The use of video conferencing services such as Zoom and Google Meet has increased in recent months, mainly due to the pandemic. With so many people at home, these services have become critical, not only for work meetings, but also for maintaining personal relationships. (For more on this in general, see Glenn Fleishman’s “Video Conference Options in the Age of Pandemic”, April 2, 2020 and “Become a Video Conference Professor with These Tips,” June 3, 2020.)
The surge in video conferencing has led to complications. Because not everyone uses the same video conferencing services, juggling two or more computers and mobile devices has become a widespread phenomenon, and staying on top of scheduled video conferencing has become even more of a headache.
A few tools promise to make this easier. With the tools, video conferencing schedules are more visible and better organized, and attending meetings at specific times, regardless of platform, is less of a hassle.
One of these tools, a currently free Mac tool called Meeter, is in the menu bar and brings together upcoming meetings from dozens of video conferencing services into one convenient drop-down menu. Select a list entry to join the meeting. There is also a companion iOS and iPadOS app that offers the same basic functionality.
The second tool, the popular Fantastical calendar app for macOS and iOS, has added a host of video conferencing features, including menu bar alerts, an Join button for upcoming meetings, and meeting creation in the app for a few top services.
Finally, for those who use Google Calendar, some Chrome extensions make it easier to work with video conferencing.
In general, managing video conferencing requires a number of steps:
- Scans your calendar app for meetings, or waits for an appointment alert
- Searching for meeting links buried in event notes
- By clicking on the link or in some cases copying the link to a browser
- Click or press a button to start or join the meeting.
In order for meetings to appear in Meeter’s master list, they must first appear in Apple’s calendar (even if it’s not your default calendar app). How you do this varies depending on the meeting service you use. For example:
- Google Meet: Google has integrated this video conferencing service into the online Google Calendar, where you can schedule your meetings. If you want Google Meetings to appear in Meeter, make sure your Google Account is set up on your Mac so that your video conferencing events appear in Apple’s calendar.
- Microsoft Teams: Meetings created in Microsoft Teams’ desktop, web, and mobile apps are stored in your Microsoft account, so make sure your account is set up on your Mac. The Mac and online versions of Teams also send meetings directly to Google Calendar and, by extension, to Meeter, if your Google Account is set up on your Mac.
- Zoom: If you create a meeting using one of the Zoom apps, there’s an option – called “iCal” in Zoom’s Mac app, and “iCalendar” in its iOS app – to send an entry to Apple’s calendar. Zoom’s Mac app can also send meetings directly to Google Calendar and indirectly to Meeter, if the associated Google Account is set up on your Mac.
If your appointments do not appear in the Meter menu, go to Settings> Calendars to confirm that it has detected the current accounts. Also, make sure that their calendars are selected in Meeter.
Appropriately, the icons displayed with events in the Meter menu correspond to the service used for the meetings. Inconvenient, this did not always happen to me. Google and Zoom lists had recognizable icons for the services, but others – such as meetings scheduled in Jitsi Meet – had generic icons.
Elsewhere in Meeter’s preferences, you can specify when to be notified of an upcoming meeting (at the start of the event, or 1, 2, or 5 minutes before), and whether to click on a meeting entry to open a corresponding desktop app (if a as it exists) or a specific browser installed on your Mac.
A countdown option expands the menu bar icon with a time-based countdown and possibly the meeting title. There are also keyboard shortcut options for keyboard jockeys, a choice between a somewhat stylish standard interface style or a minimalist style that is a traditional Mac look, and a hotkey feature for frequently used connectors.
You can not create new video conferencing events in Meeter, but the developers said they are considering such a feature.
Meeter’s iOS app is a downloaded version of the Mac app, with calendar account and event logging, the ability to turn accounts on and off, and links to join meetings. For the latter feature to work in most cases, you must have the service’s own app (such as Microsoft Teams) installed.
Fantastic from Flexibits is a fantastic Mac and iOS calendar app for those who are dissatisfied with Apple’s calendar and want something more feature rich. Fantastical finds accounts installed on your device, but Flexibits recommends that you add accounts directly to Fantastical (in the Fantastical Preferences Account screen) to take advantage of all the features. A recent update adds video chat features that are roughly comparable to those offered by Meeter (see “Fantastical 3.1,” June 17, 2020).
These features begin with automatic detection of links to conference calls. This may not sound impressive – Apple’s calendar also detects and activates links to conference calls reliably in the notes or URL field of an event. But fantastic layers of functionality in several ways:
- In Fantastical’s Day, Week, and List views, events that include video meetings display an icon corresponding to the video service used for that meeting. The icons also appear in DayTicker, Fantastical’s scrolling event list. Flexibits says that this feature will work with Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, RingCentral Meetings, BlueJeans and Skype for Business. It also worked for me with Jitsi Meet.
- Video conferencing events feature prominent Join buttons at the top of the detail views. For example, a Zoom event displays a Join Zoom Meeting link with a corresponding icon. You need to keep track of when the meetings will begin, as such detailed view links are often displayed well in advance.
- Great places a Join button in DayTicker along with upcoming video events. Events in the Day and Week views also show such a button. Click or press the button to join the meeting.
- On Mac, you may receive an alert for an upcoming meeting in the menu bar. By clicking on the notice, you can join the meeting at the agreed time. For this to work, “Show upcoming conference call in the menu bar” must be checked in Fantastic> Settings> Appearance.
How about setting up video conferencing? If you are a Zoom or Google Meet user, you can do so directly in Fantastical. When creating an event, you can look for and click one of the Add Google Meet or Add Zoom Meeting buttons. For the latter to work, add your Zoom account to the other accounts set up in the app. Flexibits says they are considering more video services for creating events in apps.
While we’re planning video conferencing, I have a little to say about Google Calendar on behalf of Mac users who rely more on Google services than Apple’s equivalents. Google’s Web Calendar is a great place to manage multiple video chat services in a consolidated way. You just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people.
If you use Google Chrome (or another Chromium-based browser like Brave or Microsoft Edge), you can install extensions – like Zoom Scheduler, Jitsi Meetings, and BlueJeans for Google Calendar – that match the video conferencing services you use. Such scheduling tools add buttons to themselves in the Google Calendar meeting creation field, next to the Google Meet button which is a standard feature there (see “Be careful when scheduling events using Siri,” May 13, 2020).
This does not work for all services. For example, Cisco WebEx Scheduling Extension does not integrate with Google Calendar, and I could not find a Microsoft Teams extension for this purpose.
To complete the setup, install a Chrome extension that displays Google Calendar, such as Google Calendar or Checker Plus for Google Calendar. Both put a drop-down menu icon in the Chrome extension list to stay up-to-date on your upcoming meetings – including video meetings – just as you would with Meeter or Fantastical.
None of the tools I have described here are necessary to keep you on top of video conferencing, but they all make it easier.
Meeter has the added benefit of costing nothing, at least during the pandemic (in the Mac App Store, it turns out to have an in-app purchase to enable some advanced features, but the developers do not charge while things are so uneasy.). It is also available in the Setapp subscription service for $ 9.99 per month.
Fantastical is free in a basic form, but using all of its serious features – including those related to video conferencing – requires a subscription that costs $ 4.99 a month, or $ 39.99 a year. Fantastical has a loyal fan base that is willing to pay – and it’s a 14-day free trial for those on the fence – but it’s too much for what I need.
As impressive as Fantastical can be, I will continue to manage my video meetings in Google Calendar, which has worked well for me. I also agree with Meeter for faster access to my upcoming meetings.