Android turns 14 today, but if Android were my friend that I added to Google Contacts, I might completely forget about it. You see, Google Contacts allows me to enter all kinds of information about my friends, colleagues, and family. Along with addresses, phone numbers, and email details, I can also populate a contact card with relationships, anniversaries, and, you guessed it, birthdays. They are conveniently displayed in Google Calendar in a dedicated birthday calendar that is clearly linked to all other appointments, reminders, and blocked time slots that I have.
All of this could make Google Calendar my one-stop solution for planning my life, but this service misses one key point. I can’t set up custom birthday reminders directly in Google Calendar.
You might think that it doesn’t matter much. After all, birthdays always fall on the same date every year, so at some point I have to remember all the important birthdays in my life. While this is true for my family, I sadly have to admit that this is not the case for my friends, let alone colleagues. (Note to my editor: I’m so sorry!) I can’t remember how many times I looked at my weekly plan on Google Calendar, only to see that I missed a friend’s birthday greeting two days earlier. Ouch.
This was not a problem before the pandemic, when I was still at university. There were usually more attentive friends in my circle who planned birthday surprises and sometimes parties for other friends, encouraging others to get involved. But when I and many of my friends moved to other cities in Germany and Europe, since we finished our studies, our network is no longer as local and extensive as it used to be. Combine that with the fact that I stopped using Facebook at the end of 2019, which used to be my last resort for birthday reminders, and I’ve become that guy who doesn’t remember other people’s birthdays.
Notification options for my default calendar.
It really annoys me that Google can come up with the most organic solution to this problem. For every other calendar you create in Google Calendar, you can go to its individual settings and choose exactly which standard notifications you would like to receive for each event created in it. If you don’t want to receive separate reminders for each event, set up separate reminders for individual events.
Not so for the birthday calendar. There is no way to set reminders in the birthday calendar settings. And you can’t set separate reminders for individual birthdays.
There are 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 that you’ve added to the Your People section of your 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 have added a birthday to one of those contacts, you will also import their birthday date into Google Assistant. However, this will mean that you will need to remember to add everyone whose birthday you care about to this list, instead of having Google give you the option of having a birthday reminder for everyone you add to your contact card.
This confusing system is symptomatic of Google’s chaotic approach to products: some of the company’s apps never seem to interact properly with each other. At least things seem to be getting better. Google recently announced that it will make Google Tasks the central location for all your reminders set in Assistant, Calendar, Gmail, and Keep. Speaking of Gmail. The email service is now tightly integrated with Google Meet, Chat, Docs, and other Workspace-branded services.
It’s clear that Google is working to improve the way their services work together, so we can only hope the company does the same for birthday dates and Google Calendar, and finally gives us the ability to set custom birthday reminders.
In the meantime, I found a workaround while reading this editorial. Someone in a similar situation suggests on the Google support forum to create your own birthday calendar in Google Calendar and ignore the birthday fields in Google Contacts. You can also export the birthdays you’ve added to Contacts up to this point by exporting the Google-generated birthday calendar to Google Calendar and then importing it again as a new calendar. Too bad this means I can’t use the handy field provided by Google Contacts for this, but it’s a workaround I’ll take 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 can look forward to a proper birthday post for your 15th birthday next year!