I’m a simple man, with a simple morning routine. First I check my Outlook calendar, and see what I have to do for work that day. Then I look at my Google Calendar, and see what my to-do list looks like — it’s much easier to add to than Outlook’s — and if there’s anything I’ll be doing with friends or acquaintances who prefer to use Google Calendar. Then I check my Mac’s Calendar app (formerly known as iCal), because about half of my stuff gets added to my iCloud calendar without my even knowing. At previous jobs, I’d then check in with Trello to see what needed to be taken care of for the day — and at one deeply weird job, I’d also check in with Asana. And by the time I’m done checking all my calendars, it’s only mid-afternoon — plenty of time to finish work.
I’m kidding, but not by much. It’s 2016. I can, if I so choose, yell at a talking black cylinder to buy me things. I can use my TV to stream nearly any movie or TV show ever made. I have nearly every email that I have ever sent going back to 2005 sitting in my Gmail account. With a few keystrokes on any search engine, I can call up images so foul and depraved they would have made the Marquis de Sade blanch.
So why can’t I just have one calendar for everything? Up until recently, Sunrise provided that option, but it’s dying on August 31, and while there are alternatives, they’re either expensive or come with compromises.
I get it: Google has no incentive to play nice with Microsoft, Microsoft has no incentive to play nice with Apple, and Apple has no incentive to play nice with either. If you talked to each individual company, they would tell you the simple solution would be to just put everything onto one calendar, and use that. But when I get a meeting invite in Outlook I can’t quickly export that over to Google Calendars. And when someone says “How about drinks on September 8th at 6 p.m.?” Google is great at creating that as a calendar event for me, but shitty at allowing me to move it over to another calendar. And Apple is basically the kid at the back of the class who pulls out his hair strand by strand and refuses to talk to anyone.
There’s a whole ecosystem of apps designed to help you with this. Sunrise, until recently, was far and away the best of them, but there’s a whole new crop of contenders attempting to take the throne. But they range from underpowered to overpriced, and there’s still no optimal solution.
The problem isn’t just companies being obstinate. Per the founders of Kin, an upstart calendar-merging app, the only protocol that is normalized in the calendar space, CalDAV, isn’t used by all calendar providers, meaning it isn’t as easy as it would initially seem to gather information from all providers. In addition, not everyone uses the same authentication, provides a clear documentation, or makes the the application creation process easy. So there are a couple of reasons why calendar apps tend to focus on merging just one or two calendars only.
Still, these format wars annoy end users. If I had my druthers, I’d probably use Google Calendar for everything, simply because its reminder service is the best (I cannot tell you how many meetings and calls I have missed because of MS Office Reminders app weakly dinging alarm clock hiding in the background of my desktop). But the process of exporting my Outlook calendar, which by far has the majority of my appointments, to Google Calendar is complicated and can’t (as far as I can tell) be automated without the help of an app.
Which, again, I get. It’s not like Burger King is going to suddenly start telling you midway through an order that the McChicken sandwich is honestly better prepared overall, plus the fries are better to boot. Especially for Microsoft, the hold MS Office and Outlook has on many companies is strong enough that it’s hard to imagine it ever wanting to making integration simple and easy.
And overall, I think the competition between Apple and Android on mobile and Apple and Microsoft on desktop is a good thing for consumers. Monopolies breed complacency, and sharp-elbowed competition between all three tech giants will benefit the consumer in the long term. But in the short term, I’m stuck between either turning my life over to an app that may or may not exist in a year or two, or starting every morning with a run through every digital calendar I currently use.
But then I go into my kitchen, where we keep a paper calendar hanging on the wall for upcoming vacations and birthdays and parties. It’s from the Audubon Society. Right now it has a Magnolia Warbler on it — a very pretty bird! — and my wife and I can both add to it at will, without worries that one of us won’t sync up properly to the other’s calendar. I sip my coffee, look at our upcoming camping trip over Labor Day weekend, and think about how much simpler this all could be.