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November 7, 2022

 mins to read

CRON App Evaluation by UI/UX Designers: Game-changer or Just Hype?

There’s one quality that you’ll find in all good SaaS startups. The magnetic quality that makes the audience fascinated, makes people watch every brand’s move. This quality was inherent in the go-to-market strategies of companies like Slack, Figma, and Stripe.

We are talking about confidence, that pumps out the message:

I’m changing their industry. I know what I’m doing. And I do believe it’s important and true.

  • Figma claimed to provide “a better way to design”. People believed the claim and massively moved from Sketch to Figma.
  • Stripe declared, “Payment processing. Done right,” and now the company is valued at almost $100 billion.
  • Slack promised to kill emails and fulfilled the promise, entering along the way Silicon Valley's hall of fame as the fastest growing business app.

You see those tough taglines, and you feel that’s a high flier. When ambitious startups make bold promises, confidence triples their chance of success.

The problem is that words have to become deeds. 

Figma managed to innovate design collaboration. Stripe really made the lives of small businesses easier. Slack offered a novel product that worked much better than internal emails, just like it promised. That’s why their confident taglines worked. 

Often, the momentum behind a great idea dies when a bar has been set too high and a startup can’t cope with building a really game-changing product. 

Let the race begin

A line between confident success and overconfident failure is very fine. So it’s always intriguing when a new very ambitious startup takes a run-up. How will it end this time?

Today, the focus of our attention is going to be CRON, a new productivity app that calls itself a next-generation calendar. 

Oh my, that sounds ambitious. It looks like CRON wants to lure people out of their established Google, Apple and Microsoft work ecosystems. With such a bold plan, the app should be something special.

The argument for CRON’s future success is that in 2021 it won Product Hunt’s Best Productivity App of 2021. Moreover, Notion believed in the company’s triumph and acquired it recently.

Is the app worth it or not, that is the question. To answer it, we turned to three product design experts from Eleken UI/UX design agency

Here’s what they say.

“Not impressed very much”

That was the first reaction of Maksym, Eleken’s Design Director after he reviewed CRON for the first time. Even though he spotted some valuable features:

I liked the sidebar on the right, which opens when you click on an event. On the side, all the information about the event appears, with a highlight on the main action — a Zoom call, for instance”.

CRON’s sidebar. Image credit: cron.com

The menu bar also shows upcoming meetings, makes meeting links available in one click and includes other UI/UX gems that save lots of hectic time. The bar is one of CRON’s signature features that earned much love from users. 

However, it’s not all rosy in CRON’s user experience if you listen to Maksym:

It is not very obvious how to add a new event. Google Calendar has a big "Create" button, but I didn't see such a button in CRON. Maybe I missed it, but it seems to be a big flaw in terms of UX. It should be possible to click on a button at any moment to create a custom event instead of looking for the date and time on the grid.

And even creating an event on the grid is not obvious enough. In Google Calendar, you can click anywhere to open a window for event creation. Here you need to either double-click or right-click.”

Overall, Maksym doesn’t believe in the idea of a game-changing calendar app. Apps that are trying to innovate this market are based on the Google Calendar functionality and can’t really offer anything revolutionary. 

One thing that, according to Maksym, sets CRON apart from other calendar apps is its remarkable visual design and fancy dark theme. Apparently, Maksym wasn't the only one who found CRON’s interface attractive.

CRON’s dark theme. Image credit: cron.com

“Compelling design and incredible attention to details”

Natali, a UI/UX designer at Eleken, immediately noticed CRON’s polished look, and it's no surprise. Raphael Schaad, Head of CRON, is a designer who aimed to create a design-first app. And he has succeeded: CRON has a pleasant UI and can do a ton of little delightful things that Google or Apple calendars can’t.

“I love how everything is kept in the same style, with many different integrations. And it's cool that the app works in a minimized mode.”

But is it enough to fight the inertia and make people switch from the apps they already use?

“I can’t say that CRON made something outstanding. I wouldn’t leave my standard calendar for it”.

For Natali, CRON lacks some fundamental improvements to basic calendar functionality that can make people choose in its favor. Her colleague, however, disagrees with this.

“CRON has a few things that matter to me”

Ihor, a UI/UX designer at Eleken, doesn’t use calendars very actively. Working in a design agency, you don’t usually have a ton of meetings with overbooked people. So 80% of CRON’s features don’t matter for Ihor, but among those remaining, there are a few really helpful ones:

“Sometimes I need to book a meeting with somebody from a client's team. It’s not an option to ask people when they are free all the time, but Apple calendar offers no other option. Google Calendar enables a side-by-side view of my schedule and the person's schedule to see what time slots you both have available. CRON went on and made availability sharing available in just one click”.

Availability comparison via CRON

Availability sharing is probably the most prominent CRON feature so far. With one click on your team member’s nickname in the sidebar and you make your scheduled meetings overlap and choose a time that suits both. The feature is not new in the world of calendars, but this is one of the main CRON advantages compared to Apple and Google.

But Ihor found another advantage:

“Apple calendar has a noticeable delay between the moment when changes were made and the moment they update on your computer. Sometimes it is that somebody says they have scheduled a meeting with you, but your calendar shows nothing until you refresh the page several times. With CRON you don’t have such an issue because everything happens in real time”.

Well, now a fly in the ointment:

“As a big fan of command menus, I can say that CRON's has serious room for improvement. It’s pretty basic now, I’d prefer it to get inspired by Todoist and allow me to schedule events using natural language, like “block two hours in the morning tomorrow”.

According to CRON’s official Twitter account, the app's command menu won't upset Ihor much longer. Human-formatted due dates are coming soon.

Behind the hype

We are witnessing a boom of new calendar apps. CRON, Daybridge, Amie and a dozen of other products attack the bastions of Apple, Google and Microsoft calendars.

They clean up the look, upgrade the layout and add some new quirks, but still build themselves up on the basis of old-school calendars. Will it be enough to overtake the legathy of conventional solutions and the network effects of huge corporations? Time will tell.

If you need greater certainty in your own app’s success, involve experienced UI/UX designers at the product discovery stage. Just in case, Eleken designers are always happy to get involved in game-changing projects. Drop us a line.

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