Magneto: A Promising Calendar App in Need of Some Work
The calendar apps on your smartphone and desktop do a good job of giving you a snapshot of your day or week, and reminding you of upcoming appointments. But what if they could do more — like tell you when to leave for a meeting based on traffic conditions. Or even better, reduce the number of back-and-forth emails when trying to organize a group meeting?
That’s the promise of a new calendar app called Magneto. Available as a free iOS and Web app, it’s currently invite-only (you can sign up for one on Magneto’s website), as the company continues to make improvements and add new features. Magneto plans to release the final app to everyone in the next few months; an Android version is planned for later this year.
Magneto certainly isn’t the first company to try to make a smarter calendar. Last year, my colleague Lauren Goode reviewed Tempo, which she liked. I’ve also been casually using another app called Sunrise that pulls calendar information from various accounts and provides contextual information around appointments in a neat interface.
But I like that Magneto addresses issues like scheduling meetings with people who use different calendar systems, and making it easier to add details to individual appointments. The app also integrates a to-do list into your calendar.
Magneto has many of the features that I want in a calendar app, but after using it for the past couple of weeks, it’s apparent that the app still needs work. Some features felt half-baked, and the interface isn’t always that intuitive. There were just enough frustrations that prevented me from switching to Magneto as my primary calendar app, though I still think there’s a lot of promise.
When first starting out, you’ll need to create a Magneto account from your Web browser. Magneto works on all browsers (Google Chrome, Firefox, Apple Safari and Internet Explorer), and there’s also a browser extension you can install that will let you create calendar entries from emails or websites with one click. I’ll talk more about this later, but I should note that the extension only works in Chrome and Firefox for now.
Magneto can sync with Google Calendar or Microsoft Exchange. I use Google Calendar for both my work and personal accounts, and after entering my login details, Magneto imported my existing appointments into the calendar, and color-coded them to indicate whether it was a work or personal meeting. But I noticed right away that it failed to import at least one of my recurring work meetings, so I had to manually add it myself. A Magneto spokesperson said she believes it was a one-off bug.
The calendar interface is clean, if not a bit plain. By default, you get a week view, with the current date listed first. Along the right side, you’ll find your to-do list, and you can also toggle over to see a map view with all your day’s meetings pinned on it. While it’s not clearly marked or featured in the intro tour, you can expand the to-do list and map sections by clicking the appropriate icons in the upper toolbar. The iPhone app is better, since these sections are separated by tabs.
One of the features I was most anxious to try was group scheduling. As it is now, if I’m trying to schedule a meeting with someone or a group of people, it usually involves a lot of back-and-forth emails trying to decide on a time and date that works for everyone. It’s not very efficient and, at times, can be very confusing.
With Magneto, there’s a Share + Schedule feature, where you can select a range of dates that work for you on the calendar and then share it with a group of people. The invitees don’t need to have the Magneto app to respond. Instead, they’ll receive an email with a Web link where they can view your availability and make their own selections. They won’t be able to see personal details about your appointments. Instead, they’ll just see that you’re unavailable at those times, though there is the option to share full or partial details if you want.
I sent an invite to my Re/code Reviews colleagues for a fictional event, and everyone was able to view, respond and add comments. But there was also some confusion. Two of the invitees are on the East Coast, and when they sent their time selections, I wasn’t sure if they were in Eastern or Pacific time.
Also, I was the only one who could see who picked which times. I’ve used another scheduling app called Doodle a couple of times for group meetings, and it allows everyone to see other people’s picks. Magneto says it will be adding this functionality.
Another feature that attracted me to Magneto was the ability to create appointments from emails and websites with just a click of the mouse. Many times, I’ll finalize a meeting in an email or buy tickets to a concert, but then forget to create a calendar event right away. Or I’ll create one, and then only input some of the details and forget others, like location or phone numbers, leaving me to search through my emails at a later time.
Magneto’s browser extension takes some of that pain away. Once installed, you’ll find a small button on your toolbar; as you have an email or website open, you can click it to create a new calendar entry.
For emails, Magneto imports the email subject line and copies the body of the message into the notes section. But it doesn’t strip any information such as date and time, so you still have to manually add that information. By comparison, there’s a function in Apple Mail where you can create calendar events from emails, and it will pull in that information. Magneto says it is testing that feature, but the company said it feels that the technology isn’t quite there yet.
Magneto is able to pull in more information from websites, though it varies by site, and only some are optimized to work with Magneto,including OpenTable, Ticketmaster and Fandango. (You can find the full list here.)
For the most part, Magneto worked. I created calendar entries from a StubHub page and an Evite invitation, and it pulled in full details about dates, times and locations. But when I tried to add a Facebook event to my calendar, it entered the date as June 26, 2001, instead of 2014. (Cool — I’ve always wanted to time-travel.)
While it’s obvious that Magneto has some work to do, there’s still a lot to like about it. The integration of driving times and the built-in to-do list are nice, and both work well. If the company can iron out the bugs and add more functionality, Magneto has the potential to be a very powerful calendar app.