Sunrise Calendar 2.0: More Social, More Awesome

Writing app reviews is a great gig, mainly because it gives me an excuse to “audition” apps on a constant basis. I have a need to research and find new apps, or test out the latest and greatest offerings, to determine if they fill a crucial need. Because of this, most apps don’t end up spending much time on my phone, as they’re often being replaced. I’ve used over a dozen notes apps, for example, which get replaced every other week or so (I’m currently using Simplenote, which may finally bring some stability).

With that being said, I’m always pleased when I encounter an app that stands up to scrutiny and outshines the competition. I shared a similar sentiment in my recent Pocket Casts review, which is by far and away my favorite podcast management app. Now, I refer you to my favorite calendar app–Sunrise. Redesigned and refreshed for iOS 7, let’s find out how this calendar app has progressed since my initial review in April.

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New, But Familiar Interface

Many developers have followed in Apple’s footsteps by offering stark new redesigns that aim to bring focus to the content, not the app’s design. I enjoyed Sunrise’s previous design, minus the orange, but was instantly drawn into stark white design that’s becoming familiar very quickly. Plus, the orange is much more subtle. The visual break between the calendar and events section is somewhat diminished compared to the previous version, which I find makes it difficult to tell the two apart at times.

As my eyes scan the app, the content is more more clear and less important UI elements simply fade away.

As my eyes scan the app, the content is more more clear and less important UI elements simply fade away.

I was sad to see the swipe menu, which offered shortcuts for creating messages and getting directions, meet it’s untimely demise. However, both actions can be done in the Event view, with the directions feature requiring an additional tap. Sunrise co-founder Pierre Valade told me via email that the menu was removed due to low usage and a new feature (coming in version 2.1) that’ll require the gesture.

A side-by-side comparison of Sunrise 2.0 and the previous iteration.

A side-by-side comparison of Sunrise 2.0 and the previous iteration.

One element of the redesign that I’ve rather enjoyed is the new icon. The previous “sunrise” metaphor with the sun rising up from the horizon has been replaced with a full sun that features a gradient you’ll see on occasion. I’ve encountered some individuals that voiced concern regarding the overuse of white icons, which is becoming a trend post iOS 7’s release, but I don’t share their sentiments.

The new icon is a more simplified, if not less recognizable,  "sunrise" metaphor.

The new icon is a more simplified, if not less recognizable, “sunrise” metaphor.

Getting Social

A unique feature I showcased in my previous review was Sunrise’s integration of Facebook, which allowed you to accept Facebook event invites that would then display in your agenda. You could also view Facebook birthdays and send a “happy birthday” message from within the app. This functionality is still alive and well in Sunrise, but is now accompanied with integration for Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn and, even, Producteev.

Sunrise continues to cement its status as a social calendar.

Sunrise continues to cement its status as a social calendar.

With Foursquare, each check-in is displayed in your agenda so you can review prior events (if that’s useful for you). Twitter and LinkedIn integration doesn’t offer unique features, but does feed into Sunrise’s Connect functionality. Say you schedule a meeting with someone and add them to your event via their email address. Now, you can send a request to connect with said individual via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. You can also add people to your address book from within the app. These are features that cater very well to people in the business world or individuals that are constantly meeting new contacts.

Calendar Support

Speaking of business, one feature that’s still not available is Exchange support. Fear not, though, as Valade said Exchange support will be available by end of the year. I’m currently stuck with a Blackberry for work, which should hopefully be replaced with an iPhone in the near future. At that point I’ll certainly be chomping at the bit of Exchange support as well.

Two major calendar forces come together in Sunrise. Only Exchange remains.

Two major calendar forces come together in Sunrise. Only Exchange remains.

The main reason Exchange is not yet supported is that the Sunrise team was hard at work adding iCloud support. By entering your Apple ID and password, you’ll get access to not only your iCloud calendars, but also your Reminders. I recently made a commitment to using Reminders as my default to-do app (let’s see how long that’ll last), so I love being able to see reminders in my agenda. Unfortunately, marking reminders as “complete” is not yet available (like it is in Readdle’s Calendars 5), but Valade said support will be added in a future update.

Here's a peek at a few other views in Sunrise.

Here’s a peek at a few other views in Sunrise.

