(Bloomberg Business) — If you’re anything like me, scheduling a simple meeting with a colleague can easily stretch out into a messy, multistep process: After the opening gambit (“Hey editor: We really should catch up in person!”) can come days of back and forth as you and your meeting partner propose and reject dates and times. I’m pretty sure I spend more time scheduling coffee meetings than actually having them.
Avoiding this torturous process is half the reason many many people have personal assistants. For those without the cash for a full-time sidekick, a flood of sites and apps have attempted to take on the problem. Calendly, Assistant.to, and Pick, to name just a few, all take a stab at streamlining meeting arrangements.
The newest to hit the market, and most interesting, is Meet, which was launched in May. Meet is a new feature of the popular, Microsoft-acquired Sunrise calendar app and site. Meet is free for iOS, Android, and Web, and it’s remarkably effective at quickly scheduling meetings within a single e-mail or text message.
How Meet works: As you tap out an e-mail or text message on your phone, the tool brings up a split-screen view of your calendar, allowing you to quickly select any time blocks that work for your rendezvous. When you send the message, a custom URL allows the recipient to choose from the list of times. Other than a quick confirmation alert, that’s as far as the back and forth needs to go. It works this way with any e-mail or messaging app, so you can just as easily schedule meetings in Gmail as in WhatsApp.
“When we did our research in the beginning, we found it usually took people at least five e-mails to schedule an appointment,” says Sunrise co-founder and head of design Jeremy Le Van. “We want to make things happen between people quickly, so they can be more productive and spend more time doing things they enjoy.”
If you’re familiar with the way most smartphones work, you’re probably scratching your head: Neither iOS nor Android make it easy (or even possible, most of the time) to split your screen between two different apps. Which brings us to the product’s most incredible touch: Meet technically isn’t a standalone app but rather a “custom keyboard.” When you pull it up, it takes the space that would normally be filled with letters or emoji and populates it instead with a calendar grid.
From a tech perspective, this whole thing feels like a minor miracle—and has absolutely blown up my perceptions of what a keyboard could be. Custom keyboards were built into smartphones as a way import foreign alphabets and silly emojis, and these folks are using it as a Trojan Horse for true split- screen mobile computing. “To be honest, Apple didn’t really believe we could do it—even they thought it was impossible at first,” Le Van says. “Hopefully this will push other developers, and even Apple itself, to leverage the keyboard in different ways.”
For desktop and Web users, Meet appears as a subtle button on the bottom of their Sunrise calendar. Press the button, click a few possible meeting blocks, and it automatically copies the custom URL to your clipboard for easy e-mailing. It’s still very easy to use, even if it doesn’t have that how-did-they-do-that? magic of the mobile version.
Still, Meet is a new product, and its V1-ness shows in a few ways. One shortcoming that its founders hope eventually to tackle: It works only for one-to-one meetings, rendering it useless for group get-togethers. Le Van told me that 70 percent of meetings booked by Sunrise’s 5 million calendar users were one-to-one and that he and his team want to iron out this experience before adding on the layers of complexity that come with adding co-conspirators.