It’s Android’s 14th birthday today, but if Android was a friend that I added to Google Contacts, I may have completely forgotten about it. You see, Google Contacts lets me fill in all kinds of details about my friends, colleagues, and family. Along with addresses, phone numbers, and email details, I can also fill the contact card with relationships, anniversaries, and—you guessed it—birthdays. These conveniently show up in Google Calendar under a special Birthdays calendar, which neatly ties in with all the other appointments, reminders, and blocked time slots I have.
All this could make Google Calendar my one-stop solution for planning out my life, but the service falls short in one key way. I can’t set up custom reminders for birthdays right in Google Calendar.
You might think that this isn’t a big deal. After all, birthdays are always on the same date every year, so at some point, I should remember all the important birthdays in my life. While this is true for my family, I sadly have to admit that this isn’t the case for my friends, let alone colleagues. (Note to my editor: I’m so sorry!) I can’t recall how many times I’ve looked at my weekly agenda on Google Calendar, only to see that I missed congratulating a friend two days earlier. Ouch.
This wasn’t a problem before the pandemic when I was still studying at university. I would usually have more attentive friends in my circle who would plan birthday surprises and sometimes parties for other friends, animating others to chip in. But with me and many of my friends moving to other cities throughout Germany and Europe since we’re done studying, our network isn’t as local and woven as strongly as it was before. Combine that with the fact that I stopped using Facebook towards the end of 2019, which usually served as my last resort for birthday reminders, and I’ve become that guy that doesn’t remember others’ birthdays.
Notification options for my standard calendar.
It really irks me that Google could offer the most seamless solution possible to this. For every other calendar you create in Google Calendar, you can head to its individual settings and select exactly which standard notifications you would like to receive for each event created in it. If you don’t want to be reminded of each event individually, set up individual reminders for individual events.
Not so for the birthday calendar. The Birthday calendar settings don’t give you the option to set reminders. And you can’t set individual reminders for individual birthdays.
No notification options for the standard Birthday calendar.
What makes this situation more laughable is that Google Assistant reminds you of your close friends and family you’ve added to the Your People section in the Google Assistant settings on your phone. The list of people you can add to the Your People group is generated from Google Contacts, and if you add a birthday to one of these contacts, you also get their birthday date imported into Google Assistant. However, this would mean that you would have to remember to add everyone whose birthday you care about to this list, rather than Google giving you the option to give you reminders for everyone’s birthday you added to their contact card.
This convoluted system is symptomatic of Google’s chaotic approach to products, with some of the company’s apps seemingly never properly communicating with each other. At least it looks like things are getting better, though. Google recently announced that it will make Google Tasks the central place for all your reminders set across Assistant, Calendar, Gmail, and Keep. And speaking of Gmail. The email service is now tightly integrated with Google Meet, Chat, Docs, and more under the Workspace brand.
It’s clear that Google is working on making its services work better together, so we can only hope that the company will do the same for birthday dates and Google Calendar, and finally give us the option to set custom reminders for birthdays.
In the meantime, there’s a workaround I found while researching this editorial. Someone in a similar situation suggests on the Google Support forum that you create your own custom birthday calendar in Google Calendar and ignore the birthday fields in Google Contacts. You can also export birthdays you’ve added to Contacts up to this point by exporting the Google-created Birthday calendar in Google Calendar and then importing that as a new calendar again. While it’s a shame that this means I can’t use the convenient field provided by Google Contacts for this, this is the workaround I’ll be opting for in the future.
Now excuse me while I export and re-import my birthday calendar to finally get proper birthday reminders.
My dear Android, you may look forward to a proper birthday post for your 15th birthday next year!