The search results for "calendar" in the Google Play Store leave a lot to be desired.
You'll find Agenda and Cal, two decent free apps, and Business Calendar, a pricey app with lots of features but no sense of style. Today Calendar goes further, boasting a slick, Android-native look, but with few other bells and whistles to speak of. None of these apps offer the fit and finish you'd expect from top apps on Android like Press or Hello SMS. Further, none of these apps offer a companion app on the web, forcing you to use the barebones Google Calendar web app or glitchy Calendar app for Mac. And, Windows 8's calendar doesn't even support Google accounts. As a result, many Android users stick with the calendar app that came on their phones to check dates and create events. But Sunrise, launching today for free on Android and web, offers the best reason yet to switch to something new.
Sunrise for Android offers an enormous number of features: agenda view, week view, and month view, Google Maps previews for maps and directions, contact photos, weather, and tasteful Facebook events and birthdays integration. There's also an agenda widget for your home screen that lets you check your schedule at a glance or quickly add an event. The app syncs effortlessly with Google Calendar, and even uses Google to auto-fill locations for your events as you type them in.
But Sunrise for Android isn't perfect. Exchange support and tablet support are coming this summer, Sunrise says. There's also no search box, you can only look one year into the future, month view doesn't show which days you're busy, and the Sunrise widget only shows agenda view. Additionally, there's no "quick add" for adding events by typing things like "Dinner with John at 8pm" (like in apps like Fantastical).
Sunrise attempts to make up for these omissions with the addition of a web calendar app, also launching today. Sunrise for web is available at calendar.sunrise.am, but also as a Chrome app which works offline. Sunrise for web isn't as lightning-fast as Google Calendar or as native as the Mac or Windows calendars, but it bundles in all the bells and whistles included in the mobile apps, such as Foursquare event history and photo avatars for friends and event attendees. The web app also includes event search, a clever time zone picker (for when you travel), and rich pop-ups with maps when you click on events. There's even a field inside events to join a Google Hangout, a recently added Google Calendar addition.
Sunrise for web is still missing a few things. The most important omission, is the ability to create events just by typing like you can in Google Calendar or Fantastical for Mac. The feature is less valuable on mobile, where you might check events more than you create them, but on web, the ability to quickly type out events is crucial.
With the addition of web and Android apps, Sunrise is perhaps the only true cross-platform calendar app. Google, of course, syncs with every platform, but doesn't offer its own apps customized for all the platforms you might be using. Exchange is in the same boat, syncing with everything, but offering few high-quality, catered experiences on different platforms. So what's the benefit of living inside Sunrise's world? At a high level, the experience of using the Sunrise calendar suite is very consistent, where you might sometimes struggle to use Fantastical on Mac, Sunrise on your iPad, and Google Calendar on your Android phone.
Sunrise also plans to offer a variety of new services that build on its platform — everything from Github and Trello integration (a la CloudMagic) for tracking projects, to integrated boarding passes and tickets for upcoming events. These kinds of additions won't sync with other calendar apps, of course, but on the flip side provide even more reason to use Sunrise. You can already add a variety of "Interesting Calendars" like schedules for a sports team or concerts for your favorite band (via Songkick). We might not see the more advanced integrations Sunrise is teasing for some time, but for now, having one free calendar app across all platforms is a big win for users.
Yet, the relatively barren landscape of free, quality calendar apps should scare Sunrise. Why aren't there more cross-platform calendar apps? Will people be willing to pay for new features once Sunrise eventually needs to make money, or will people be happy enough with the free version of Google Calendar, as many are now? At an even more basic level, will people ever love their calendar as much as they love their Snapchat or Kik Messenger apps? Sunrise is a venture-backed app, after all. Its investors see money in the app's future, whether it's in earning money on premium features or in selling to a company like Google. Google's already acquired mail app Sparrow to beef up its email services. A well-developed calendar app like Sunrise could do the same for Google Calendar.
One thing Sunrise's founders and investors would agree on, however, is that the company's opportunity is bigger than simply earning the most users. It's proving that calendars can be a lot more complicated (and valuable) than a simple grid of dates and times.