Spending time with Sunrise

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
I first started using Sunrise back in 2012 when it humbly began life as a daily email update that sent out a snapshot of your daily calendar each morning. I enjoyed Sunrise primarily because it looked good and was stripped down to the point of being exactly what I needed and nothing more. Heck, it was actually one of the few emails I enjoyed looking forward to receiving and reading each morning.

During my stint as a daily Google Glass user (shudder), Sunrise also worked great in that when I received my daily calendar email on my morning gbus commute, all I had to say was "OK Glass, read aloud" and Glass would audibly playback to me my schedule of events for the coming day while I read the New York Times. It honestly wasn't a bad setup.

Fast forward a year or so to 2013 and Sunrise had evolved beyond just a daily email into a fully fledged yet still beautiful iOS app. It launched to rave reviews on the app store and I anxiously anticipated its inevitable launch on Android. This week, albeit longer than I would have liked to have waited, Sunrise showed up in force on both Android and surprisingly on the desktop web. They even have an offline Chrome desktop application which is just icing on the cake frankly. The reviews as can be expected are equally as receptive as they were for the iOS launch last year.

So this all begets the question, why even make a calendar application when you have incumbents like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Yahoo already competing in this market at scale? The answer quite simply is complacency and stagnation.

Microsoft's online calendar is unimaginative and looks like it belongs in a different decade. Yahoo's calendar despite it's recent visual refresh offers only more of the same. Google Calendar, my longtime go-to, hasn't done anything interesting in terms of functionality or design in years. I mean, the most interesting thing that's happened to Google Calendar in recent memory is the ability to automatically add events from Gmail. That's not saying much.

When you let a product stagnate like that, you're going to see innovators creep into the market and start stealing away users. Outside of Sunrise, another recent addition to the calendar space, Magneto, is also making waves. What seems to be the major points of differentiation among newcomers to the space is a focus on design, and by extension ease of use. Ellen Beldner, an extremely competent former UX Googler is heading up product at Magneto.

In a similar vein, Sunrise was founded by two former Foursquare designers Pierre Valade and Jeremy Le Van. The takeaway here is that innovation in the Calendar space isn't coming from tacking on new features for power-users, but it's instead comping from simplifying the experience of both managing and using a calendar regardless of device or context.
Sunrise Calendar on desktop and mobile.
Sunrise Calendar on desktop and mobile.
Heck, the original designer of Google Calendar Kevin Fox has acknowledged as much on his personal blog that he never added the level of polish to Google Calendar that he would have liked. Specifically, he wrote,

"...there are always parts that I wish I'd gotten to before I moved off the project. Rough edges get smoothed with time, and products get more refined and it’s best not to hold on too tight."


Having used both the desktop and android variants of Sunrise over the course of the past several days, the experience is already remarkably polished. I did run into a few bugs with events disappearing and reappearing randomly, and after filing a bug in the morning I received a prompt reply from the Sunrise team a few hours later thanking me for my report and declaring the bug had been fixed. God damn, that's pretty incredible customer service right there.

Setting up Sunrise and linking my Apple, Google, Linkedin, and Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter accounts was all pretty painless. More than anything else however, the calendar itself is gorgeous. I've especially enjoyed the notification center that allows me to changed my attendee status on event invites regardless of platform. I've additionally enjoyed the built-in contact birthday reminders that allow me to post to a friends Facebook wall or text them. Even the little touches like annotated icons for event types (A fork and knife for dinner, a tooth for a recent dentist appointment) show the sort of polish that other calendar programs lack.

Literally overnight and quite unexpectedly, I've given up my seven year love affair with Google Calendar and quite honestly have no intention of looking back. I have no doubt that Sunrise will only continue to improve its overall user experience in the coming months and look forward to joining them as a user on that journey.

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A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.