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Why aren't digital calendars smarter?

Jason Snell | April 30, 2013
I use Google Calendar, Apple's Calendar app, and Fantastical to manage my schedule. In general, my calendaring is in the best shape it's ever been in: My colleagues can see my free and busy times, and schedule me for meetings, and we can even reserve our office's conference rooms, all using the same system.

Travel time

Shouldn't calendars understand travel time? This is hardly an original idea--there is, sadly, a thread on Google's product forums about the idea that was started in 2009.

Let's say I have to drive an hour to some location where there's an hourlong event at noon, then drive back to the office. I don't want to create a single event that lasts from 11 to 2, because I need to remember the actual time of the event. If it starts at noon then that's when I need to be there. But I can't just create an event from noon to 1 p.m., or someone will schedule a meeting with me at 1 p.m., while I'm still an hour away.

Why can't a calendar event include travel time, and show it as unavailable time on my schedule? Even better, imagine that your calendar knows where you work and has access to a mapping service (Google has one of those, right?). At that point, shouldn't the calendar be able to guess about travel time so long as I enter in the location of my remote event?

Do you know where I am?

Most of the devices we carry are capable of figuring out where they're physically located. Shouldn't calendars take advantage of that information?

Take my previous scenario, the off-site event. If my phone knows where and when that event takes place, shouldn't it be able to warn me when I need to leave to get there on time? Once again, a company that has access to maps and traffic data might be able to make this happen.

Knowing about your location can also be helpful if you're nowhere near where you're supposed to be. Imagine an option that would email your fellow meeting attendees when it becomes obvious that you're not going to be able to get there in time.

Finally, how about an option to muzzle audible alerts when your mobile device knows you're in a meeting? Sort of like Apple's Do Not Disturb feature, but tied to calendar events. It might be a better option than just leaving your phone on vibrate the whole time.

Why is this a surprise?

When I asked my Twitter followers for suggestions for this article, one set of requests stood out: Can't these fancy computers learn from your prior events?

For example, if your Laundry event is always three hours long, wouldn't it be nice if your calendar app assumed that a new event called Laundry lasted three hours by default? If you create an event that mentions the name of one of your kids, shouldn't the calendar be able to intuit that you want to place that event on the Kids calendar? If you create a haircut appointment for a Saturday, shouldn't the calendar intuit that it should go on your personal calendar, not your work one? If you create an event that always has an alarm 30 minutes prior, shouldn't the calendar figure out that you want that alarm set for every subsequent event you create with the same name?


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