Leopard review part 6: iCal

My epic Leopard review continues. At this rate I’ll have to give it its own blog category.

Today I’ll take a look at iCal, the calendar/task manager app that ships with Mac OS X.

I’ve bitched about Tiger iCal’s hideous user interface before – particularly its heinous lack of keyboard shortcuts for basic tasks. So does Leopard’s iCal mark an improvement over Tiger’s?

Well, yes and no. The iCal interface has had a makeover, and definitely looks and feels slicker than Tiger’s iCal. In addition, as with the new Mail, the interface feels more responsive, too.

The new iCal in Leopard

Unfortunately, the interface, despite its makeover, still sucks like a fleet of Hoovers. In fact – and Apple have had to try really hard here – the new interface is even less usable than Tiger’s.

First off: Still no keyboard shortcut to switch between the Calendars pane, the day/week/month pane, and the To Do pane. This effectively makes it impossible to edit To Dos via the keyboard, unless you already happen to be in the To Do pane.

Unbelievably – considering Apple have had years to fix it – there’s still the bug whereby if you scroll down the To Do pane when it doesn’t have focus, then try to click a To Do, the stupid thing jumps back to the top of the list, selecting a completely different To Do.

At least you can now just about set the calendar of a new To Do via the keyboard (Command-K, type title, hit Return, Command-I, Tab, Tab, Tab, Tab, down arrow). This was impossible with the old iCal.

Bubble of doom

But here’s where Apple have made iCal even worse. In Tiger’s iCal, you had a side drawer that constantly showed you the current To Do’s “Note” field (as well as other info). In Leopard, they’ve done away with the drawer. Now you have to hit Command-I (or double-click a To Do) to pop up a stupid “bubble” thing, just to read its “Note” field (or indeed, to see if it has a note attached at all). So as you move down your list of To Dos, you have to press Down arrow, Command-I, Escape – Down arrow, Command-I, Escape – Down arrow, Command-I, Escape – to even see if each To Do has a note attached, let alone read the note.

My Palm manages to be more usable than this – on a 320×320-pixel screen.

If, like me, you’re a Getting Things Done follower who stores their projects – with their attendant notes – as To Do items, you can imagine the pain. Searching around, I’m not the only one grumpy about this either.

Stupid iCal ‘bubble’ thing - the only way of reading your To Do’s Note field

Related to the above horror, Apple have inexplicably removed the little icons within events that showed you whether the event has a note, or whether it’s a repeating event. Again, you now have to hit Command-I in order to see this precious info. Which, incidentally, also displays the event’s note (if any), but can you edit the note there? Oh no. You can select it, but can’t edit it. You have to click an Edit button if you want to do that. Yet you can edit a To Do note in place. No consistency. Very confusing.

Ah, but at least the iCal Dock icon now shows the correct date, even when iCal’s not running. Woo-hoo. 😉

Lots of fun stuff I’ll never use

To be fair, there are a lot of great new iCal features – such as CalDAV scheduling, Auto Pick, and room reservations – that are no doubt fantastic if you happen to work in a big team in an office. But for a home/individual user like me, they’re about as useful as a chocolate teapot. (One thing I do like is the little red bar in day/week view that shows you the current time. A nice touch.)

Overall, I’m very disappointed with iCal. Apple have had years to turn it into something decent, but with Leopard they’ve actually made iCal even less usable than before. I was really hoping Leopard’s iCal would be a big improvement, too. Shame.

Anyone know of any decent third-party to-do/notes apps that will sync with Missing Sync and the Palm?

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24 Responses to “Leopard review part 6: iCal”

  1. Garrick Says:

    The new iCal makes me want the old one back!!!

  2. Scott Rose Says:

    iCal is, without a doubt, the absolute WORST calendar program ever created for the Mac. What a shame & disgrace that it actually came out of Apple. The calendar views are horrible, the usability is among the worst ever seen in any program, and its lack of features is shockingly appalling. ICal gets a big F from us. There is not ONE positive thing that can be said about iCal.

    The ONLY calendar program that we have ever used on the Mac — and we continue to use it to this day — is Now Up-To-Date from Now Software. Just the brilliant “week view” alone on Now Up-To-Date is worth the price of admission, not to mention the 500 other features and pieces of customizability, including live networking & syncing amongst multiple computer built into the program. It also syncs to the Palm.

