Reminders: Built-in Task Management With iOS 5

It’s true that we review a lot of productivity apps over here on iPhone.AppStorm. There are apps that offer a new form of syncing, apps that keep your to-do lists in different ways or boast a new interface that the developers believe will help you get things done. Wading through the App Store can be hard, and Apple is here to help with your need for a to-do app.

Meet Reminders, the brand new app that is included with every install of iOS 5. With advanced features and a familiar interface, Apple is hoping that Reminders will be simple enough to be used by anyone, but powerful enough to be used by everyone. Have they produced an app worthy of being placed on every install, or did they forget to make Reminders worthwhile? Read on and find out.


I’m torn with Reminders’ interface, as there are aspects that I like and aspects that I simply can’t stand. I’m not generally a fan of apps that take after real-world counterparts in overt ways, but something about Reminders looks well designed where others feel tacky.

Reminders is heavy with the real-world influence, and tries to toe the line between the digital and analogue world.

Reminders is heavy with the real-world influence, and tries to toe the line between the digital and analogue world.

That said, I wish that the “paper” aspect of the app were emphasized more than it is. The border shaves off precious pixels, making the area where you can actually interact feel smaller than other apps. Sure, it looks nice, but it also makes me feel cramped and wastes the iPhone’s screen space. That said, I’m glad that the default typeface is Helvetica Neue instead of Marker Felt or Noteworthy, as it is with the Notes app; Apple clearly learned from past mistakes.

All-in-all, I feel that Reminders’ interface is strictly middle of the road. It’s not that bad, and I’ve certainly seen worse; it’s just that there’s so much potential here that’s wasted by faux leather.

Inputting Tasks

Getting your tasks into the app is a cinch; all you have to do is tap the Plus button on the top of any list (more on that later) and you can begin entering your tasks or other list items. I like that it’s possible to put more tasks in by simply hitting the Return key, making it easy on your fingers and saving some time.

Getting your tasks into the app is easy, as it should be.

Getting your tasks into the app is easy, as it should be.

Unfortunately, once your tasks are in the app they can be a pain to deal with. There’s no way to move apps after they’ve been put into a list, so you have to make sure you get it right the first time. Some form of Edit command here would have been helpful more than a few times, and I am shocked that the functionality isn’t present.

Custom lists make it easier to get granular control over your tasks.

Custom lists make it easier to get granular control over your tasks.

As mentioned above, tasks are organized into Lists. By default there’s a Reminders list and a Completed list, with the option to add more as you see fit. I look at lists in much the same way that others look at contexts or projects; each one pertains to a certain area of life, offering a degree of sanity to what can quickly become a jumbled mess. I don’t have any complaints with lists, besides the fact that some of the wasted interface that I mentioned above is dedicated to showing you which list you’re currently on via a dot-interface.

Seeing What Needs to Get Done

You’re offered, by default, two different ways to view your tasks. There’s a List view, which is the main view for the app, and there’s the Date view, which can be accessed via the top buttons in the list view.

Seeing your tasks ordered by day can be handy if you have multiple lists.

Seeing your tasks ordered by day can be handy if you have multiple lists.

What’s unique about the Date view is that it will pull the items from all of your lists and organize them into a Today view and then you can use the scrubber along the bottom to quickly change days. This is useful for many people that like to keep a Today list, and also lets you view other items as well. One of my favorite features of the app is the Calendar that pops up on command in the Date view.

Reminders' calendar view looks better than the default Calendar app

Reminders' calendar view looks better than the default Calendar app

The Calendar makes it even easier to jump to a specific date and view the items that you’ve put into the app. This specific part of the app looks really nice, and I prefer it to the default calendar view (and even a few of the other calendar apps that can be installed). Viewing your tasks for a day is as easy as tapping on the date, saving you a number of swipes on the bottom scrubber.

What Did I Need to Get at the Grocery Store Again?

The biggest thing introduced with Reminders are location-based tasks. Apple can perform what they call a geo-fence around a given area, and trigger a reminder to be pushed to you once you leave or arrive. In my tests this worked really well if the phone was paying attention when I input the location; sometimes it gets a little iffy.

Let’s say, for example, that you want to call your mom once you leave your house and tell her that you’re on your way. You’ve got three kids screaming in your ears excited to see grandma, and the last thing on your mind is calling her to let her know that you’ve left. With Reminders this isn’t an issue, as you can set a notification to alert you when you leave your house, saving you some arguing once you actually get to grandma’s house.

The geo-fencing done by Reminders is useful in many ways.

The geo-fencing done by Reminders is useful in many ways.

