Google’s messy Reminders system just keeps getting messier

Google’s messy Reminders system just keeps getting messier

Google appears to be dropping two features from its Assistant’s reminder-setting capabilities. It’s ditching support for assignable reminders — “remind Anna to bring in the trash cans this morning” — and location-based ones — “remind me to call Becca when I get to the office.” Google didn’t announce either change, instead opting to bury one in a support page and another in a pop-up in the Assistant app. Both features still work but evidently won’t for much longer.

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

The list of chaotic Google product offerings is long, but I submit that none make less sense than Reminders. You can set reminders in Google Calendar, which sync with the Google Tasks app. This is good and correct behavior! But you can also set reminders with Google Assistant, which live in an entirely different ecosystem and don’t appear in Tasks. Google Keep is maybe the most chaotic: you can add a reminder to a note, and it will show up alongside your Assistant-created reminders but not in Google Tasks. They’ll also appear in a dedicated section of the Keep app, but none of your other reminders are there.

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

There is precisely one place to see all the reminders in your Google account and that is the Google Calendar app for iOS and Android. But even this has its oddities. You can create a reminder in the Google Calendar app, which shows up alongside Assistant reminders and at reminders.google.com, or create a task, which appears exactly the same yet shows up in Google Tasks but not other places. In the Calendar web app, you can only create and see Tasks reminders, which don’t show up where the other reminders do.

The fact that Calendar gets it so close to right is all the more infuriating. It means there’s nothing keeping reminders apart other than Google just not putting them together. In general, all you can really hope for is that your device will ping you at the right time and that you never actually need to look at a list of everything you have going on.

Inside this nonsensical ecosystem, Google can’t even make its Reminders features match. Assistant may be losing its location-based reminders, but your Keep reminders can still be triggered by your GPS pin. Google Tasks and Calendar reminders could never be location-based, for some reason.

The glass-half-full read on Google’s recent changes would be that they’re the first signal in a while that anyone at Google actually remembers reminders exist. And, as the company continues to work on bringing its products together more coherently, it’s possible that a project is underway to finally make reminders make sense: 9to5Google spotted a new feature called “Memory” last year that could be the ultimate home for all your bookmarks and reminders.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath. Google has intermittently expressed interest in making reminders work, most recently in 2018 when it relaunched Google Tasks alongside a big Gmail redesign. The app felt like a good start, but it was clear Google had more work to do. In the four years since, Google has done roughly none of that work.

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

Here’s hoping that Google is paring down its Reminders features as it plots a way to bring the whole system together and then add some of those features back. Until then, I’ll keep setting reminders with Siri. It may hear me wrong half the time, but at least I know where to find things.

Assam Press