How to use Apple’s new (and much better) Reminders app

Apple's improved Reminders app for Mac, iPhone and iPad is now much more useful.

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Leif Johnson/IDG

Apple has made some excellent improvements to the Reminders application for Macs, iPhones and iPads, though it works a little differently and you need to upgrade all the devices you use with the system to get the most from it.

What's changed?

The new version of Reminders makes the software more useful for more tasks.

A limited feature-set made it more of a personal reminder system until now, but the latest improvements make it more valuable for work-related task handling.

Some of the main features in this release (explained in more detail below) include:

  • Smart lists. The main screen shows four smart lists (Today, Scheduled, Flagged and All) that make it easier find upcoming reminders.
  • A new quick toolbar that offers buttons for time, date, locations and more.
  • Support for sub-tasks: Every reminder can have subtasks.
  • Different Reminder lists: Work, school, home, medication, for example.
  • Shared lists.
  • New colors, a search tool and reminders from within apps.

Most of the features work in more or less the same fashion on Macs as they do on Apple’s mobile devices, though the desktop versions benefit from additional display space.

The Notifications during messages feature is very useful. Turn it on and you will receive a reminder when you are speaking to someone in Messages. As an example, Apple talks about a reminder to send a flight itinerary to someone during a Messages conversation.

wwdc ios13 reminders Apple

I’ve heard you need to upgrade all your devices?

This is true.

The upgraded Reminders app requires that you also upgrade all the devices you use in order to access he latest features. This means that iCloud reminders are only available on your other devices if they are running the latest software; reminders created on devices that do not run the latest software will only be visible on other devices running that version of the software.

In practice, this means that if you set a reminder on an iPad running iOS 12 you won’t receive it on an iPhone running iOS 13 or a Mac running macOS Catalina. If you create a reminder on your Catalina Mac, you won’t get it on your iOS 12 iPad Pro, but will on all your other devices running the latest OSes.

When you update an old device to the latest software, any new reminders created on the device in the old iOS will be lost. And if you create a reminder on a device running the latest edition of the application without actually opening it (such as setting a reminder with Siri) those reminders will also be lost when you launch the app.

How is this set up?

  • The easiest way to avoid this complexity is to choose when you want to upgrade all your devices first and then do so at about the same time.
  • When you do, you should then open Reminders on each device in turn and upgrade it to the latest version of the app.
  • When you launch the app, a Welcome to Reminders note will appear, where you can upgrade now or later.
  • Do not set new reminders until you have updated all your devices and launched the app for the first time.
  • You can always see reminders stored on iCloud online.

The upgrade process does not affect CalDAV and Exchange accounts.

How to create reminders

There are three primary ways to create new reminders:

  • In the Reminders app.
  • With Siri.
  • Using the Share pane from within an app.

In the Reminders app

Open the app and tap the list you want to add a reminder to, or tap Add List to create a new list of reminders. Tap the Plus/New Reminder button, write your reminder and tap Done. When you create a reminder inside the app, you also gain access to the quick toolbar.

Using Siri

You can ask Siri to set reminders. If you have set your home or work address in Contacts then Siri will understand location-based reminders, also. You can also ask Siri to “remind you about this” while within another app.

Via the Share pane

You can set reminders from within other apps. Tap the Share button and type the reminder. Tap Details and in the subsequent screen you can set priorities, add the reminder to a specific list and choose date, time and enable alarms for that reminder.

How to edit a reminder

When you look through your lists of reminders you will see a circled "I" to the right of each one. Tap that item to edit the reminder.

The edit menu lets you define places day, date, time and locations for reminders. You can also add notes, include a URL and set priority. It is also possible to set different notification times and frequencies.

quick toolbar reminders ios 13 Leif Johnson/IDG

Here's what you'll see when you press each of the buttons on the toolbar.

How do Smart lists work?

Smart lists are four pre-chosen collections of reminders that show automatically on the main Reminders screen. Tap on the Today, Scheduled, Flagged or All reminders buttons to find reminders drawn from across all your reminders lists.

For example, if you have work and personal reminders, and need to take your medication every few hours, you should find all those reminders in the Today item.

Using the quick toolbar

The quick toolbar pops up when you type a new reminder. It shows you which list you are in and the contents of your reminder. It provides tools to set time and data, and to  define locations for location-based reminders (Arriving Home, Arriving Work, Getting in Car and Custom).

You can also flag reminders and add attachments to them in the form of photos from yor photo library, camera, or scanned using your camera.

What are subtasks?

Subtasks are reminders that live inside the main reminder. Think of these like the smaller tasks you need to complete in order to finish a larger task. There are three ways to create these:

  • Tap a reminder, tap the edit button, then tap Subtasks and write a new reminder.
  • Press and hold a reminder and then drag it onto another reminder to turn it into a subtask for the destination reminder.
  • Swipe right on an existing reminder and tap Indent. This turns that reminder into a subtask for the reminder that is situated directly above it on the list.

Where can I find more information?

Apple has published two extensive guides to using Reminders on Mac, iPad and iPhone.

I do hope this helps you make more use of Reminders on Mac, iPhone and iPad.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

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