On the flipside, let’s say that you want to text someone once you get to the town library. Just set the location-based reminder to “When I arrive” and you’re good to go; a notification will be pushed to your phone once you get to where you need to go.

The use cases for this seem, to me, to be endless. It’s going to be harder than ever to forget what you need to pick up at the grocery store, and it really feels like the future to have your phone know when to tell you to do something.

Input via Siri (On the iPhone 4S)

Being able to enter reminders through Siri is far and away my favorite feature of this app. While it isn’t always perfect, I can really see Reminders being used in conjunction with a more professional solution like OmniFocus or Things based solely on the convenience that Siri and Reminders offers.

Telling your phone to set a reminder for you really feels like the future.

Telling your phone to set a reminder for you really feels like the future.

Let’s say that I’m in the car, and I can’t use my phone to enter a reminder. By holding down a button on my headset, I can say “Remind me to pick up toilet paper at the grocery store” and Siri will grab what I’ve said, clean it up, and create a reminder for me. It’s that simple.

I can’t even count how many times I’ve used this feature in the little bit of time I’ve spent with the 4S. If you have the new phone, using Siri and Reminders together (assuming it’s available in your country) is really a no-brainer, and when it’s combined with location-based reminders you really feel as though you’re in the future.

So, Is It Worth Using?

That depends on what you need from a to-do app. If you’re looking for something that strictly follows the GTD system, or you require separate contexts and areas of responsibility and tagging, your main needs are going to be better served by something like OmniFocus. Many people may not use Reminders as their main to-do app based on that, but I foresee it getting a lot of use.

One way that it’s going to get used is for location-based reminders. While OmniFocus supports location-based reminders many other apps don’t (yet) and since it was built right alongside Reminders, the functionality still feels like it will work better with Apple’s app. Another way is with Siri, which offers the fastest way to enter tasks that we’ve seen yet. Telling your phone to remind you of something and having it actually complete that task is amazing.

Beyond that, I see Reminders as a secondary application. Sure, many people may have other to-do apps, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t keep a grocery list in Reminders, or update some wishlist or daily chores. While it’s a simple app that isn’t perfect, with a little bit of tweaking Reminders is excellent for just about anybody; right now it’s fine for most people, and that’s what it was trying to do in the first place.


Reminders is a new app from Apple that makes it easy to maintain a task list, grocery list, or any sort of item-based system.

  • Luke

    The four issues I’ve found with reminders are:

    1) Entering a reminder and a notification criteria for a reminder requires far to many steps. Enter the reminder, click done, click on the reminder, click on remind me, select criteria, click done, click done. What the hell?

    2) You can’t swipe delete. I’m so used to swipe deleting things in lists on the iPhone, but it doesn’t work in reminders.

    3) The notifications are great, or at least they would be, if I ever noticed them. I little bing/buzz in my pocket is no good, I need it to bug me until I’ve picked my phone up and pressed something. (is there a setting for this anywhere?)

    4) Location notifications don’t seem to repeat if I go back to the location. I’d like it so that if I miss the tiny buzz in my pocket the first time, then, if I’ve not crossed off the reminder, when I go back the next time, it should try again.

    oh, and a fifth:

    5) more repeat options would be nice, like ‘Every Week Day’, ‘Every x Day of Month’, etc.

    • Trevor

      There’s a similar app for iPhone 3GS, it’s called “Im Nearby!”. There’s a free version and a paid version, but both accomplish the task of a Location based reminder, or even a location based text message to anyone you want. It’s pretty useful, and it addresses most of the issues on your list.

      Hope that helps you Luke :)

  • Alex

    Dito all that.

    What I would also like is a way to tell Reminders to bug me in XX Minutes (I would also love to have that in iCal). And the Reminders should be snooze-able.

  • Mary E

    I love the new Reminders for my iPhone and iPad but have one issue. I need a third Reminders app for my Mac. Prior to IOS5, I was using Evernote. With it on my Mac, iPad and iPhone, I could enter a list or reminder on any of the 3 and have it available. I would love to have this functionality with Reminders.

    • zlawell

      I was with you ’til I read a review of Reminders, don’t remember where, anyway the DT app is at

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  • Jonathan

    One issue that I’ve run into that keeps me from using it is a problem with location services. I live in a big building, so the address that I keep on my card in address book is my proper address, while the iPhone thinks I live in an address nearby. Consequently, I can’t use it to remind me to do things when I get home, (and that is the most appealing feature of the app). Does anyone have this problem too?