    HOWEVER — Now Software has failed at its continued attempts to create a modern-day calendar program that uses Apple’s Sync Services, so Now Up-To-Date can’t sync to the iPhone. Now that doesn’t bother us because we’re Treo users, but all of our friends have an iPhone so they can’t use Now Up-To-Date. At this point in time, it is increasingly unlikely that Now Software will be able to deliver a next-generation calendar product… they’ve been working on one called NightHawk for almost 4 years now, and can’t seem to get it out the door. They were supposed to have RELEASED it in January 2006, and well, now it’s mid-2008.

    So I can’t say much about the future of Now Up-To-Date, but at least for now, it’s the ONLY calendar program that we will EVER use on the Mac.


  3. roger Says:

    I too am not happy with the stupid “Balloon”; The side drawer was way better. The “notes” change went very wrong. I can not imagine anyone saw this as an improvement.

  4. Mark Vincent Says:

    actually, you can create a new note through the keyboard, even if you are in the day/week/month pane. Just click cmd-k, which creates a new to-do, hit the return key, arrow key your way to wherever you need to get to, then hit cmd-E to edit your chosen to-do. Hey, I didn’t say you would WANT to do it this way, but ‘impossible’ it ain’t. I’m with you though brother, this is a step back for ical use (the one good thing is you can attach files now with drag and drop).
    And don’t get me started on the cmd-E key for events, or even cmd-I, as if there is a long description for the event, you are buggered if you want to see it all. WTF do we even need to click cmd-E to edit and event, what was wrong with the old way of double clicking and event to edit it (yes, I know you can get round that by alt clicking it, and hoping the cursor is in the right place, but still….)?
    could be worse though – a) we could be french, and b) it could be a free microsoft app.

  5. Joe Says:

    It’s curious that you don’t like some of the “business” stuff. Do you use (I hate to say this) MSWord? I do, but there are things I like about it and it works with everybody I know that’s not a Mac user. Anyway, there are tons of stuff in it that I won’t use, but I’m not going to say I’m disappoint with it because it has it…I just ignore it.

    I like iCal and am getting started using it. Double-click to get what use to be a side drawer? I can double-click without getting upset.

    And I like the way the to-do items are listed.

    BTW, I’ve been a Mac user since March 3, 1984.

    Enjoyed your article, but I think you were a little too harsh. It would have come across better if you had discussed what was “before” and what is after, with less venom and a more positive flair.

    Just my 2¢.

  6. Matt Says:

    Thanks for all your comments. It seems that I’ve touched a bit of a nerve with this iCal review!

    @Scott: I might check out Now Up-To-Date, even if development has stalled on it. Thanks for the info.

    @Mark: Good tip. I assume you also want to press Delete after hitting Return, otherwise you end up with a new, empty To Do!

    @Joe: Thanks for the feedback. I wasn’t really saying I don’t like the new business features; just that I’ll never use them. I really want to like iCal, and can’t wait to see what the iCal in the next version (Lynx?!) will be like!

  7. Ed Davis Says:

    Ugh. That’s all I got to say about the “new improved iCal 3”. Ugh! And wha??? And finally WHY?!? I am always ready to learn a new process if it enhances usability, I can’t believe what they’ve done here, they’ve made it more cumbersome to use! I wish they at least offered switch to “Classic” version so we could go back to quicker editing and side drawers, and why oh why can’t I type directly into the box anymore without having to go to a bubble box??? Why do I have to go an extra step to make a simple appointment edit..what a pain. Btw, thanks for letting me rant, I feel a little better…for the moment.

  8. M Goodwin Says:

    well I’ve only got one probable solution, if your a gmail user use its calender and subscribe it in ical to fix syncing problems, but creates a problem in itself, its one way subscription solution is next.


    Use one of the Mozilla apps, I think it was Thunderbird, with the calender plugin, and with a few tweaks from Lifehacker you can have a duplex calender subscription with gmail.

    As for non gmail users or users that want another way, get a free webhost or setup your machine as one, and get a webapp that reads and edits calender file formats and as above subscribe it to ical for syncing and quick view purposes.

    Its what i’d do, but for me ical will suffice for now.

    Notes/Offtopic: I tend to replace apps with ones that run off a server. I highly recommend getting a server, its a hassle to set up but that’s one hassle you’ll never regret. Proxy + Web Caching = Instant load for common websites you browse.

    Argh I’lll have to start a blog on this. and start another website for it. damn addiction to creating/viewing/controlling the web.

  9. Scott Rose Says:

    I just spoke with Now Software, and they ASSURED me that the next version of Now Up-To-Date will be out by the end of the year! So we’ll see! In the meantime, I’m still using Now Up-To-Date and loving it! Hope you’ve made the switch as well. It’s really the calendar program that iCal SHOULD HAVE been.

