When Microsoft announced that it would shut down Sunrise Calendar after acquiring the app last year, the company assured users that they wouldn’t miss much.
Originally, Microsoft promised that all Sunrise features would become part of the Outlook mail and calendar app on iOS and Android. Only after the two apps achieved feature parity would Microsoft stop supporting Sunrise for existing users. (“We will leave Sunrise in market until its features are fully integrated into Outlook, the exact timing of which we will communicate in advance,” Microsoft said in an October 2015 blog post.)
On August 31, it seems Microsoft will break that promise. As of this writing, Outlook is missing several of Sunrise’s most important features, along with some clever touches that made Sunrise more enjoyable to use. While a best-in-breed calendar was the sole focus of Sunrise, the calendar in Outlook still seems like a second-class citizen.
Short of a massive feature update for Outlook, or a stay of execution for Sunrise, here’s what users stand to lose as Sunrise shuts down:
(Update: Microsoft says Sunrise Calendar will not shut down on August 31 after all. "[W]e have chosen to wait a little longer in order to deliver a few more Sunrise-inspired features in Outlook," the company told PCWorld. "Once those features are released, the Sunrise app will officially be shut down.")
One of Sunrise’s best features was its integration with third-party services. From within your main calendar view, you could see travel plans from TripIt, due dates from Trello, tasks from Todoist, concerts from Songkick, and more. In total, Sunrise hooks into 16 different services—a number that may have grown further had its developers continued working on the app.
Microsoft Outlook, meanwhile, integrates with just three: Facebook, Evernote, and Wunderlist. The app integrations page has promised “more apps coming soon” for months now, but it’s unclear whether Outlook will ever match what Sunrise had built.
Sure, you can hook up some of those services directly with your calendar provider. TripIt and Trello, for instance, both let you sync events with Google Calendar, iCloud, and others. The advantage with Sunrise is that it offered one convenient place to manage these tie-ins. Setting them all up separately is much more complicated.
In addition to your own calendars, Sunrise could display a variety of “interesting” calendars, including sporting events, TV schedules, religious holidays, and moon phases. Although Microsoft specifically called out interesting calendars as a feature it would add to Outlook before pulling the plug on Sunrise, that hasn’t happened yet.
In the meantime, Google Calendar does support some interesting calendars on its own, so if you add them, they should sync with whatever calendar app you’re using. Still, Google’s selection isn’t as extensive as Sunrise’s (it doesn’t include TV schedules, for instance), and it doesn’t help people who use iCloud, Outlook.com, or other calendar sources.
Recurring events and multiple reminders
Flashy features aside, Sunrise was simply better than Outlook as a bread-and-butter calendar app. It let you set up recurring events on a daily, weekly, or yearly basis, with intervals and stop dates. It also supported adding more than one reminder for a single event.
These should be table-stakes features for any calendar app. It’s baffling that Outlook isn’t supporting them yet, and only underscores the notion that the calendar side of Outlook is an afterthought compared to email.
Although Sunrise was obviously designed with mobile devices in mind, it also offered a website and apps for Chrome and Mac, so you could access the same calendars and integrations on a laptop or desktop computer.
Meanwhile, the modern Outlook app—based on the Acompli email app that Microsoft acquired in 2014—is a no-show on the desktop. Instead, there’s a desktop version of Outlook for Office users, a stripped-down Outlook calendar website, and a completely separate Calendar app in the Windows Store. So even if Microsoft added more Sunrise features to Outlook for mobile devices, it’s unclear whether those features would become available on Windows PCs, Macs, and Chromebooks.
Navigation and usability
Beyond all the big-ticket features that Sunrise offered, the app had a few little flourishes that helped you understand your schedule. For instance, each appointment displayed thumbnail images of the people you’re scheduled to meet with, and the calendar view included two days of weather forecasts.
Sunrise also automatically assigned different icons to each event based on the name and location within. A birthday party event might show you a balloon icon, while a meeting at a coffee shop showed an icon with a coffee mug. These aren’t make-or-break features, but they speak to the broader attention to detail found throughout the Sunrise app.
In theory, shutting down Sunrise to focus on a unified email and calendar app makes sense. Resources are finite, so funneling them all into Outlook could prevent duplication of efforts, and allow Microsoft to deliver more features to a consolidated audience.
But that approach only works if the combined effort is equal to or better than its disparate parts. That’s not the case with Outlook and Sunrise. After giving itself 10 months to pull together the two apps, Microsoft's not even close.