We almost missed Android’s 14th birthday due to Google Calendar

Today is Android’s 14th birthday, but if Android were a friend I added to Google Contacts, I might have completely forgotten about it. See, Google Contacts allows me to enter all kinds of details about my friends, colleagues and family. Along with addresses, phone numbers, and email details, I can also fill out the contact card with relationships, anniversaries, and as you guessed it, birthdays. These are conveniently displayed in Google Calendar under a special birthday calendar, which seamlessly links to all the other appointments, reminders, and blocked time slots I have.

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All of this might make Google Calendar my one-stop solution for planning my life, but the service falls short in a key way. I can’t set up custom birthday reminders directly in Google Calendar.

You may think 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 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’ve looked at my weekly planner on Google Calendar, only to see I missed congratulations with a friend two days ago. Ouch.

This wasn’t a problem before the pandemic when I was still studying at university. I usually had more attentive friends in my circle who organized birthday surprises and sometimes parties for other friends, encouraging others to participate. But with me and many of my friends moving to other cities across Germany and Europe since we finished studying, our network is not as local and as tightly intertwined as before. Combine this with the fact that I stopped using Facebook towards the end of 2019, which usually served as a last resort for birthday reminders, and I’ve become that guy who doesn’t remember other people’s birthdays.

Notification options for my standard calendar.

It really annoys me that Google can offer the simplest possible solution to this. For every other calendar you create in Google Calendar, you can go to its individual settings and select exactly which standard notifications you want to receive for each event created in it. If you don’t want to receive individual reminders for each event, set up individual reminders for individual events.

Not so for the birthday calendar. Birthday calendar settings don’t give you the ability 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 ridiculous is that the Google Assistant reminds you of your close friends and family that you have 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’ve added a birthday to one of those contacts, you’ll also get their birthday date imported into the Google Assistant. However, that would mean you should remember to add everyone you care about birthdays to this list, rather than Google giving you the option to give you birthday reminders for everyone you’ve added to their contact card.

This convoluted system is symptomatic of Google’s chaotic approach to products, with some of the company’s apps apparently never communicating correctly 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 on 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 to make 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 ability to set custom birthday reminders.

In the meantime, there is a workaround I found while researching 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 birthdays you’ve added to Contacts up to this point by exporting the birthday calendar created by Google to Google Calendar and then importing it again as a new calendar. While it’s a shame that this means I can’t use the handy field provided by Google Contacts for this, this is the workaround I will opt for in the future.

Now excuse me as I export and re-import my birthday calendar to finally get the proper birthday reminders.

My dear Android, you may be expecting a real birthday post for your 15th birthday next year!

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