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iCal and Time Zones

16862 Views 29 Replies Latest reply: Apr 16, 2009 6:27 AM by Ashan RSS
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Scott Rose Level 3 Level 3 (895 points)
Currently Being Moderated
Sep 26, 2008 9:11 AM
We didn't realize this, but there is a serious major gigantic problem with iCal's handling of time zones. You can try this out yourself on your own computer.

There are dozens of people complaining about this on the Apple Discussion Forums and on the Internet, and we didn't even realize it was a problem until we start traveling through multiple time zones ourselves. Regardless of whether or not you turn on time zone support in iCal, ALL THE APPOINTMENTS on your iCal calendar WILL SHIFT TIMES based on what time zone you're currently in (based on the date & time system preference that you set).

NOBODY in the world wants this to happen... nobody wants their calendar appointments to SHIFT ON THEIR CALENDAR! If you book a lunch appointment in New York City next week for 12 noon, you ALWAYS want this appointment to show up as 12 noon on your calendar -- NOT AN "ADJUSTED TIME" based on where you are located now.

For example, if you have a lunch appointment next week at 12pm in New York City, but you are currently in San Francisco when you set the appointment, the appointment will SHIFT THE TIME OF THE APPOINTMENT TO 3pm WHEN YOU ARE IN NEW YORK CITY (b/c you've adjusted your date/time system preference to New York). It gets even WORSE if you turn ON time zone support and start choosing a particular time zone in iCal's appointment details. If you do that, the lunch appointment looks like it's taking place IN THE MORNING at 9am while you're physically working on your computer in San Francisco, and then THE APPOINTMENT SHIFTS to the APPROPRIATE TIME when you're physically in New York City. If you look at your appointments for Saturday, you want to see your 12 noon lunch listed, not a 9am lunch listed.

This is truly insane. No other calendar program on the entire market, including Google's much superior calendar, acts like this. When you're in San Francisco and you look at your calendar for Saturday, you don't want to see TIME-ADJUSTED APPOINTMENTS FOR WHERE YOU ARE CURRENTLY PHYSICALLY SITTING. The lunch isn't taking place at 9am in New York City, it's taking place at 12pm in New York City. You want to see the APPROPRIATE TIME OF THE EVENT, which is 12 noon. You don't want to see 9am, just because you happen to be in San Francisco at the current time.

The *ONLY SOLUTION* for this is to turn on time zone support and then set each & every event to a "FLOATING EVENT", but there is ABSOLUTELY NO way in iCal to set "FLOATING EVENT" as the DEFAULT for ALL future appointments, and there's no way to go back and change all previous appointments to floating events. So you have to MANUALLY go through thousands of previous appointments and change EACH & EVERY ONE OF THEM to a floating event... and remember to take extra time out of your day to change all future events to floating events. But it gets even worse -- if you switch your events to floating events, they do NOT show up in the proper time on the MobileMe's website -- they still show up based on the time of the time zone in which you created the events.

The only other solution for this, which is much less desirable, is to go into your date & time system preference and UNCHECK THE OPTION to "set date & time automatically", choose ONE PERMANENT TIME ZONE FOR YOURSELF THAT WILL **NEVER CHANGE** INTO THE FUTURE, and MANUALLY adjust your clock in the date/time system preference whenever you travel across time zones. Note that this solution requires you to choose ONE PERMANENT TIME ZONE FOR YOURSELF FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, and you must MANUALLY change the clock in the date & time system preference FOREVER.

Hardly a solution.

Apple needs to fix this IMMEDIATELY so that ALL events are floating events ALL the time by default! Or at least give users the option to CHOOSE this as the default. Every other calendar program on the market defaults to FLOATING EVENTS. But not iCal. This is truly crazy beyond belief.

This is one really annoying bug -- and ONLY iCal has this problem.

Thanks,
Scott
15" 2.33 GHz MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo, 2 GB RAM, Mac OS X (10.5.4)
  • disco72 Calculating status...
    Currently Being Moderated
    Sep 26, 2008 4:04 PM (in response to Scott Rose)
    I travel from Europe to Australia a lot and this explains why dates have shifted whole days. You are right its absoluteley insane and for me has caused a lot of grief with double bookings etc.I basically cant trust my ical ! I have to double check emails for dates.Aaaaaghhhh!
    mac book pro 2.16, Mac OS X (10.5.5)
  • Patrick Villiers Level 1 Level 1 (0 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Sep 27, 2008 2:13 AM (in response to disco72)
    THANK YOU! This has answered the question I put previously. I used the Entourage calender, but changed to ICal with MobileMe. Since then,it´s been a load of bother. I have deleted the auto change setting but (as you mentioned) it´s not an adequate fix when syced to MobileMe. At least you´ve put me out of my misery, not knowing what was happening.
  • blu_n_bru@mac.com Calculating status...
    Currently Being Moderated
    Oct 12, 2008 11:01 PM (in response to Scott Rose)
    Hi there.

