A Call to Alarms: Why We Need Persistent Calendar and Reminder Notifications

Originally published at: A Call to Alarms: Why We Need Persistent Calendar and Reminder Notifications - TidBITS

Frustrated by how easy he finds it to ignore notifications for important events and timed reminders, Adam Engst proposes alarms that continue to go off until stopped manually, creating a third notification type alongside banners and alerts.

2 Likes

11 posts were split to a new topic: Digital device alarms vs car alarms

I’d settle for having persistent alarms continue to show up on all my devices until I explicitly dismiss them.

As it is, when I get an alert that it’s time to take medication, if I happen to be using my phone at the time, the alert shows up there, but it never appears on my watch at all—presumably because “I’ve already seen it so there’s no need for my watch to nag me.”

Wrong, Apple, I definitely need it to show up on my watch as well. I need all my devices to keep reminding me until I take the medication.

1 Like

To solve the use case for reminders I just can’t miss, I use the Due app on my iPhone.

Once I tried it (many years ago), I never looked back. It will continue to nag at you at set intervals (e.g. every 5 minutes, 10, 15, etc.) if you ignore a reminder alarm. I also set the audio alarm to a really long chime that goes on for about 20 seconds (if I don’t snooze or dismiss the reminder before then).

I’ve used Due only on my iPhone; they also offer a Mac client and you can sync alarms via iCloud. (I’m on a Windows PC, so haven’t tried this myself.)

My teenage son also relies on Due alarm to keep organized.

I highly recommend it!

3 Likes

@ace

Clearly, @rap001 and I were writing at the same time! (Welcome back, btw!)

There is an amazing piece of software that I have relied on for years that does, I believe, exactly what you want. It works incredibly well and syncs reliably across MacOS and iOS and it is called Due.

The developer is kind and very responsive and while there are 2 “subscriptionish” things required it is very reasonable in price. I say “subscriptionish” because I don’t know the real name for the model wherein you “own” forever the features included when you subscribe/purchase but to get new ones after your time elapses you need to resubscribe.

I subscribe then cancel so I can never be in a position where it charges again without explicit approval from a living me!

The dev credits a very brief shoutout from Jonathan Gruber of DF fame for bringing love and traction to his app. I wish my son would rely on it!!!

This has been my biggest problem with using the iPhone as a calendar/reminder tool. The alerts/notifications/etc are very simplistic with almost no granular control.

I have intentionally set reminders/alarms and missed them because I was not staring at the phone when it went off. A text sound or incoming call can easily disrupt and eliminate a calendar event reminder.

I remember iCal in OSX being fairly simple and having a good Snooze feature. Somehow in the more recent versions of macOS it has become a thing that is so easily dismissed its usefulness is greatly diminished.

If I may make a bit of a leap, I believe the alarm/notification problems with iOS (and increasingly macOS) are indicative of a design philosophy that assumes the user is constantly staring at or ready to pounce on any alert in a hyper-vigilant, Pavlovian manner. We must adapt to the device instead of the device adapting to our needs.

This design principle is simply not compatible with the real world and it is not healthy for our species.

3 Likes

For calendar events, I generally solve this by setting more than one alert for each event. One is almost always 15 minutes before I need to leave; sometime an hour before I need to leave (eg, it’s a morning appt and I’ll need to shower and dress before I leave), generally 5 minutes before the event (or before I need to leave), which is really when I leave. The first alert makes me start to get ready.

I do have my watch set to remind me more than once of a new message, as Adam described.

And I have sound off on both the phone and the watch. I’m never without at least one of them, if not both, and haptics always work for me. I have my wife’s contact set with emergency bypass on for text and phone so it does make a sound when she’s trying to reach me. Plus I make really good use of hide alerts for unimportant and gabby group messages.

All that said: I wouldn’t mind an option like this, at least for some apps.

1 Like

Mr. Engst, what you describe is ‘alert fatigue’. You need less alerts so that the ones that you get are meaningful. For example, I just looked at the notification screen on my iPhone. There is one that my bike ride yesterday sync’ed, one for the text message of the numeric code for a 2FA signon and another for Photos creating a memory. The only one that was actionable was the 2FA code. When most alerts do not require an action, I am likely to simply ignore the actionable ones. My advice for you is to go to your notifications preferences and turn off notifications from nearly everything but the calendar. I also think that a kitchen timer is the best way to deal with tasks that may require a fire truck to complete if they are not completed timely

1 Like

This is actually a subtle problem, and perhaps one that would be better served with some user preferences. Apple puts quite some effort into determining which device you are most actively using or that is otherwise closest to you, and it focuses the notifications on that device. They might show up elsewhere in Notification Center so you get an additional chance to see them but they’ll alert you on only one most of the time.

For most people and most notifications, that’s good. I have two Macs, an iPad, an iPhone, and an Apple Watch, and I really don’t want all of them alerting me to something.

However, in your situation, you want medication alerts to continue to nag—everywhere—until they’re actively dismissed. That feels like a less common use case, albeit an entirely reasonable one, and would thus be handled well with an option (perhaps in the Medications alerts—I haven’t used those) to nag until confirmed done.

Due looks interesting, and although it doesn’t sound as though it ties into Apple’s Reminders database, it claims to support Shortcuts with one that can be invoked via Siri. I’ll give it a try. It’s too bad that it’s only reminders, though, not calendar events too, which are my primary problem.