  10. Matt Says:

    Thanks for the update Scott. When I get a spare moment I’ll download the trial and take a look!

  11. Laura Says:

    AAAARRRRGGHHH! I can’t edit the notes in my events. Someone mentioned alt clicking… it didn’t work or I did it wrong. Help, please!

  12. Matt Says:

    Laura, to edit a note, double-click the event to bring up the bubble thing, then click the text to the right of “note” at the bottom of the bubble. The text should become editable.

  13. xaximedes Says:

    I agree completely. I found this page precisely because I was so upset that iCal has gotten even worse. The specific point that brought me here was: no info drawer.

    I want the info drawer’s functionality back! The new iCal takes FAR TOO MUCH MOUSE CLICKING.

  14. shutterbug70 Says:

    I’ve been using ICal on Tiger since it came out. The “click on a to-do item not working” bug irritates me no end, but the sync with my Blackberry 7105t sort of works using PocketMac Sync Manager. I can’t believe they didn’t fix that bug before the Leopard overhaul. I’m going to stay on Tiger with my powerbook G4 for now. Thanks for the review. It was the only place I found recent ICal on Leopard information.

  15. Rrraven Says:

    I have lived an iCal scheduled life for years, and while I’ve always had a few things on my wishlist, it did the trick. Having to dive, dive, dive to get to the notes is a real deal-killer! The worst thing about upgrading from Tiger to Leopard. There’s not a way to fake it out and use the old iCal, is there?

  16. 7om Says:

    I also used iCal happily for the past few years. Removing the info pane and requiring excessive button clicks to edit an event has been crippling. The productivity loss is enough to make me want to reinstall Tiger. Apple ought to be required to eat their own dog food here. If they used this internally at Apple, we would never see this abomination. What is the point of Apple making a calendar program that they themselves cannot use?

  17. Ricardo Gurgel Says:

    Very disapointed too.

    – Very poor Palm’s sync;
    – No To-do Recurrence;
    – No greate alarm snooze;
    – No nag me for complete tasks day-after-day;

    No way to trust that Apple looks for their customers.

    Shame on You Apple !!

  18. boney Says:

    How about this stupid inconsistency. If you add an event, you can edit the event name in the calendar. When you’re done, you press the “return” key. BUT, if you edit an event, once you’re done, you press the “escape” key.

    Hey, I always thought Escape meant “Cancel”! Why does it suddenly mean “Save changes”?

  19. Brad Says:

    Damn straight on the lack of the side panel. Let’s hope Apple pays attention and, at least, swaps out those bubbles for the Tiger-style interface.

  20. Emily Says:

    ARGH!!!!! I was hoping i would eventually find a way to put the draw back onto ical. I had been using a powerbook on tiger for a few years and just got a brand new imac which is stunning, but i use ical all the time at work and not having that drawer for info makes it sort of redundant for me!

    Is there any chance in the future that i will be able to ‘update’ the ical on my imac so that it has a drawer? Or am i stuck with this version of ical forever…

  21. Matt Says:

    @Emily: Only if Apple reinstate the drawer in a future version I imagine. You can suggest it to them here:


  22. msbob Says:

    couldn’t AGREE more. What a shame. The bubble for events info and so, so many unneeded extra clicks is a crying shame.

    I think Apple sent this one to bizarro world usability lab for design and testing, b/c it’s the opposite of useful.

  23. Kate K Says:

    I have been using Leopard for a few months, but struggled with iCal. It just didn’t/doesn’t make sense. How happy am I having found this post in your blog!
    You amazing, experienced professional Mac types replete with the knowledge of a thousand short cuts, clicks and double clicks, tab or control keys…. see it as a “silly” application.
    The terrifying thing about using a Mac is the assumption of a massive shared knowledge base and collective intuition.

    In the beginning, Apple will teach you how to look at your computer. Then you can look at it doing different things. You can send an email or video chat (and everyone looks great!)

    Then there is no more, except to watch ads that mock those who use PCs.

    I can’t find a rhythm to work with Leopard, that sense of flow.

    Back to topic, I was trying to make lists inside a “To Do” and wonder why “Notes” is in Mail.

    Thanks for the post and sorry for the ramble.

  24. Matt Says:

    @Kate K: I know where you’re coming from – while Mac OS is generally nice to use, it’s not always that “discoverable” for newbies (especially if you’re used to Windows).

    If you mean create bullet lists inside a To Do then I’m not sure this is possible. Though you can just use eg ‘-‘ to create a “bullet” list inside a To Do’s note field.

    I’m still wondering why notes are in Mail – makes no sense to me!