Amazon Echo talks to Google Calendar (and you)

Continuing its drumbeat of adding new features to its intriguing Amazon Echo product, Amazon has now linked calendar items to the Echo interface. Here's our quick review.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
"Alexa, what's on my schedule for today?"

"On David's calendar, today there is one event. There is writing, which lasts all day."

Yep, I'll be writing all day. Somehow, it seems just slightly more dire when Alexa puts it in those monotonic tones. All... day... Some people get Sundays off. On the other hand, if I took today "off," I'd be spending it in the yard, in the sun, in 90+ degrees. Okay, fine. All day writing is a win. Rather than lugging paving stones, I'm sitting here in air conditioned comfort, the puppy asleep on my shoulder, telling you about Alexa's latest talent.

You can now ask your Amazon Echo to summarize your schedule. You can also interact with the occasionally obstinate obsidian Pringles can to get details beyond tomorrow's schedule. For example, you can ask, "Alexa, what's on my calendar for Thursday?"

In addition to specific days, you can ask about specific times. You can even go out to a specific date. When I asked what I had on June 16, Alexa told me how many events I have, what I have scheduled at specific times, and even that I also have an all-day event scheduled (more writing).

You can also ask what's coming up next, either via "What's my next event" or "What's next on my calendar."

Setting it up

You can set up the link to your Google Calendar via the echo.amazon.com interface. Go to Settings, then Calendar Services. You'll be asked to link your Google account (and give the usual Google permissions). Once you've done that, you're up and running.

Alexa giveth and Alexa taketh away

Like most features on the Echo, this one shows amazing promise but is still a bit crude. On the plus side, it will read you all of your scheduled events, regardless of which calendar they're on. I use different calendars to manage my very insane schedule, and the Echo was able to read all that were my native calendars, but did not (probably rightly) read me my linked calendars.

What the Echo did not do was distinguish between the calendars. So it didn't say Event 1 was on my main calendar, Event 2 was on my personal calendar, and Event 3 was on my tentative schedule calendar. But that's okay. For a quick reminder of what's coming up, it's very helpful.

On the other hand, Alexa does not provide calendar linkage for other family members. While I (as the registered purchaser of the Echo) can have my appointments read back to me, my wife can not, even though she has a profile on the Echo. Calendar Services is not an option for her linked account via echo.amazon.com.

Amazon needs to work on its prioritization of household features. These devices are meant to live at the center of a household and if only one person can query upcoming calendar events, the other folks in the family are likely to get annoyed (and have, thank you very much, Amazon!).

As much as I think this is a cool feature, I sure wish Amazon would have waited to release it until my wife could also query her events from her profile. I'm guessing some of the Amazon Echo engineers aren't yet married.

Even so, it's fun to suddenly have a whole new capability show up out of the blue.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

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