It’s easy to feel – and be – more productive with Siri. But, how many times have you wanted to use Siri’s phenomenal ability to create a quick appointment, only to be thwarted by your third-party calendar? Tired of the work-around of creating the appointment with Siri on the fly, and then copying/pasting it into a third-party calendar? Read on, because I’ve tested the following solution over the last month or so, and it is consistently effective.

The Problem

The problem is Siri doesn’t talk to third-party calendars, like Pocket Informant (which is what I’ve used for years). As much as I love Siri, I don’t love it enough to give up Pocket Informant for the native calendar. But I also love Siri’s ability to create appointments on the fly, regardless of what I’m doing, as long as I can be heard clearly enough. I got tired of using Siri to create notes and then pasting them manually into the calendar. That’s hardly an elegant solution, and none of the others generally available in the discussion groups work well, either.

The Solution

Knowing that Pocket Information syncs quite well with Google Calendar, and that the native iOS calendar also syncs quite well with Google calendar, it occurred to me that I ought to be able to figure out how to get the two calendars to talk to each other using Google Calendar as the go-between. It took a few tries across half an hour or so to get it working the way I wanted, but from there it was all smooth sailing to tweak a few settings.

Here’s what I did, using a combination of Google’s recommendations for setting up syncing in general, and a few tweaks I tried along the way:

Set up Google Sync with your iOS device

  1. On your iPhone, go to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars, select Add Account, select Microsoft Exchange.  Yes, really. (If you already have an Exchange account set up and aren’t running iOS 4 yet, either upgrade to iOS 4 or search the Google help for additional instructions on setting up another sync type.)
  2. Enter your complete Google email address in the Email field, leave Domain blank, enter your full address as the email address, and put your password in the appropriate spot.  Two-step password users should use an application-specific password rather than the primary password.
  3. Press Next, press Cancel if “Unable to verify certificate” appears, enter “m.google.com” in the Server field, and press Next again.
  4. Select the Google services you want to sync (Mail, Contacts, and/or Calendar).  In this case, you definitely need Calendar and you’ll need mail if you want to respond to meeting requests using this mechanism.  New Eventsneeds to be enabled in your Google Calendar Settings. (To enable New events, sign in to your Google Calendar using the web browser on your phone or computer. Go to Calendar Settings > Calendars  and click on the Notifications for the calendar you want to sync. Under Email check New events (and any of the other Invitation settings you want enabled, and click Save.)
  5. At this point, there are several options for syncing (and retaining or deleting) the contacts on your iOS device. Since I set this up on mine long after establishing my contacts database on the phone, I wanted to retain my iCloud contacts. In order to do that, select the Keep on my iPhone option when prompted. This will also allow you to keep syncing with your computer via iTunes. The other options allow you to variously delete and replace the contacts on your phone with those from your Google account, or replace them in the other direction.

Set up Google Sync with the iOS calendar

At this point, we now need to tell the phone to sync the iOS calendar with Google.

  1. Open Safari on your iPhone and go to http://m.google.com
  2. Sign in and select the device you’ve associated with your Google account.

Set up Google Sync with your third-party calendar

You only need to do this once, so if you’ve already done it (as I had), you don’t need to do it again. The instructions will be calendar-specific, so there are far too many calendars available to list them all here. If your calendar supports Google sync, the built-in help or a quick search online will return the instructions.

Since I had many customized categories in Pocket Information and these don’t sync to Google (yet), and there was no way to effectively get them all to the iOS calendar or to tell Siri to use them, I have to do this step manually. However, since I already conduct a calendar review as part of my personal productivity routine, assigning the single category I typically use to flag particular appointments isn’t a big deal for me.

Fix the alarms and categories in iOS

Since I wanted Pocket Informant to be the alarm manager as my primary calendar, I needed to silence the alarms, popups, notification center behavior, and badge counters in the native iOS app just to cut down on clutter and keep things neat.  That took only a few minutes, and a bit of frustration as I dealt with duplicate alarms because I chose to make all of these changes during a time of the day where I have recurrent reminders set. I also changed the default colors for the iOS default categories to match the same colors I use in Pocket Informant, which further reduced the changes I needed to make when minor final tweaks to a voice-created appointment were processed.

Once consistent snag I seem to encounter is recurrent alarms that were set before I implemented this automatic multi-sync solution don’t always go off. An irritating, but effective, solution is to delete the recurrent appointment and recreate it, which seems to have solved the problem in every case where I’ve tried it.

You can read more about Siri’s effectiveness in CM Smth’s Lifehack article, 30 Days with Siri.

Featured photo credit: Annette Shaff / Shutterstock.com and inline photo by junyaogura via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)<

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