(I wanted this in Thunderbird, now I long for it in Google apps and Android.) 18 years ago, before there was HTML and http, the Perspective personal information manager software could take the text lunch tomorrow with John at Monk's and create a calendar appointment linking to the Bob Smith and Monk’s coffee shop records in my address book. Now computers are 250,000 times faster, UIs can autofill a dropdown list of every web site or common search term as fast as I type each letter of Lady Gag…, we have O.S. and network level APIs to link anything with anything. So how do Google apps compare with decades-old technology?
- Calendar event (meet John Smith)
- Nothing! Desktop Calendar’s Quick add feature even taunts you with its “Example: Dinner with Michael 7pm tomorrow but it parses 7pm tomorrow and ignores the Michael sitting in your contacts list. I can add his e-mail as a guest of the event, but that generates e-mails and invitations to him; this is information for me, not social networking or some sort of eVite wanna-be party planner.
- Call alarm (phone John Smith 10:20 Wednesday)
- Sanyo dumb phones have had call alarms for over a decade. You create one in the contacts or calendar app, and at the scheduled time you get an alert with a big button that you can click to place the call. Android has no such facility, either implicitly by typing this or explicitly by clicking [New call alarm]. Instead those words are meaningless to it, so when the event notification goes off it makes me screw around going between apps and re-typing. I’ve already given it the action and the data, it’s just too stupid to realize it.
- Task list (discuss project with John Smith)
- (Tasks are a feature in desktop GMail and Calendar, but they don’t show up in Android 2.2) Nothing! No way to go from the text to the contact, no way to tie them.
- Maps (John Smith)
- Good! As I type a dropdown shows matching names from Contacts with their locations
- Event location (Monk's coffee shop)
- Unlike Maps, Calendar doesn’t autocomplete from all my contacts with locations, nor does it show recent map locations. And since Calendar doesn’t realize I’m meeting John Smith, I can’t even tell it the location is his home address that’s sitting in contacts. And when I later tap/click the location to show it in Maps, Maps doesn’t consult my address book as it does while I’m typing, it only does a dumb web search. It’s a quadruple fail!
A wiki allows you to easily make explicit links of this sort using simple markup; if you write meet [[John Smith]] at [[Monk's Coffee shop]] it will turn the things in square brackets into hyperlinks to those wiki pages, whether they exist or not. And wiki pages have “What links here” to expose the connections, or you can go semantic web and assign
location: properties to the links. That doesn’t seem Google’s style, but they can do the instant drop-down thing; as you type the app should opportunistically look for matches with contacts, and if you auto-complete not only save you typing the rest of …k's coffee shop, but establish a bidirectional link between the event, event location, or task and the contact. Far from doing this, Android text fields instead autocorrect names that are in Contacts, turning Pastine into “Pastime”.
Software that did the right thing was available decades ago, so why are computers getting worse at understanding?