Google's messy reminder system keeps getting more and more messy

Google’s messy reminder system keeps getting more and more messy

Google seems to be dropping a couple of features from Assistant’s reminder setting capabilities. It forgoes support for customizable reminders — “Remind Anna to bring the trash cans this morning” — and location-based reminders — “Remind me to call Becca when I get to the office.” Google didn’t announce either of the two changes, instead opting to bury one in a support page and the other in a popup in the Assistant app. Both features still work but obviously won’t last much longer.

Chalk this up to the latest in a long, long history of Google doing a terrible job of turning Reminders into a useful system even remotely.

Google’s messy list of product offerings is long, but I admit that nothing makes less sense than reminders. You can set reminders in Google Calendar, which syncs with the Google Tasks app. This is good and correct behaviour! But you can also set reminders with Google Assistant, which lives in a completely different ecosystem and doesn’t show up in Tasks. Google Keep is perhaps the most messy: you can add a reminder to a note, and it will appear alongside the reminders Assistant created but not in Google Tasks. They’ll also appear in a dedicated section of the Keep app, but none of your other reminders are.

Google Calendar explains how this should work. But it doesn’t.
Image: google

One place in particular to see all the reminders in your Google account is the Google Calendar app for iOS and Android. But even this has oddities. You can create a reminder in the Google Calendar app, which appears alongside Assistant reminders and at remers.google.com, or create a task that appears exactly the same but appears in Google Tasks but not elsewhere. In the web calendar app, you can only create and see task reminders, which don’t appear where other reminders appear.

The fact that the calendar comes so close to the right is infuriating. This means that there is nothing separating the reminders other than Google not grouping them together. All in all, all you can really hope for is that your device will call you at the right time and that you never need to look at a list of everything that’s going on.

Within this nonsensical ecosystem, even Google can’t make the Reminders features identical. Assistant may lose location-based reminders, but Keep reminders can still be triggered by GPS PIN. Google Reminders can’t be “Tasks” and “Calendar” based on location, for some reason.

Reading the glass half full about the recent changes in Google would be the first indication in a while that anyone at Google actually remembers the existence of reminders. And as the company continues to work on bringing its products together more cohesively, it’s possible that there’s a project in progress to finally make the reminders make sense: 9to5Google I spotted a new feature called “Memory” last year that could be the ultimate home for all your bookmarks and reminders.

But I won’t hold your breath. Google has intermittently expressed interest in making Reminders work, most recently in 2018 when it relaunched Google Tasks along with a major redesign in Gmail. The app seemed like a good start, but it was clear that Google had more work to do. In the four years since, Google has done almost no business.

Google clearly sees Assistant as the true center of its ecosystem, both as a reminder and for the entire surrounding computing project. It would be fine, really, if the company actually did a (relatively simple) job of connecting the rest of the ecosystem.

Hopefully Google will reduce its Reminders features as it paints a way to bring the entire system together and then add some of those features back in. Until then, I’ll continue to set Reminders with Siri. Might hear me wrong half the time, but at least I know where to find things.

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