have to pay to remove the ads. This style of pricing isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a calendar app or any app for that matter, but I’m personally not a fan of this style of pricing. I would instead prefer developers to charge a price for their apps or be free with an option to unlock features with a reasonably-priced subscription. For me, ads have no places in apps, so anything that has ads is out.

I also gave Calendars 5 a try from the app store. Sticking to the pricing argument I made earlier, I bought the app for full-price, which is $6.99. It does everything that a calendar app should do. Natural language input, different views and light and dark themes are all there. You can sync your iCloud calendars across multiple devices, and there’s an iPad version of the app too. I didn’t install this though, as I find that having a calendar app on my phone and my desktop is enough for me.

I’m also giving Timepage a run again, but the lack of calendar views does limit it a bit, and there is no equivalent app for macOS. There are however a number of things going for it that I do like. It includes weather forecasts for events, travel times and a daily briefing notification to see what’s coming up for the day. It’s also very customisable and includes several options to adjust the app including themes, font size calendar and timeline. It’s also significantly cheaper than Fantastical at just $11.99.

Making a decision

Having tried these apps out this week, I’m going to ditch Calendars 5. It’s okay as a scheduling app. However, I do like the extra effort that has gone into the user interfaces of both Fantastical and Timepage.

I’m still torn between Timepage and Fantastical though. Fantastical’s calendar group syncing is a feature I would like to have, but it’s not essential. To be able to have calendar groups sync between phones would be great, but it’s not a deal-breaker and certainly not worth the price of the app subscription as it stands at the moment. It’s more of a nice to have.

I haven’t deleted Fantastical from my phone yet. I can still use it without the annual subscription, but I know I’m going to get frustrated with the number of features that are locked out. It’s at this point where I will either cave and go for the subscription or I will delete the app. Fantastical hasn’t been too aggressive in reminding me to upgrade. Still, it feels like over time I might be nagged into upgrading.

There’s also the question of changing my subscription. If I take the Timepage subscription now, I could still change my mind and then use Fantastical. However, it will always feel like I wasted some money on a subscription that I’m not going to use. Sure, I bought the Calendars 5 app, I’m prepared to do that to find the right app to use. What I don’t want to do though is take a subscription for an app that I won’t fully use.

I can see me sticking with Fantastical in the short term. It will be interesting to see if Flexibits make any changes in the short-term based on user feedback of the jump from 2.0 to 3.0. Still, I suspect that they will leave the app subscription price as is. Most users will come round to paying the subscription. For me, though, it’s still too high a price to pay at the moment.