Google adds calendar app to portfolio

Mountain View (CA) - Google today released a comprehensive digital calendar application in an effort to compete with similar services currently offered by competitors such as Yahoo and Microsoft. Simply named "Calendar," the application integrates tightly with other Google services such as search, maps and mail and offers users to import public calendars.

Google's Calendar is somewhat late to the party and fills a gap in an already confusingly broad array of available applications. And even if Yahoo and MSN have been offering similar services for years, Google may attract users quickly through a sense of simplicity, flexibility and ease of use of the application.

Still dubbed as a "Beta" service, Calendar already offers most features users today expect from their electronic calendars. Existing Ical and Outlook calendars can be imported and be shared in groups; events can be repeated and can be attached to features such as alarms, notes and maps. However, the company also managed to integrate some features to provide the application with a unique Google flavor.

Similar to Google Maps, which allows users to find a location by using natural language, Calendar also works with simple terms one would use in a regular conversation. For example, appointments can be automatically added through a "Lunch with Patrick at Friday's 1pm tomorrow" phrase. A map of a meeting point can be added through a simple click. Reminders are not only available as pop-up windows, but can also be sent via email or via SMS to a cellphone.

Sharing calendars has become a popular workgroup feature and has been available for example in Yahoo's calendar app for some time. Google supports calendar sharing not only within proprietary Google calendars, but can also import Apple's Ical format as well as XML-based calendars. The service allows users to search publicly available calendars from other users or organizations and add them to their calendar. Currently available are for example holiday calendars and public calendars from universities and municipalities.

While flexibility may be the advantage of Google Calendar, there are still weaknesses, especially for professional users who may be considering the service as an option for existing products such as the Palm Desktop or Outlook. Right now, Google Calendar lacks a capability to download data to the local desktop, a dedicated task manager as well as secure access via SSL. Especially users who do not like to share certain portions of their calendar may have concerns using the application at this time.