  • Lee Christensen

    Sadly, location-based notifications are not available on the 3GS

  • Tim Stringer

    That’s for the great article, Nathaniel – you make some great points. Notifications is useful as a basic task manager, and certainly has room to grow. I may use Reminders for the occasional, well, reminder – especially if I’m using Siri. Though I’ll continue to use OmniFocus as my task manager, and am happy to see that the OmniFocus for iPhone now supports location-based reminders.

    One correction – GTD is an approach to productivity and not a system. A “GTD system” is an implementation of the GTD approach, which may include tools such as Reminders, Calendar and OmniFocus (or even pen and paper). It’s a subtle, but important distinction.

    • Nathaniel Mott

      First, thanks! I’m glad that you enjoyed the review.

      My apologies so far as saying ‘GTD System’; I often think of the two in tandem, and my fingers will travel faster than I can think to correct that, as you pointed out, subtle difference.

  • Apple Umbrella

    they should update as per iPhone 4S generation over-all useful review.

  • Nathaniel Mott

    Hopefully those problems you guys have brought up will be addressed in future updates. The app is far from perfect, but for Apple’s first effort in this area it is well designed and works fairly well. I have a suspicion that it was developed in tandem with Siri, so the problems that we have that require too many taps are a result of the GUI being an afterthought of sorts.

    I also agree that there should be a Mac version, as I rarely open iCal (I hate that faux leather, and Fantastical gives me quick access to a calendar at any time). Hopefully some third-party will design an app that can sync with Reminders on the Mac.

  • Sebastian

    In my version of Reminders, I can reorganize Tasks, by tapping them and selecting another list. Is that not present in your version?

  • Driver

    Don’t read the book ‘Drive’. It’s awful and the film is 1000000x better. Trust me.

  • Michelle Harris

    My reminder lists keep disappearing, I entered several different lists the other day with reminders and due dates, today, they are all gone. Just a little bit frustrating.

  • Adam

    Mee too!!!

    What did you do?

  • Will

    I’m new to reminders, but a big setback I’ve found is that I can only set a reminder to either the current location or to an existing address in my contacts list. What if I need to be reminded of something when I’m at a one-off location (say, after I finish an appointment with a client?
    (don’t tell me I should have all my clients’ addresses in my phone book… what if we met for a business lunch at a restaurant?)

  • Syamsul

    Is there no way to re-order Tasks in Reminders, or did I miss it? o_O

  • Bobbyh

    I have a strange problem with reminders. I set one to go off when I arrived home. I later deleted it but it still keeps popping up every time I come home! It is not visible in my reminders list so I can’t delete the damn thing. If I do a search within the Reminders app I find it but I cannot delete it from the search field. I have no idea where this thing is living (doesn’t show up in iCal either though the other real reminders do in the side panel). Looks like I’m doomed to have this reminder go off for the rest of my life every time I come home!

    • Simon

      I have the same problem, driving me mad. Please let me know if you find a solution!

    • matthew

      I have the same problem as well, glad to hear im not alone in this issue. Anyone found an answer.

  • Mike

    This is NOT task-management. You cannot do even the most rudimentary things, such as get a list of all uncompleted tasks. (You can look at all your completed tasks – big whoop.) It is called “Reminders”, but, if you categorize your tasks, i.e., MANAGE them, by creating Task Lists, you cannot set reminders without moving them to the Reminder List! The only way to get a “today” list is to set dates for each entry, which, as mentioned above, is a hassle. Perhaps Reminders is really good for voice entry on an iPhone (I have an iPad), but, with a bit of fore-thought and design, it could be also be a handy tool to help me with my ToDos. Apple, you let us down here!

    • Mike

      My mistake: You CAN set “reminders” when you entry tasks on a Task List. I was misreading this function as setting “due dates”, which is what you would have in a time-management system.

  • euqi

    this one of my favourite application



  • Linda Fogle

    My reminders disappear….help!

  • Anon

    I agree about the buzz. Before finding this review, I checked to see I there were any options in the app and also checked the settings app. You can change the look of the reminder, but there is no “alarm” or “ringtone” that can be chosen. A buzz just doesn’t get my attention. Hopefully, it will be added in the next release.

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  • wils

    sometimes the notification doesn’t show properly if havent completed a reminder it should show the number on the app straight away(as like the app store when you need to update apps). but sometimes it takes time to recognise it

  • Timothy Tennent

    My Reminders will suddenly disappear and I can’t get them back.
    It is hard to rely upon it until I can solve this issue. I’ve lost dozens of reminders
    Into the thin air of cyberspace!

    • Teri Elmendorf Givens

      I’ve had this same problem, and I do use it for GTD so I can’t have things disappearing because it throws my whole productivity off. Did you ever find a fix for it or find a way to restore them?

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