The tight integration with OS X means iCal (or Calendar in OS X Mountain Lion) is probably the first choice for many Mac users, when it comes to organising their personal affairs.
But what a lot of people don't realise is that iCal is capable of receiving and sending lots of types of data: emails, web links, Address Book contacts and even Google Maps reference can be used. It's this integration that makes iCal so flexible and a lot more capable than most users might think.
With functionality such as iCloud syncing, shared calendars, drag-and-drop event creation, and natural language recognition, you have a true social scheduling solution.
If you're an iCal user that only utilises the app for inputting single events or simple scheduling, the following techniques will show you new opportunities.
iCal's Natural Language allows the user to type in casual sentences to create potentially complex events. When adding an event using the plus symbol in the top left-hand corner of iCal's main interface a small text box appears - this is where the magic happens.
Let's say you want to meet your friend Dave at your local bar on Friday night at 8pm. Usually this would involve creating a new event, typing in something along the lines of 'Meet Dave at bar' and scheduling the exact time, so that the event is displayed correctly within your day's timeline. But now you can simply hit the add button, type in 'Meet Dave at the bar at 8 on Friday night' and hey presto, the event is automatically created and saved in the correct location.
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On testing, this function is pretty watertight and has yet to let us down. Obviously a small amount of common sense has to be applied: iCal can't be expected to work miracles and won't recognise text speak, slang or nicknames. But if your nicknames are in your address book its recognition abilities may surprise you.
Drag and drop
Another super-easy workflow technique is iCal's drag-and-drop capability. This is somewhat overlooked by the majority of users and something you should really take advantage of.
Just about anything can be dragged and dropped into iCal to create a new event or alter an existing one. Text files, images, web links and even entire emails can be dragged and dropped into iCal's interface for use with your events. This can be a great way of linking relevant material to scheduled meetings or a nice way of creating a simple to do list.
There are a couple of ways you can go about using drag and drop: first up you can use it for event creation. Let's say you receive an email from a family member; you haven't got time to reply to it just now, you'll do it at the end of the day. Simply drag the email straight into a specific day in iCal and set a time. This creates an event and can act as a handy reminder. Not only will you see the event in your iCal schedule but you'll also have direct access to the email itself.
If you have a memory like a sieve and need a bit of a helping hand when it comes to reminders then you can take things one step further. Try adding an alarm to the scheduled email. You can choose an audio prompt or an email reminder to reply to the critical message.
Using the drag and drop system to append information to iCal events requires a slightly different approach. Double-click any event in the same way as you would performing a standard edit. Now, instead of clicking edit, perform a drag-and-drop action with your chosen file. You can drag pictures, web links or text documents and they'll be added to the event as an attachment. This is a great way to add a newly created spreadsheet to a planned business meeting or a shopping list to a scheduled trip to town.
So now you've mastered some faster ways to create and edit events, how can we use iCal to invite people to events and share an event or entire calendar with other iCal users?
As you would expect, it's all pretty straightforward. Let's focus on inviting others to an event. Go ahead and create an event in any way you like. With your event added, hit Edit - you should now see the regular edit page, presenting you with various options for altering your event's parameters.
Towards the bottom you'll see an 'Invitees' section. By typing people's names here they should auto-complete from entries in your Address Book. If you don't have the invitee's address in your Address Book you can complete the address manually, or drag and drop it from an email or note. Once completed, the list of invitees will be emailed and informed of the upcoming event.
If you prefer, you can drag invitees directly from your Address Book into iCal; this will create a meeting event with the chosen contacts and inform them of the meeting.
The social iCloud
The final thing we'll think about is how to share an entire calendar with a specific person, or even a group of people.
You can initiate shared calendars using a few different protocols in iCal, but we're going to concentrate on the current Apple standard, iCloud. As with most of the functionality explained here you'll need to be using OS X Lion (10.7+).
To get a shared iCloud-based calendar on the go, you and your invitee need to be fully signed up to the service and you'll also need to use the emails (usually your '.me' based address) you signed up to the service with. Once you have all this in place you can go ahead and create a calendar in the usual way and give it an appropriate name, say, 'My Shared Calendar'.
Click on the Calendar's button in the top left-hand corner of iCal and select the icon that looks like a Wi-Fi beacon. The window provides you with all the options you need to set up one or more invitees for your newly created Calendar. You can fill in the Apple ID-based email addresses here and the invitees will receive an email. Once they agree to share the calendar they'll be able to view all the entries.
You can decide whether they can read, or read as well as write events in the Calendar. With full read and write authorisation both yourself and the invitee can make, delete and append events. You can even choose to be mailed every time a change is made.
Remember that you can see these changes pushed to your new Calendar not only on your Mac but also on any iOS device using the same iCloud account. This means you can view, edit and append your family calendar on the go with your iPhone or iPad.
In addition to this, you can use any of the techniques discussed previously with your shared calendars. So now there's no excuse for missing those important events ever again!