Location-based reminders are the best thing ever

The Location-based reminder is my favorite feature of iOS 5, and I never realized I wanted it. Fortunately, Steve Jobs did.

Former Apple Evangelist Guy Kawasaki recently shared insights he learned from Steve Jobs, including Steve’s conviction that customers do not know what they want.

“’Apple market research’ is an oxymoron. The Apple focus group was the right hemisphere of Steve’s brain talking to the left one. If you ask customers what they want, they will tell you, ‘Better, faster, and cheaper’—that is, better sameness, not revolutionary change. They can describe their desires only in terms of what they are already using—around the time of the introduction of Macintosh, all that people said they wanted was a better, faster, and cheaper MS-DOS machine. The richest vein for tech startups is creating the product that you want to use—that’s what Steve and Woz did.”

I depend on reminder apps. If you had asked me to describe what I want in a perfect reminder app, I’d list simple task creation, dependability, multi-device sync and so on. That’s exactly what Guy describes: I listed my desires in terms of what I’m already using. I never would have said, “Place a geofence around a given location and prompt me to act upon arriving at leaving that spot,” but it turns out that’s precisely what the perfect reminder app should do.

In fact, this solves my personal fail point with most reminder apps. Recording reminders is the easy part. Remembering to look at the list when I most need to isn’t.

Time-based tasks don’t need a geofence. “Check the mailbox at 2:00” is simple to pull off. Just ensure that the iPhone will prompt me to get the mail at 2:00. But that doesn’t work for many tasks.

For example, my wife says, “Make sure you check the mail today.” I figure I’ll do that after I get the kids from the school bus. The bus arrives between 2:10 and 2:19. If I set the reminder for 2:10 and the bus doesn’t arrive until 2:19, buy the time I get the kids off of the bus, chat with the other parents and make my way back to the car, it’s 2:30 and I’m wrapped up in discussing the kids’ school day.

And I’ve forgotten about the mail.

On the other hand, if I tell the iPhone, “Tell me to get the mail when I leave the bus stop,” I’m all but guaranteed to complete the task. As I pull away, it prompts me to swing by the post office.

I’ve used this feature so much in the past 48 hours I don’t know how I functioned without it. Yesterday I was picking up sandwiches when I received a text from a friend, asking my wife to call his wife. I set a reminder to discuss it with my wife once I got home. Again, I couldn’t predict exactly when that would happen. When I arrived at home, the message appeared and I completed the task successfully.

Location-based reminders are the greatest thing ever, yet Apple gilds the lily with Siri. The time it takes me to click a button and say, “Remind me to tell Mia about Joe’s text when I get home” is negligible.

Guy is right, I did not know what I wanted in a reminder app. I’m very glad Steve did.