Monday, June 23, 2014

Google Calendar Reminder As Smartphone Alarm

For a long time, I've wanted the Google Calendar to offer a third Reminder type. The two existing types are Email, and Notification. The notification pops up, but is not super-urgent and can be overlooked; and it will be muted if your phone is on silent mode. That's all fine and as it should be.

But there are times, mainly when I have an early-morning appointment, where I want my calendar event to also serve as my morning alarm (this is predicated on use of smartphone as your alarm clock, or at least having it in your bedroom). It needs to be treated as a first-class Alarm, primarily meaning that it will override silent mode, secondarily, that it provides the various features related to modern smartphone alarm clocks (snooze, gentle wake, math to dismiss, etc etc).

The primary benefit of this feature is that it would save me the trouble of double-entry: once for the calendar event, again for the alarm. Another important benefit is that most of the Alarm apps don't support setting alarms for arbitrary dates. So you still have to remember to set the alarm the night before--a critical opportunity for error. Finally, related to the above--if the event time changes, you have to remember to go change the alarm (as a night-person, I find it especially disappointing when an early morning event is canceled, and I forget to cancel the alarm).

For the first time in a while, I took some time to search Google Play store for such an app. Finally, I found something that comes close: the wonderful Calendar Event Reminder (CER) app. What this app does is convert every Notification Reminder into an Alarm. It also provides a wealth of configuration features, pretty much everything I would expect, and more. I've been using it for a week, and am so far very satisfied.

Note that while this is probably the best a third-party app can do, it is not quite the full realization of my ideal solution. Instead of adding a third reminder type of Alarm, it effectively transforms the Reminder notification type into the desired Alarm notification type. This has a few important implications.

First of all, obviously, all Notifications  are transformed from mild reminder pings, into urgent reminder alarms. If you use a lot of Notifications, this would get really annoying and is likely a deal-breaker. Fortunately, for my personal use cases, I mostly prefer email notifications anyway, so I can work around that side-effect.

Assuming then that you can live without the traditional Notification reminder functionality, you will want to update any of your recurring reminders that do use it. Otherwise, you will be getting intrusive alarms when you really don't want them.

The last compromise is that it doesn't integrate with Android Alarm Clock apps (a direct outcome of the fact that it isn't implementing the Alarm type, per se). So the alarms will be raised using CER's UI, not that of your favorite alarm clock. The UI is pretty good, so this isn't a big drawback, but it is an adjustment.

This is a $2.79 paid app. Well worth it, a more than fair price for those who crave this functionality. I am happy to pay such a small price to have this long-standing itch scratched away. Much preferable to ad-supported or, heaven forfend, in-app purchases.

Bottom line, this is a great app, one I have been awaiting over four years. 2/3 of a loaf is better than none!