Tempo, Sunrise and Why Calendar Apps Matter

I wrote an old blog post about the challenges for startups competing with core apps on the major mobile platforms. As is the case with many things, competing to replace core app functionality (email, calendar, photo, messaging) is a high stakes game with big rewards and lots of risk. And I’m not an investor in any calendar company (I use Tempo and Sunrise both on my iPhone and Google Calendar on my S3) so lets just get that out of the way.

I’d argue that if you gave me your email logs and your calendar, I could make an educated guess about your interests and how you spend your time. A few thoughts on why I think calendars are interesting:

Email is messy and hard when it comes to divining context and insight, but I think calendars are actually way easier. Calendar data has more implicit structured signal than email and hence is (potentially) easier to understand and evaluate.
Calendars have dates, times, duration, and context about who else is involved in a given appointment. While there is value in being smart on top of that data (did I actually show up to that meeting, who created it, etc.) the base layer of structures info is useful and interesting in and of itself. It’s a good structured data store for divining intent, interest, and other nuggets if value about how a person spends his or her time and what matters most. Hours of the day are fixed and how people spend them (according to their calendar) is a valuable nugget of information.

Most stock calendars are feature-light and power users want more
Whereas email has advanced a lot, most stock calendars are still really basic. They tell you where you need to be and where. But they don’t give you much context on who you’re meeting. Many don’t make it super easy to share your location or ETA of you’re running late. And they don’t encourage or prompt you to stay in touch or follow up on what happened in the meeting. As such, I end up using tools like Twist to give people updates on my ETA when I wish it was really just baked into my calendar. The same is true of tools like Refresh, which I use to keep notes and info on people who I’ve met. A lot of the 3rd party tools I use have value because many calendars I use have a fairly rudimentary feature set.

Unlike email, calendars are basically double opt-in.
The biggest difference between email and calendar is that email is an open channel. Anyone who knows my email address can email me. Systems that want to know context about email have to start by separating signal from noise. A well-managed calendar doesn’t have this problem as most events (other than Facebook events) that show up on my calendar are on there because both parties agreed to meet. That’s a powerful bi-directional signal.

The one big elephant in the room when it comes to calendars is what Google is doing with Google Now. If you use Gmail, Google Calendar, and search with Google, Google Now is the early window into what a smart digital assistant that augments and improves a calendar will look like. But I don’t expect the entire world to tip toward using all Google services for personal and work purposes, so I think there will be a continued opportunity for 3rd party tools to augment basic calendars. For more on my thoughts on Google Now, you can read this post.

As always, feel free to leave comments below or chat with me on Twitter @chudson.

  • Craig Smith

    Thank you for the great post. I think you are completely spot on when you say “Whereas email has advanced a lot, most stock calendars are still really basic.” I am a fan of Tempo’s email sync, but I don’t find that Sunrise brings a lot to the table beyond great design. Refresh would be great if I could tell it who I DON’T need dosiers for (like my girlfriend).

    Have you seen all this whole “expand your calendar” thing? Looks like a new iPhone app coming soon, but there’s extremely limited info out there. Excited to see if they release more info soon. Thanks again!

  • Thanks for the comment, really appreciate it!