iCal’s Missing Months

I’m a proud and not-too-bitter veteran of Apple’s ill-advised infatuation with brushed metal-like user interfaces. So when I hear people complaining vociferously about the garish new appearance of some of the apps found in Mac OS X Lion, I shrug. Don’t get me wrong, I find the leather-like texture to be unsightly, but I figure I’ll survive it just as I survived brushed metal. What I regret much more is the regression in usability that this new focus on emulating real world objects brings.

Today and Yesterday

Here’s my biggest gripe: Lion’s lamentable revamp of iCal. This is the weekly view, which is for me my default and most useful view.

iCal in Mac OS X Lion

It shows all seven days of the week, obviously, but what it’s missing is an overview of the whole month, which to me is a necessary complement. By contrast, here’s how iCal looked and worked in previous versions of the operating system.

iCal in Mac OS X Snow Leopard

Note that the single month view can be expanded to a two-month or even three-month view by pulling on that bar just above the “April 2011” header to reveal additional months. Very handy.

You could argue that Apple is trying to leave these software-centric paradigms behind — the old iCal looked more like a software program than a calendar — and move to something more immediately recognizable to novices. My response to that is that even real world calendars supplement a weekly view with smaller monthly calendars. Here’s one example.

Desk Calendar

Several people have pointed out to me that BusyCal is a wonderful replacement for iCal that includes the same calendar view, but I had no real complaint with iCal until the omission of this one feature, and besides I don’t really need BusyCal’s many other features. I just find this kind of design decision — which I can’t imagine has any really compelling argument for it — capricious. I guess this is part of life under Steve Jobs.

  1. I agree, the previous version was much better, both in terms of functionality and user interface visual appeal. I miss the left-hand column with the various calendars. In my case, I keep several calendars on MobileMe, with others local to my system only. This column is now a pop-out menu making it much more difficult to interact with.

    Lion has been a nightmare for me with apps like iCal, Address Book and Safari. Hopefully Apple will hear our pleas and add a few options for “classic interface” or whatever.

  2. Totally agree. But I thought I would suggest Fatastical, which is a menu bar item that is totally amazing and would give you a give monthly overview when you need it.

    Again, totally agree this should be in iCal, but as long as it’s not, Fantastical is a nice supplement.

  3. I completely agree the loss of the mini-calendars is a step backward, Khoi, but actually have three larger gripes with this new iCal.

    1. They moved the previous/next arrows to surround the word “Today” instead of the day/week/month indicator — even in month view. So when I’m looking at August and want to get to September, there are no controls around the word “Month” telling me to go forward or back, even though that’s in the title bar area. And there are no controls around “August 2011” to help me. The only controls are around “Today,” which gives the strong (false) impression that I’m going to be moving forward by day.

    2. The narrowest it gets is 760 pixels wide–for a calendar program that I might well want to have up on my screen all the time, showing my appointments. That’s more than half the screen width of my 15″ Macbook Pro. Why not give us the option of a mini-view just showing upcoming things?

    3. Basic navigation is really difficult, now. Try to check out what you have going on on September 10th and see how hard it is. The right answer, best I can tell, is to go into month view, go to September, and then click on the 10th and then click on “Day.” But when you click on the 10th, you don’t get any indication that it’s selected. And if you double-click on that date, it adds a new event. Completely counterintuitive. (I just found “Go to date…” in the View menu, but still..)

  4. Prior to Lion I also used the weekly view, but now I’ve really come to like the day view. It incorporates the overview of the month and it adds an list-style agenda view of the next several days.

  5. I switched to the Day view as my main view for this reason. It’s almost an “All” view since you get an overview of the week in the left column if your iCal window’s tall enough. And you can jump to different days in the month above that (but not to different months like you could before).

  6. Brian and Bart: in the day view, how do you advance the calendar by a month, or roll it back to, say, October 2008? There doesn’t seem to be a straightforward way to do that.

  7. Yeah there’s no way to do that from Day or Week. I guess that’s a case where Apple just expects you to switch to the Month view. There’s also the “Go to Date” option in the View menu (Command + Shift + T). I agree that it’s not as good as the Week view was before, though.

    Also I just noticed for the first time that when you’re in the Month and Year views and press the left/right arrows, the torn top edge/stitching in the interface make slightly more sense since you see the page lift up as if the sheet’s being torn off. Not in the Day or Week views, where it just looks like eye-candy without a purpose.

  8. THAT’S IT! I knew something was ‘off’ for me (besides the silly pseudo leather). And I hate the peeling paper. I need to scroll back and forth between months—in a linear fashion—like a timeline.

  9. The Kai Power Tools like uglification of the Apple software interface and removal or limiting of useful features found on previous iCals and other programs is why I have not moved to Lion.
    Like you, I don’t need more complexity. Just useful, basic, logical features. iCal had been well on its way to meeting this but the last major update forebode the horrors to come when instead of windows to type in, one had to add appointment info with menus. Plus lots of bugs.
    Why is the hardware at Apple so well thought out in design but the software is heading back to the early 1990s or worse? It’s almost like two different companies.
    One brilliant.
    The other using the visual palette and cliche solutions of a web design student at a community college.
    Apple needs to get out of its bizarre fantasy interface funk ASAP.

  10. Fantastical looks interesting. By why pay so much when you know…you know it’s gonna be integrated into iCal????

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.