    I agree the time-zone support bug is definitely insane. I am not even sure I understand why there is time-zone support for the calendar in the first place but no matter, it will definitely screw with all the times in iCal. I just recently moved to air syncing everything with MM and before that I don't remember this happening, but it is definitely happening now.

    Apple, Apple, Apple........ please, please, please get this worked out! Fortunately I don't have to travel as much now but that won't last long.

    Thanks for pointing this out Scott.
    MacBook Pro, 2.16 GHz Intel Core Duo, 17", Mac OS X (10.5.5)
  • Tigerator Calculating status...
    I faced this problem when moving from Beijing, where I created my calendars
    (importing several years of them from Palm Desktop), to Ottawa, where I normally work.
    Once you enter your events in one time zone, as soon as you change to another time
    zone everything shifts whether Time Zones are turned on or not.

    The result is that you have to turn on Time Zones and leave your calendar set to the
    original time zone if you want previously entered things to remain in their proper slots.
    This has other problems of course.

    If all else fails, you can normalize the situation using a little hand-editing.
    Here's how it works.

    0. Back up your iCal database using File->Back up Database...

    1. With Time Zones turned on in iCal, set your global time zone
    (upper right corner of iCal window) to your current timezone (e.g., Canada/Eastern).
    Don't worry when everything moves.

    2. Export each of your calendars to iCal files on your Desktop, using
    File->Export->iCal. Quit iCal.

    3. Open all of the iCal files on your Desktop at once as text files by
    drag-and-dropping them onto Text Edit.

    4. Open the Text Edit search dialogue Edit->Find->Find...

    5. In the "Find:" box, enter the old time zone you are moving from
    (e.g. "Asia/Shanghai" in my case). In the "Replace:" box, enter the new time
    zone you are moving to (e.g., "Canada/Eastern" in my case).

    6. Click "Replace All". Do not close the find dialogue.

    7. Save and close the iCal file you are editing.
    The next of your calendars will then be the foreground text document.

    8. Repeat Steps 6 and 7 until all your calendars are done.

    9. Open iCal. Do NOT delete your old calendars.

    10. Import each of your edited iCal files using File->Import.
    Choose "New Calendar" when it asks which calendar to import to.
    The edited calendar will be imported using its original name with a "2" on the end,
    for example "Personal 2" for a calendar originally named "Personal".
    All events in this new calendar should be at the right time in your current time zone.

    11. Delete each of the original old calendars by selecting them in the
    Calendars frame and hitting the Delete key.

    12. Rename and recolor your new calendars to remove the "2" at the end of each.

    13. Back up your new iCal database to a different file from your backup 0 above.

    Hope this helps some of you.

    Message was edited by: Tigerator
    Many, Mac OS X (10.4.11)
  • pippagain Level 1 Level 1 (0 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Nov 21, 2008 12:16 PM (in response to Scott Rose)
    aaargh!!! this drives me bananas (i travel a LOT) and this is the first post i've seen that addresses the issue exactly as i'm finding it. if i make plans for dinner at 6p in new york next week (and i'm in houston when i make the plans,) ical does NOT help me by changing the time of my dinner to 7pm once i arrive at newark airport!

    turning time zone support off does not solve the problem, as you so eloquently state, and i resent like **** having to go through my ENTIRE calendar and change EVERY SINGLE EVENT to 'floating,' both past and future. that's RIDICULOUS!!!!

    if you do a google search--as i did-- you'll find this problem has existed for a long time. what i don't understand is why it hasn't been fixed yet. thanks for the post.
    powerbook g4, Mac OS X (10.4.11)
  • Allan Ross Calculating status...
    Currently Being Moderated
    Nov 30, 2008 9:29 AM (in response to pippagain)
    Add me to the list of people who think this is an insane "feature" as well. I don't think iCal in Tiger did this but it does in Leopard, even with time zone support off. I've been trying to sync with my Blackberry (which also has the same "feature") and it's a nightmare. I finally decided to just leave my time zones as they were but to manually change the time on my laptop and Blackberry and disable automatic day and time check in the prefs on my Mac.
    PB G4 Aluminum 1.67GHz 80HD 1.5G RAM, Mac OS X (10.5.5)
  • Bernard Harte Level 4 Level 4 (3,025 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Nov 30, 2008 10:27 AM (in response to Scott Rose)
    I am sorry, but I disagree with your analysis of iCal time zone functionality as "insane".

