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Smartphones and integrated calendars

Answered January 13, 2013

Should you use the integrated calendar in your smartphone to keep your world in order? To a large extent, this is a personal decision -- but I'll call it a qualified "yes". Here's why.

Depending on the type of phone you have, you might be faced with a wide range of calendar options. Given that Android phones have the lead in the market right now, most new smartphone users are probably facing the choice about whether to use some form of the Google calendar (because Google is the ultimate parent of the Android operating system).

This is where "your mileage may vary". For a lot of people, the Google Calendar is good enough. From my own experience of having used it for a good three or four years now, I have absolutely no grounds for calling it "great". It's just "good enough".

Unfortunately, "good enough" seems to be about the best we can get from calendar programs, for reasons I cannot yet figure out. Despite looking over and over for the best consumer-grade calendar tools around, I have never found anything better than the calendar program I used on my first Palm Pilot back when Bill Clinton was President. Even though PDAs gave way to smartphones that are more powerful than the desktop computers you could purchase then, nobody seems to have mastered the calendar conundrum.

From my personal standpoint, the most "satisfactory" of calendar programs available is the one integrated with the Thunderbird e-mail program from Mozilla, the people who make the Firefox web browser. It's not great, but it's reasonably reliable. But I can't ever seem to get it to integrate in a trustworthy way with Google Calendar -- and Google actually seems to be the party to blame. So instead of trying to mash those two together, I use the Thunderbird calendar and export it to the calendar program on my phone using a third-party tool called "BirdieSync". It's a bit inconvenient, since it means I have to remember to synchronize my phone to my computer on a regular basis, but I choose to think of it as a reminder to practice good backup habits.

In the meantime, though, I try to focus on keeping everything on that Thunderbird calendar, rather than putting some things on a Facebook calendar and some things on a Google Calendar and other things on some other tool, and hoping that my smartphone will keep me in the right place at the right time. These different tools tend to get very jumbled very quickly when you start adding other tricks to the traveling across time zones.

Calendars really shouldn't be rocket science like this, but for whatever reason, I'm afraid there's no sign of great improvement on the horizon. Whatever you do, have a backup of the most important dates -- maybe even on an old-fashioned paper planner -- and know in advance that your phone-based calendar could let you down when you least expect it. Until they get substantially better, most of the surprises probably won't be happy ones.