Some users have voiced security concerns regarding Sunrise’s requirement of entering your Apple ID and password, but rest assured as it’s a non-issue. Most third-party calendar apps rely on access to the iOS calendar, which comes with a lot of limitations. Valade stated that “we want to do way more with Sunrise,” thus the app connects directly to Apple’s servers–allowing the app to be more dynamic (e.g. pushing alerts in real time). He also made it a point to note that Sunrise doesn’t store iCloud credentials, but instead uses them to get a secure token from Apple.

Additional Features

In terms of calendar functionality, Sunrise has seen a few handy tweaks. For starters, the app works offline, meaning you can add and edit events that sync once you’re connected again. You can also set multiple (i.e. more than two) alerts; share event information via Facebook, Twitter, email or text message; and RSVP with swipes in the Invitations view. There are a total of four swipes you can use: short swipe right if you’re attending, long swipe right if you’re a “maybe,” short swipe left if you’re declining, or long swipe left to ignore the event (a new feature since my previous review).

Sunrise also supports navigation swipe gestures along the left and right edges.

Sunrise also supports navigation swipe gestures along the left and right edges.

Another addition that’s sure to please is support for third-party map apps when requesting directions to an event’s location. Previously, only Apple Maps was supported when you tapped the Directions button in the Event view. Now, you can choose from third-party options like Google Maps or (my favorite) Waze. Integration of Waze doesn’t work quite like I’d hope, as directions are not initiated automatically after transitioning from Sunrise. I brought the issue up with Valade, who quickly responded with a fix that will be available in a future update.

Google Maps has also replaced Apple Maps for all map previews.

Google Maps has also replaced Apple Maps for all map previews.

A minor issue I addressed in my previous review of Sunrise dealt with self promotion. When you wished a Facebook friend happy birthday from Sunrise, the message included a link that advertised the app and couldn’t be removed. In addition, sending a message or email included a (deletable) “sent from Sunrise” signature. Both elements still exist, but the Facebook message is now more fun, and less self serving, with a personalized webpage that a few of my friends have rather enjoyed.

Sunrise's personalized birthday webpage.

Sunrise’s personalized birthday webpage.

Keep Moving Forward

With so many improvements since April, it would be easy for the Sunrise team to take a break and enjoy the fruits of their labor, but that simply isn’t the case. I was granted a sneak peak at some of the features coming in version 2.1, which Valade said should be released sometime in early November. Version 2.1 will include a new Week view, which is similar to Calendar.app’s Day view, though it displays three days instead of one. Smart categories (e.g. breakfast, meeting, call) will pre-fill the event’s time based on past behavior. You’ll also be able to compose email with the Gmail app and hide weather forecasts in the Agenda view.

Beyond version 2.1, Valade stated that Sunrise will provide timezone support, allowing users to select a timezone of their choosing (the app currently defaults to your current timezone). Support for a current date badge on the icon will also find its way to Sunrise down the road. But more importantly, Sunrise will expand beyond the iPhone. The Sunrise team’s big vision is the provide the app on all platforms, according to Valade–specifically stating that web and iPad support will be released by end of year, with Android support coming early next year.

The Bottom Line

With each iOS 7 refresh, I continue to update apps with both delight and concern. More often than not, I’m thrilled with the results, but it hasn’t always been the case with major updates. Fortunately, Sunrise 2.0 has been all killer with no filler. In addition, Valade and other Sunrise co-founder Jeremy Le Van are very open to users, quickly addressing concerns via Twitter or email (available by tapping the Feedback & Support option in the About view, or clicking Contact on the Sunrise website).

Accessibility is something I make it a point to address in reviews because it’s a crucial for so many individuals. I found Sunrise to be marginally adequate at properly labeling buttons and other elements when VoiceOver was activated, but with enough issues to make navigating the app very difficult. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t support Dynamic Type, so if the text is too small for you to read you may need to stick with Calendar.app or another third-party option.

I’m excited to see Sunrise’s future, and wait (somewhat impatiently) for its release on the web and iPad. If you’re unhappy with Apple’s redesign of Calendar.app, and want to try out a free alternative, there’s no other app I would recommend more than Sunrise.


Summary

A powerful and elegant third-party calendar app, now featuring a new design and iCloud support.

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