Google tries to make Calendar a 'helpful assistant' on mobile

An upgrade of the Calendar app for smartphones and tablets is its biggest since it was launched

Google's Calendar mobile app has been upgraded to make it a more intuitive and smart time management tool

Google's Calendar mobile app has been upgraded to make it a more intuitive and smart time management tool

Google has given its Calendar mobile app the biggest makeover since its launch, adding features meant to make it a more intuitive and smart time-management tool.

Calendar has never been as big of a priority for Google as Gmail, by far its most popular app, and it has often been the target of criticism by users frustrated by what they perceive as a sluggish pace of development.

Whether the criticism has been justified or unfounded, Google can't afford to have a weak calendar component in its Apps suite as it battles Microsoft and Office 365.

In fact, Microsoft's Outlook email and calendar app remains entrenched in enterprises, including in many that adopt Google Apps, where often Outlook is used as a front end for Gmail and Calendar, much to Google's displeasure.

It's not clear how much of a difference the Calendar app enhancements will make in helping Google lure Outlook lovers, but Google said Monday it has turned Calendar into "a helpful assistant" for managing people's schedules by automating manual tasks.

"It takes a lot of work to stay on top of your schedule, after all. You have to manually enter that hotel or dinner reservation, then update it if your plans change. You have to hunt around for addresses and phone numbers, then add them to your events. And if you're on a mobile device, you might just give up on these kinds of tasks entirely," Ian Leader, a Google Product Manager, wrote in a blog post.

One new feature is the recognition of event emails in Gmail, such as message confirmations for plane ticket reservations, hotel bookings and concert ticket purchases, which trigger the automatic creation of Calendar items. A similar feature has been available in the main Web version of Calendar since last year.

Google has also added "assists" to Calendar, a feature that learns from people's usage of the app and proactively makes auto-complete suggestions as they type in an entry for people, places and other elements.

The Calendar app now also features what Google calls Schedule View, which adds aesthetic elements to calendar entries, such as illustrations and photos, to make them not only prettier but also easier to recognize at a glance.

The improvements to the Calendar mobile app come a week after Google unveiled an ambitious project to reinvent Gmail. Called Inbox and available via invitation only right now, this new application is designed to make email easier to manage through automated categorizing and prioritizing of messages, and with tools to do things like set reminders and "snooze" a message so it reappears later on.

The new Calendar app will run on all smartphones and tablets running Android 4.1 and above. It's available now on all Android 5.0 Lollipop devices and will be in the Google Play store in the coming weeks. An upgrade for the iOS Calendar app is in the works.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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