A few months ago, Google launched a new design for Google Calendar—and frankly, it was long overdue. Google Calendar has been using the same interface for ages, and the new one is nice and modern…except it’s missing Google Calendar’s best feature: adding events with natural language, like “Dinner with Mom at 6pm”.
There’s a tendency on the internet for everyone to scream “This is awful!” every time a website or service changes their design. It’s often unwarranted. People just don’t like change, and most of these complaints are overblown.
This is not one of those times.
Google Calendar’s Natural Language Processing Is Gone from the Web
I’m usually not one to cry foul at every new design, but in this case, Google has gotten rid of an actual feature that used to exist, and for reasons I can’t quite understand. Its natural language processing just doesn’t work anymore.
Here’s how it worked in the old Google Calendar: you could add an event with the text “Dinner with Mom at 6pm”…
…and it would create an event called “Dinner with Mom”, at 6:00 PM on the day you selected.
In the new design, however, you can still create an event called “Dinner with Mom at 6pm”…
…but Google Calendar will just create an all-day event called “Dinner with Mom at 6pm”. This is not even remotely the same thing, and it’s far less useful.
It does let you set the time and duration of the event in the popup window (unlike the old design), but for the enlightened souls that use keyboard shortcuts for everything, this is actually significantly slower—instead of keeping your hands on the keyboard for everything, you have to type, then click…click…click…click. And it’s infuriating.
Update: As of February 2018, Google has added a portion of this feature to the new interface! If you click on a day and enter an event with a time attached, it will now recognize that time as the time of the event. It still can’t recognize locations, but it’s a good start.
It Still Exists on Mobile and with the Chrome Extension
Strangely, this feature does still exist—just not on the standalone web version of Google Calendar.
If you install the Google Calendar Chrome extension, you can access a small version of Google Calendar from your toolbar and add events using natural language, just like the old days.
In addition, the Google Calendar apps on iPhone and Android seem to put a big stress on natural language. As you type an event, it will suggest changes to the event based on what you type. So if you type “Dinner with Cameron”, it’ll offer you the option to add Cameron to the event. And if you say “At 6pm”, it won’t automatically set the event to 6:00 PM, but it will give you an option for one-tap time setting. This works pretty well on mobile, since it’s all touch-based anyway.
So this feature isn’t gone everywhere—just the web. That means that sadly, the Chrome Address Bar trick doesn’t work anymore either.
Google, Bring This Back!
Thankfully, the old calendar is still an option…for now. (Just click the Settings cog in the upper right-hand corner and choose “Back to Classic Calendar”.) But Google doesn’t say anything about this new design being “in beta” or “in testing”…it just says that this is the new Google Calendar, which worries me.
We know Google hasn’t abandoned natural language processing—in fact, they’re probably investing in it more than ever before thanks to Google Assistant and Google Home. This isn’t a decision based on resources, it’s a design decision, and I just don’t get it.
If you’re as befuddled as I am, be sure to click the Settings > Send Feedback option in the new calendar design and let Google know what you want. Hopefully they’ll listen.