Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Google and time zones: Calendar oddities on the iPhone

I view my Google Calendar three different ways, and depending on the view I see appointments at different times. It turns out this is not as bad as I first thought when I wrote ...
Gordon's Tech: gSyncit for Outlook 2007 to Google Calendar and Contacts Sync

... Not yet characterized, but there are time zone problems. I think Google Calendar tries to be 'smart' about the time zone one is currently in. Big mistake. Correction -- this isn't a gSyncit/Outlook problem. I think this is a Google Calendar quirk depending on the time zone settings on the web client host machine....
First, some background. Our family Google Calendar repository is being updated from four streams (no over-the-air iPhone sync, damnit): (see also)
  1. XP Outlook/exchange to Google Calendar via gSyncit
  2. OS X iCal to Google Calendar via Spanning Sync (and iPhone to iCal via Apple's damned sync cable. [2])
  3. Blackberry Pearl to Google Calendar via the BB Google author calendar sync app
  4. Direct data entry via Google's various web interfaces including the little appreciated and under-marketed Google Apps iPhone mobile interface.
If this sounds risky and complex please see footnote [1].

I am shocked that this setup actually works, but it does. It's held together by duct tape and bailing wire of course, but so was my father's Valiant and it drove us around for years. Blood will tell.

Or does it work? I was seeing events appearing at different times depending on how I viewed the data:
  1. Google Calendar via desktop Firefox
  2. Google Calendar via iPhone Safari connection Google's semi-secret high powered Google Apps web calendar view.
  3. Google Appls iPhone optimized web view
It turnes out that, behind the scenes, Google Calendar is doing quite a bit of time zone work, but it behaves differently depending on how you access it. From the iPhone it uses the phone's local time zone information -- so appointments always shift to local time. From a browser it uses the time zone setting associated with your Google Calendar settings. You do remember that option, right?

Google ought to make this more explicit in the UI; Google Calendar should at least display the active time zone with the ability to change it from the calendar. Still, it's impressive that this works at all.

The trick will be remembering to change my Google Calendar settings time zone back to central time when I get home ...

[1] I could write a book on the state and evolution of family/work calendar integration/ synchronization and all the lessons it holds for health care IT, system integration, the semantic web, the future of publicly traded companies, interconnected complex adaptive systems, and the implications for human progress. Andrew accuses me of making the simple complex, but my take is that reality is recursive and all simplicity is an illusion over the supremely complex. I don't have time to write the book, but I'm due to put some hints into Gordon's Notes. Now back to the topic ...

[2] Damned because of the side-effects of Apple's Digital Rights Management lockdown of the cable interface and failure to provide a vendor-useable API / sync framework.

Update 11/10/08: Ok, this is creepy. Now I'm seeing new time zone related options in the Calendar settings. They don't seem to be doing anything to the Calendar I see, but I didn't notice them yesterday ....


Randy Orrison said...

Is no-one else frustrated by the hoops calendar programs jump through to handle time zones? I want my calendar (in whatever form) to work the way I do - on local time. By that I mean if I put in an appointment for 2pm, it means 2pm wherever I happen to be at the time. If I'm traveling to Minnesota to have dinner with my Mom at 5pm, I just want to put "5pm dinner with mom" - I don't want to have to think about the fact that because I'm in the UK as I enter it, I have to enter it as 11pm, or tell it what timezone I'm in or going to be in then.
Just do the same thing as a paper diary would: 5pm: Dinner.

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely frustrated similarly. I entered in my entire college schedule, and then moved, and now everything is screwy.