The new Reminders app in iOS 5 felt contrived when it was first introduced at WWCD’11. I’ve been trying to come up with reasons that would explain its existence ever since.
Apple doesn’t introduce a feature without a valid reason. Let alone make it a part of a list of 10 new features in iOS 5 and spend 5 minutes of a keynote explaining it. It’s not like the App Store isn’t filled with instances of the reminder app, with some as simple as Apple’s, and others with a lot more bells and whistles.
During my viewing of the keynote, it seemed as if Apple was telling developers: “Look, location is a killer use case for a reminder app, why didn’t you guys think of this”? Although I am not intimately familiar with the details of Location in the multi-tasking API, at that time, I figured that this was something that should be possible1. Anyway, it was pretty clear from the keynote that Location was where Apple was focussing on in Reminders.
Later on, when Steve introduced iCloud, Reminders seemed yet another example of user data that is a clear candidate for integration into iCloud. All of your reminders, automatically shared across all of your iOS devices. Reminders could be Apple’s way to demonstrated a valid case for an app to integrate with iCloud. Like Compass is a demonstration of the integrated digital compass in the iPhone 4.
While both possibilities are in line with Apple’s behavior of guide by example, neither provides a compelling reason for Reminders to exist at all. Reminders is a very basic app, yet wielding the location stick furiously.
Then, on October 4th, Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S, together with the rumored, but previously unannounced personal assistant feature called Siri. A voice control system that allows rudimentary control of various functions throughout iOS.
Reminders may not be the killer app in the category, but creating (location-based) reminders by only using your voice is a killer feature for Siri. It is the personal assistant pick-up line of all time: “Remind me to go buy flowers for my personal assistant when I leave home”. It wouldn’t surprise me that “Remind me to do something when I leave” was a Siri brainstorm note that planted the seed for a Reminder app. In a very much completely opposite manner, Apple showed us Reminders first, paving the road for Siri.
As for Siri’s future, I suspect the feature will become a reoccurring topic in the coming keynotes. The problem with Siri is that it’s still under heavy development. Don’t get me wrong, Apple is confident about the technology, otherwise it wouldn’t have made it into the iPhone. But the danger lies in people trying it out in the first week, deciding that it doesn’t work that well after all, and tossing it aside. Apple knows this, that’s why they branded it Beta, before releasing it to literary millions of users. If Apple really cares about Siri it will need to rekindle the flame every time it further improves the core tech and releases additional languages and commands2.