    To have the world entirely you-centric is straightforward enough - don't use time zones at all: simply set the Time Zone in System Preferences to your home city; but when you move, leave this alone and change the time not the time zone. Turn off time zone support in iCal and never accept an invitation from someone who is in a different time zone.

    Contrary to your assertion that no other calendar does this, most other calendars, including Google Calendar, work in precisely the same way as iCal and OS X because they are following the iCalendar standard. (Open Google Calendar, choose Settings and change "Your current time zone", and you'll see that the event times change. This is the equivalent to changing your location in OS X)

    I work with people all over the world who schedule phone conferences etc in their local time. This has to be converted to my time zone for me to know what time that meeting's happening. If I move to another time zone before the meeting happens, I absolutely have to see the meeting time move as well - otherwise I will miss it. As an example, a colleague in San Francisco sets a meeting for Dec 12th at 9am. I am now in London, so this appears in my calendar as being at 5pm that day. When the meeting actually happens, I will be in Sydney and it will quite correctly show it occurring at 4am on the 13th.
    MacBook Pro, Mac OS X (10.5.5), High-Res 17" 2.5GHz 2GB
  • Allan Ross Level 1 Level 1 (5 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Nov 30, 2008 11:35 AM (in response to Bernard Harte)
    Perhaps "insane" is a bit strong but it's certainly not user-friendly as evidenced both by the people who agree with me AND the fact that even with time-zone support off, iCal still changes your meetings when you change your Mac time zone in system prefs. To me, this alone is completely non-intuitive and even misleading. If time zone support in iCal is set to Off then it should be completely Off - not "Off except if you change your Mac time zone".

    I have just now started using the work around of leaving my time zone where it was and manually changing the time of my Mac (and Blackberry). Given that iCal has the option to enable or disable time zone support, I don't think I should have to resort to this work around. Apple's time zone support option is only half way implemented and I think that Off should be Off as I described above.

    I did not assert that no other calendar does this, however if they do then my position still stands and they should give the user the option to ignore or disable time zones. I agree that this works for setting phone conversations across various time zones but to me that is the ONLY thing that it is useful for. Try using it for setting in person meetings and events and you will see what I mean.

    Using an example similar to yours, let's say that I am in Toronto (EST) and I set a meeting (not a phone call) in Vancouver (PST) for 9am. Knowing that I will physically be in Vancouver, I enter the meeting at 9am so that it will be accurate to my location on that day. With time zone support turned off everything makes sense - I can look ahead in my calendar and see that I have a 9am meeting on the day I am in Vancouver. If someone else asks me for a 9am meeting I can easily see that I am already booked. However when I get to Vancouver and update my Mac time zone the meeting gets shifted to 6am due to the 3 hour time difference between Toronto and Vancouver. Since I have time zone support turned off in iCal I would assume that my calendar is independent of time zones and my appointments should not change. In fact in the OSX 10.4 (Tiger) version of iCal it worked exactly like this and the user had the option to choose how his/her calendar handled time zones.

    On the other hand if I use time zones as you suggest, then I am forced to either choose a floating event for ALL my calendar events or to set the time zone for EVERY event which is both tedious and time consuming especially if one has numerous events already in iCal. Further, in my example above, if I have time zone support enabled and enter my Vancouver meeting as 9am PST then it will appear as 6am in my calendar until I get to Vancouver and reset my time zone to PST. At this point everything does match up however continuing my example above, let's say someone else asks me for a 9am meeting in Vancouver when I am still in Toronto prior to my trip. Looking ahead in my schedule, 9am seems clear since the original 9am meeting shows as 6am and now I am forced to remember that 6am is really 9am since I will physically be in Vancouver that day. Can you see the confusion this can cause?

