November 24, 2014

FixIt!: Google Calendar and time zones

One of the best features of Android is the integration with Google’s services. If you are using Gmail and Google Calendar, you will like the fact that everything will be seamlessly synchronized between the cloud and your Android device. The issue is that any problems on one side will be duplicated on the other side; i.e. if your contacts in Gmail are a mess with duplicates and redundancies… they will be exactly like that on your Android.

One of the major weaknesses of Google Calendar is the lack of time zone tuning when you create new events. To illustrate this, let me tell you a story.

Last December, I went with my family for few days to Brussels (GMT +1) coming from Dublin (GMT). I had created events a few weeks earlier in Google Calendar for our flights with the reservation numbers, thanks to online checking I didn’t have to carry print-outs and could have everything on my HTC Hero. On the way to Brussels, an early morning flight and the buzz associated with the few days of holidays didn’t make me notice there was something wrong with my arrival time (it seemed we arrived earlier than planned). After few days, it was time to go back to Dublin, I checked the calendar in Android, the flight was planned for about 11.00am. We took our time but still were at the airport early only to be surprised when we realized that the time for our flight was not 11.00am but 10.00am… We didn’t have the time for a nice breakfast after all and made it to the plane with little time to spare! I should not have been caught up like this but I guess I had too much faith in Google Calendar.

When I had input the times for the flights on my computer, Google Calendar associated these with Dublin time (GMT) but once in Brussels, the HTC Hero changed automatically the time to GMT+1, as expected, but additionally changed the time for ALL the events in the calendar so that they stayed on GMT (Dublin time). So the return flight was 10.00am to 11.00am but became 11.00am to 12.00am…

In a perfect world, it should be possible to set the time zone for the start and end time of each events in Google Calendar (or on Android). It is not possible right now but it is something to be looked after by Google immediately! There is already talk about it on the Google Code Android page.

The only way to avoid issues is to take the time zones changes into account when creating events. For flights, not insert the time of arrival at destination but add the flying time to the take-off time. For appointments that will occur when you will be in a different time zone, used the time for the time zone setup in your Calendar settings (or on your phone). I agree, this is not an easy gymnastic!

To help you can display one extra (just one!) time zone in Google Calendar (see Calendar Settings – General – Show an additional time zone). You should also activate the World Clock from the Labs page, to be able to see a few different time zones.

This is something that should have been corrected a long time ago by Google… something hat should be prioritized for the next Android update.