That’s undoubtedly related, but it’s not core to the issue. I already carefully control which apps are allowed to notify me, but the simple fact is that when I’m focused hard on something, I just won’t notice the alerts unless they break through in a more significant way.

Sometimes I even set timers or create alarms in the Clock app to ensure that I can’t miss something. I prefer the timers because I dislike ending up with extra alarms cluttering the alarm list, and that seem to happen when using Siri to set them.

1 Like

Would Haptic notifications on the Apple Watch work better?

I’m already getting haptic notifications on the Apple Watch but for a standard notification, they’re easily missed. I never miss timers going off on my wrist though because they don’t stop vibrating until I press a button.

3 Likes

I agree that many of these issues appear to be somewhat compensated for with the Apple Watch, but why does the iPhone suffer by comparison? Interestingly, Watch users also seem to do better with speech-to-text when tied to an iPhone. This is based on anecdotal observation, but I find it odd.

Same here, Doug. We use multiple alerts in iOS/macOS, but it just seems sad that we should need to create such redundancy and clutter on a “high tech” device in the year 2023. While the built-in Calendar is basically functional, the alerts based on the calendar and Siri actions have never been reliable, if they work at all (ie. missed alerts and Siri inaccuracy).

The issues discussed here are not helped by various UI inconsistencies and glitches:

Lock screen notifications for new texts remain when you have viewed or deleted them directly in the source app (Messages, Phone, etc.), requiring a 2nd round of clearing. Meanwhile, many alerts seem to vanish without a trace. The big button for a manually set Alarm on the lock screen is “snooze” whereas tapping the banner cancels. The equivalent for Timer is “stop” while snooze is renamed “repeat” at the bottom. Additionally, if you happen to press Power, Volume, Home, etc. at the instant an alarm or phone call alert triggers, you may never see or hear it.

3rd party apps such as BusyCal and Due have obvious advantages, but why is the built-in functionality so limited at this point in iOS development? I need the ability to silence sounds for specific conversations in Messages, but retain lock screen notifications. This cannot be done in iOS.

A calendar notification might pop up 15 minutes ahead of a Zoom meeting, but after glancing at it, I go back to what I’m writing

These reminders do not work for anyone. The reason that people attend meetings on time is that there are consequences for tardiness. Bringing the corporate model back to this, you would put in a performance improvement plan to attend meetings on time. Measure your current tardiness rate, decide an acceptable one, and then try to achieve it. You can start each meeting with a report on Adam’s Attendance. Perhaps your plan of changing the alert modality is your action plan, but if that worked in the corporate world this would not be a problem.

Allen Gainsford
I’d settle for having persistent alarms continue to show up on all my devices until I explicitly dismiss them.

Alert fatigue is often compounded when alerts are sent to multiple devices. In my experience, I am still getting too many alerts on multiple devices. Is there really any reason for text messages to show up on the computer? Even answering the phone on my iPad is generally a poor choice. I must admit, I didn’t think that Apple had set that up very well - so if some think there needs to be more device crosstalk and others think there needs to be less, then perhaps Apple has done a good job.

For pretty much all the meetings I attend, I’m the boss. :slight_smile: Which is why I’m trying to find a fix for a technological situation that doesn’t meet my needs.

1 Like

Adam, try Due; its persistence is what is amazing; it is supposed to have some kind of relationship with Reminders but Reminders and I don’t get along very well.

I use it along side Fantastical and its language parser is excellent. I add a Due reminder when I JUST CAN’T FORGET something already in my calendar or Reminders.

It is super tweakable and relentless. Let us know what you think!

ALERT! It’s in SetApp which I know you have.

How timely. I missed a meeting today because none of my three calendar alerts sounded off and I was watching my phone and watch.

I have Sound selected on all devices Iwatch, iPhone, iPad, and MBP. The chosen sound was Chord, a single tone. Not enough. So I’m setting it to a classic sound caller Update. It plays a loud brief tune.

This is really frustrating. I’m retired and my calendar was primarily empty. I’ve recently signed up for some committee meetings on my HOA and now need alerts.

As for devices, I wear my watch all day and sometimes forget to take my phone with me. I’d like an alert to happen when I’m 15 yds away from my phone (I don’t have a cellular phone). I see the watch as this device; needs to the “in charge” of sounding off.

All active devices light up when a phone call comes. Why should alerts be different?
Mike

For this I use Alexa with an Echo devices in my house. I even have Echo Auto in my car. The basic units are reasonably priced and often on sale. They also support Apple Calendar which means that you can dictate an event or appointment to Alexa and it will appear in your calendar. Alexa has replaced all my timers as you can have multiple timers or alarms and label them. You can also snooze an alert or alarm by voice and set or change the volume by voice as well as setting up repeat alarms.

At the risk of being redundant, here’s another voice in support of Due. I’ve used, and loved it, for years. It excels at nagging reminders, too.

I also had the frustration of missing notifications, up until I realized that the Summary feature was suppressing them until later in the day!

I was coming here to recommend Due, but I see I’m late to the party.

Due has an Auto Import feature that will automatically import from specific lists in Reminders. I don’t know if it imports from calendar events. I used Auto Import years ago but now I have a Shortcut called “Gotta do” that automatically adds things to Due.

1 Like

Another vote for Due. I’ve been using it for years for its persistent nagging. It only requires the discipline not to mark things done unless you’ve really done them :crazy_face:

2 Likes