Exploring the Sunrise calendar app: when users shouldn’t be happy with “good enough”

Last week Microsoft acquired Sunrise, called the best calendar app for Android and iOs. That’s not an idle boast so, even though I was happy with Google Calendar, I downloaded the app and planned to embark on a thorough investigation that very day. Well, it took more than a day for me to even launch Sunrise; it took over a week. I say this not because there was anything intimidating about Sunrise. On the contrary, its onboarding process is very smooth. Rather because that I did not feel a real need to try another calendar app when Google Calendar was mostly providing me with the features I need. This is a challenging spot for an app to be in: when there is a good-enough alternative out there that many users are already using, it’s hard to be the new app on the block, asking for a trial.

Sunrise vertical view: beautiful & functional!

Sunrise vertical view: beautiful & functional!

Here’s what I liked about Sunrise:

  • Look. Gorgeous, clean, spare design, where the spots of color indicate calendar owner and the event type. Icons like barbells for a workout, a balloon for a party, and a palm tree for vacation, colored by owner, add charm.
  • Multiple calendars. This is a good time to note that one reason I really like Google Calendar is that it lets me view and manage calendars of different family members and just view other calendars, like schools and sports teams. Not having this functionality, especially the former one, would have been a dealbreaker for me.
  • Views. Sunrise has two views that make a lot of sense: one vertical, that lists events in sequence as they are scheduled (agenda on Google) and the other a traditional space-per-hour format. Both work well on a phone screen.
  • Weather: Sunrise adds the forecast to the agenda view three times a day, morning, afternoon and evening, for the rest of today and tomorrow. This is a welcome addition to my daily schedule.
  • Invitations: I love the way that event invitations have their own view and a quick way to RSVP. Google Calendar doesn’t call these invitations out quite as well and as a result, I have missed a few events.
  • Notifications. Events coming up soon are marked on the calendar in a very intuitive way, with a very visible red box above the event with a countdown to with the number of minutes until the event starts. Google, on the other hand, only sends me a notification that I need to open (pull down on the bar) to look at, which Sunrise does as well. I also like that I can choose what calenders I get notifications for. It’s a nice option.
  • Navigation. The quick navigation by day on top, in a “traditional” calendar grid view, is a great navigation tool. I also like the one-touch “jump to now” button that appears when the view is far from current events.
  • Sync. Sunrise sync that works and adds events back to different Google Calendars. Do I even need to mention this?

Features I’d like to see, though many aren’t necessarily a Sunrise wishlist but a more generic calendar ones.

  • Navigation. Include some sort of indication that an event is taking place on days visible in the top calendar in agenda mode, the one used to jump to certain dates. Perhaps bolding the date?
  • Adding events from email. Right now, Sunrise did not ask to access my email in its permissions, so I assume it only looking at calendar to list event invitations. This is a feature that I would love to see imbued with more intelligence. Google has been trying to do this for a long time already by using dates in emails to create events, but there is still work to be done, especially for emails with a list of event dates.
  • Find the time. When trying to schedule an event with a person I have calendar access to, please let me know if he/she is free.
  • Recurring events. Sunrise needs more options when scheduling recurring events. For example, Google Calendar allows scheduling events that happen a few times a week on different days of the week.
  • More data! I really like the inclusion of weather in the app. How about adding more information like weather, such as sunrise and sunset or allergen alerts? Media such as when a show will be added to Netflix, favorite TV and radio shows or channel schedules? New movie/music releases? When tickets go on sale to certain events?
  • Tracking. There are many apps that track health stats such as weight, menstrual cycles, basal temperature. Can a calendar be used to track those as well?

Finally, Sunrise deserves its title as the best calendar app. it’s easy to navigate, does the basics well, and has a very clean design, which I really like. Anecdotally, I thought it was interesting to note just how long it took me to try it and how that trial wouldn’t have happened had not Sunrise been brought, thus bringing it to my attention. It’s a tough app world…



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