Google has solved a lot of my online life. Beyond the obvious utility of search, I can talk to friends in Gchat, correspond in Gmail and video conference over Google+. But the only problem with Google building these solutions is that, once they do, everyone else becomes afraid to touch the space. Just look at how Gmail silenced all email competition for a good chunk of a decade (a dominance only now being challenged by design). As of yesterday, I thought GCal was the end-all-be-all calendar app. And then I tried Sunrise.
By Foursquare alums Jeremy Le Van and Pierre Valade, Sunrise is an iPhone calendar that sits on top of GCal to better integrate the service with the rest of your life. It’s built as a long, scrollable social network feed, and for good reason: It sucks in data from services like Facebook, stocking your calendar with friends’ birthdays (and avatars), as well as automatically adding event invites to the app—though not importing all those status updates you’d rather leave on Facebook.
"At the end of the day, you only have one life, so you want one view of it," designer Jeremy Le Van tells Co.Design. "We’d like to augment your life though your calendar by providing you more context about who you’ll meet and where you’ll be."
This early Facebook connectivity is just a start—Sunrise will soon support integration with Tripit flights, Songkick concerts, Foursquare check-ins, and Eventbrite conferences. Don’t let any of these individual services distract you too much if they aren’t in your particular digital repertoire; Sunrise is brilliant because it’s making your calendar acknowledge life beyond your calendar, automatically.
On a smaller scale, Sunrise has some other ideas that GCal would be smart to thieve, like semantic icons. When you schedule "lunch" or "dinner," Sunrise is smart enough to add a meal icon to your calendar. When you schedule a "flight," the app automatically tags the meeting with a plane. Skype, phone calls, and meetings work similarly.
"Details are important for us, so we spend a lot of time polishing them," Le Van tells us. For instance, if you ever want to know the weather, a.m. and p.m. forecasts are snuck into your daily schedule. And another (albeit larger) good idea is one-button natural language processing, meaning you can say "meeting at 3 p.m. on Thursday" and the app just adds the event to the nearest applicable Thursday—it’s faster and easier than dealing with Siri or typing all the data, so it quickly became my preferred input method.
Ultimately, it can be hard to classify Sunrise because the app has such restrained ambition. It’s revolutionizing GCal, but making no attempts to replace it. It’s making your schedule more social, but not aiming to be another social network. Yet Sunrise’s potential is only larger because of all this restraint. It’s not trying to topple giants like Google or Facebook, it’s just very quietly getting them to work better together.