Google’s messy Reminders system is getting more and more messy

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Google's messy Reminders system is getting more and more messy

Google appears to be removing two features from its Assistant’s reminder settings. It ditches support for assignable reminders – “remind Anna to bring in the bins this morning” – and location-based – “remind me to call Becca when I get to the office.” Google hasn’t announced either change, opting for it decided to bury one on a support page and another in a popup in the Assistant app. Both functions still work, but obviously not for much longer.

Create this as the latest in a long, long history of Google doing a terrible job of turning reminders into an even remotely useful system.

Google’s list of messy product offerings is long, but I contend that none makes less sense than Reminders. You can set reminders in Google Calendar that sync with the Google Tasks app. This is good and proper behavior! But you can also set reminders using Google Assistant, which lives in a completely different ecosystem and doesn’t appear in Tasks. Google Keep is perhaps the most messy: you can add a reminder to a note, which will appear alongside your Assistant-created reminders, but not in Google Tasks. They also show up in a dedicated section of the Keep app, but none of your other reminders are there.

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

There’s just one place where you can see all the reminders in your Google account, and that’s the Google Calendar app for iOS and Android. But even that has its oddities. You can create a reminder in the Google Calendar app that shows up alongside Assistant reminders and at Reminders.google.com, or you can create a task that shows up the same way but shows up in Google Tasks but not elsewhere . In the Calendar web app, you can only create and view task reminders, which don’t appear where the other reminders appear.

Even more annoying is the fact that Calendar gets it so accurate. It means there’s nothing keeping memories apart, other than that Google just doesn’t put them together. In general, all you can do is hope that your device pings you at the right time and that you never really have to look at a list of everything you’re doing.

Within this nonsensical ecosystem, Google can’t even customize its Reminders features. Assistant may lose its location-based reminders, but your Keep reminders can still be triggered by your GPS pin. Google task and calendar reminders could never be location-based for some reason.

The glass half full about Google’s recent changes would be that they’re the first signal in a while that someone at Google actually remembers memories exist. And as the company continues to work to bring its products together in a more cohesive manner, it’s possible that a project is underway to finally make memories meaningful: 9to5Google discovered a new feature called “Memory” last year, which could be the ultimate home for all your bookmarks and memories.

But I wouldn’t hold my breath. Google has at times expressed an interest in making reminders work, most recently in 2018 when Google Tasks was relaunched along with a major redesign of Gmail. The app felt like it was off to a good start, but it was clear that Google still had more work to do. In the four years since, Google has done almost none of that work.

It’s clear that Google sees the Assistant as the true center of its ecosystem, both for reminders and for its overall ambient computing project. Which would be really fine if the company actually did the (relatively minor) work of connecting the rest of the ecosystem.

Here’s hoping Google scales back its Reminders features as they plan 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. It may get me wrong half the time, but at least I know where to find things.

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