Think iCal Is Just About Scheduling? Think Again

Why Cal?
Apple continues to shock and amaze me. Back at MACWORLD NY, I was caught up in the keynote (as we all do), and I couldnit help but gush at the demo of the soon to come iCal. But once I got past the initial reality distortion field, I thought to myself, "Excellent, another free app that Iill never use."

Now Iim not saying that there is no merit in having or keeping a Calendar of daily events, but for me (and nameless others – you know who you are) Iill never use it. I hate keeping a calendar. I prefer the oli noggin or little slips of paper strewn about every room of the house. I keep my top secret VPN login information for one of my clients written on an old phone bill (in my safe). I even gave up on my Visor after a year. With the exception of the GPS attachment, the handheld has been consigned to the glove compartment of my car. I just find the task of keeping on top of a calendar app tedious and beneath me.

Funny too, because in my design or programming work, I am detail driven. I sweat any image that may have a frazzled or feathered edge. Everything must be perfect, but when it comes down to applying that same level of intensity to my lifestyle (to me every drawer is a junk drawer), I just canit muster the requisite discipline to keep on top of time. Thatis why I have a checkbook, but I never write checks. It would require tracking that information. Besides, as a consultant, time to me is truly relative. I work my own hours, all of which are negotiable.

So when Apple threw me a new bone, I was thrilled to have a new toy to download, but I knew it wouldnit be long before I lost interest in it. Boy was I wrong. I think that iCal is the first calendar application I might actually make a lifetime commitment to.

Now many people will probably wonder what is so new to this application that it would make such a difference. I mean, it is a little buggy, and some of the most obvious UI elements of user forgiveness and feedback are missing, but I donit care about any of that. After sitting around digging around the application for a little while, I had a few eureka moments that have opened my eyes. Thank you Apple, for once again showing me the error of doubting your infinite loop wisdom. So what reasons could I possibly have for hailing this as the savior of my digital existence?

Reason 1
So Iim sitting there, ho-humming through the program, when it finally dawned on me that the ability to subscribe to calendars that appear on MY desktop is f#$%^& brilliant. Almost overnight, Web sites like http://www.icalshare.com/ have sprung up, allowing me to add important dates and items to my calendar without my having to dedicate one tiny electron of brain-to-key power on my keyboard. Apple also has a section on its site with a small selection of calendars, like TV schedules, Concert Dates, and Holidays.

This is quite revolutionary! Really! Unlike Microsoft, who believes that everything should occur at their server level, Apple has given us poor schmucks the ability to share collaborative data on a whole new level. P2P coordination of times and dates! Not only is it valuable for my own personal use, I can apply someone elseis work to my busy lifestyle. An example is seeing the Sopranos season premier pop up on my HBO calendar and then creating a list of invitees to come to my premier party (unless it is read-only).

This got me to thinking about other options. What if the people in my life started to publish calendars for me? I was at the vet yesterday and I learned that four of our animals were due for $omething. I thought, "It would be fantastic if my vet could publish an iCal of when the dogs are due for rabies, or the cats need their feline leukemia. Then when I made an appointment, I could subscribe to that calendar as well."

I also build FileMaker solutions for large companies as part of my business. So with an iCal plug-in, changes to the database could be updated to an iCal that might have thousands subscribers. The possibilities are endless. Since iCal can import vCal data, even PC folks can join us. The tip of the iceberg is only now revealed, who knows where this will go?

Reason 2
Also while plugging along through my tour of iCal, I thought to myself, what if iCal could control my computer? Is Apple so freakini brilliant that theyive already realized that iCal is the actual center of the digital hub? Of course they are. How do I know that? Because it is scriptable! Yes you heard me right. I went out onto the Web to see if anyone else had caught on to this and yes indeed, a guy named Doug Adams had written a lovely AppleScript called iCal Calling iTunes, which allows you to control your playlists based on date and time. What a neat idea!

Okay, so we extrapolate on that idea and we have an application that can do home automation, program your net radio station, handle receipts for eBay (when Pay Pal e-mail comes in, it could create a calendar receipt of payment), automate FileMaker, and more. The possibilities are endless. Iive even seen someone talk about blogging from iCal. Kinda brings tears to my eyes.

Final Thoughts
Recently, David Coursey from ZDNet (who John Dvorak would be if he had enjoyed a happy childhood) posted a commentary on what the next big technology thing would be, asking folks to contribute their ideas.

Well I donit know if Iim the first to say it David, but here goes:

To me, iCal combined with iSync is quite possibly the next killer app. The next big thing in computing actually involves something so simple as date and time (and soon presence). You possibly heard it here first. Sure, you can tell me the future is bio-whatever, implanted GPS chips, virtual chewing gum. But, the problem with predicting what will be, is that it isnit here and still has numerous hurdles (primarily ensuring that virtual gum doesnit stick to your Bluetooth). But iCal is here now, iSync is days away, and Iive started using a calendar. And that, is simply amazing.

An author for OiReilly & Associates, Alan Grahamis (blog) mission is enabling users to explore whatis possible with straight talk and as little techno-babble as possible. When not writing for OiReilly or doing R&D for David Pogueis Missing Manual: OS X, Alan is a new media consultant specializing in FileMaker, pre-press, digital video and film, interactive software development, and web development. He is available for childrenis parties.

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