Creating a reminder with virtual assistants: Google versus Apple

While exploring IFTTT today, I came across this interesting applet from Google — Google Assistant:

Add a new to-do in your iPhone’s Reminders app with Google Assistant

Say “Ok Google, add a reminder to my iPhone ______” and this Applet will do its best to add your to-do item to a list called Google Assistant.

Having read about the reliability of Google Assistant over Siri, I installed Google Assistant on my iPhone. I started speaking the told command to the Assistant.

Google Assistant Varun

Google Assistant, without a doubt, understood my voice command — even with an Indian name in it — marginally better than Siri. For someone like me who is using an older hardware like the iPhone 5s, the whole process of adding a reminder is a lot faster with Google Assistant. Unlike with Siri, it was real-time: I could see the text as I spoke to the Assistant. It was great.

Except for one thing that the reminder was not added to the “Google Assistant” list on my Reminders app as the Google’s applet had hoped for — plus it prepended an extra “My iPhone” phrase to the reminder. And there here was no such list created on my Reminders app. The reminder was actually added to the Google Assistant app itself.

Instead of visiting “View reminders” on Google Assistant, I took an adventurous route. I expected to see the added reminder to be there on the recently released Google Tasks iOS app hoping that I can now use it as a reminders app on iPhone and the Tasks add-on in Gmail on the web. At the same time, I raised my expectations to use Google Assistant as my Siri replacement as a way to at least add reminders quickly. Turns out, my reminder was not added to Tasks. My mind quickly recalled a service called Google Keep. Again, my reminder was nowhere to be seen on Keep.

To make my adventure of accessing my reminder even more complicated, I downloaded the Google app and signed into it. My reminder “My iPhone get in touch with Varun” was there. Buried under a section called “Feed” — with an icon that resembled a tray — amidst other updates like weather, bills, and flights. The same reminder on the Google Assistant app was buried under the tray.

Since Google Assistant had an edge over Siri in terms of voice command processing, since I needed a faster way to add reminders on my iPhone, and even if I had to use one among two iPhone apps: Google or Google Assistant to view my reminders, I couldn’t find a way to view the reminder my Mac. Fortunately, I could recall from 2014 a reminder icon from a service called Inbox by Gmail. There was my reminder, at inbox.google.com on my web browser amidst my emails.

So if you need to use a simple reminders utility on iPhone with Google’s ecosystem — adding a reminder on the Google Assistant or Google or Inbox by Gmail or Google Calendar apps — expect to find your reminder buried inside any of these apps or inbox.google.com or calendar.google.com on a web browser on a Mac. The apps — Google Keep and Google Tasks — which any reasonable person will expect them to provide a reminders utility associated with a single Google account don’t cut it.

Instead of making a simple and useful utility, Google has tried to mix reminders with services like search, mail, and calendar. And when Google tried to really make the reminders make work with the super-reliable Google Assistant, it has got no connection with its supposed part-reminder utilities like Keep and Tasks.

Coming to the Apple ecosystem, here’s how I use Reminders on my iPhone and Mac:

I will say something like “Remind me to get in touch with Varun tomorrow.” to Siri. If Siri worked reliably, it will add something like this to Reminders on my iPhone, Mac, and iCloud:

Siri Varun

That’s it. I know where to my find my Reminders.

Here’s the often-quoted comment by Alan Kay:

People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.

I really hope Apple gets serious with its Siri software under the new leadership.