    I agree that in your example it works well for tracking phone calls but it ***** at everything else. I think I should be able to turn time zone support off and have all my iCal events ignore time zones as this function has done in the past and as it leads the user to BELIEVE it does now. You should be able to turn time zone support on and have it help you manage your phone call times across time zones. My major issue is that with time zone support turned OFF my iCal events should NOT change when I update my Mac's overall time zone in sys prefs. The fact that it does this anyway is non-intuitive, misleading, and VERY inconvenient.
    PB G4 Aluminum 1.67GHz 80HD 1.5G RAM, Mac OS X (10.5.5)
  • Bernard Harte Level 4 Level 4 (3,025 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Nov 30, 2008 4:50 PM (in response to Allan Ross)
    I respect your position, but it really doesn't work for me. Frankly I don't see much evidence that it's a problem for the vast majority of users either. Sure, there have always been a few people on these boards who complain, but I don't think this represents anything other than a minority.

    When you say that Apple has half implemented a solution, I think you have the nub of the issue. Apple gives the user the ability to select the current time zone / location and to create time zone-assigned events in iCal. These together represent the complete solution, but if you only use one (half) of them - changing the current location and/or using network time syncing - then you are defeating the purpose. (Incidentally, I believe it's always been like this - i.e. it didn't change with the advent of 10.5, but I am prepared to be mistaken on that count since I didn't use it that way.)

    Another area - beyond phone calls - where time zone support is useful is managing flights to and from a location. When I take a flight from London to, say, Chicago it will take around 9 hours. Using your arguments, I would think that a flight that leaves London at 9am will make me available for meetings at 6pm, but that's London time. I will actually arrive at noon Chicago time which gives me half a day to work still - immigration and customs notwithstanding. Would you just show the flight with 3 hours duration in your calendar?

    Flying eastward across the international date line is even more bizarre, but iCal still works: a flight that leaves Sydney at 1pm on Dec 1 will arrive - after 13.5 hours in the air - at Los Angeles on the same day at 06:30. If one followed your paradigm, it would have a duration of minus 5.5 hours.

    You ask me to try setting an in person meeting in iCal. I've been doing so without mishap ever since iCal was launched. How do I plan meetings if I know I am going to be in a city that's not in my time zone - and if I don't have a ready idea of the time difference? I simply change the iCal view of the world to that zone whilst working on the schedule for that city. It's a simple switch. How do I know I am going to be in that city? I tend to sketch-out my plan ahead by using all-day events as day headings. (I also use Tripit www.tripit.com which not work with your methodology.) How do I avoid clashes? If I put in the time zone for each meeting, I will have a graphical representation of each clash right away.

    Google Calendar does not work the way you want it to either. An event that is created as Floating in iCal will sync with Google Calendar in the current time zone. (An event that's created in Google Calendar itself will default to the currently selected time zone even though it doesn't show it.) If you change the time zone of the calendar as I described previously, the event will move.

    I can see we're not going to agree on this, but I find it works for me for all the reasons I have given.
    MacBook Pro, Mac OS X (10.5.5), High-Res 17" 2.5GHz 2GB
  • Allan Ross Level 1 Level 1 (5 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Nov 30, 2008 10:28 PM (in response to Bernard Harte)
    I agree that we both have different ways of using the features of iCal and that they are both valid for our various needs but I do take exception to your statement about how this puts me in the minority. Frankly I would bet that the majority of users don't even think about this issue because they don't travel out of their time zone with their Mac. Saying that those of us who complain about it are in the minority isn't based on any real evidence. In fact, based on the sample of people contributing to this and other similar threads I would say that those of use who think Apple's approach is wrong are in the majority simply because there are more posters complaining than there are saying they are ok with it. However this is hardly an accurate statistical sample either way so we'll just have to accept that some of us are ok with the way iCal works and some of us aren't.

    That being said my position still stands. If I have iCal set to NOT use time zone support then any changes I make to my Mac location in sys prefs should NOT be reflected in iCal since, with time zone support turned off, none of my iCal events have a time zone attached to them. To me this is a logical way to implement this. If, on the other hand, I WANT iCal to track time zones then I should turn time zone support ON so that I can use time zones in iCal AND have it update when I change my location/time zone in sys prefs. I don't believe I am defeating the purpose or only half implementing Apple's solution, I believe that I am using the settings in a logical way but that they do not work logically.

    As for your example of flight time; for me the important thing is that the departure and arrival times are locally accurate in each location. The duration of the flight is not. In my "non-time zone support" method, you simple put in the correct departure and arrival times as they are in the actual time zone that the flight departs from and arrives in. To me it doesn't matter that the flight duration between Sydney and LA is -5.5 hours. If I want to know how long the flight is I'll look on my ticket or add a note to the event in iCal. What is important is that the correct local arrival time is shown. That way I know automatically by looking at my calendar (and without swapping time zone settings) what time I arrive in LA. Yes I forgo the ability to have my flight duration accurately shown in iCal however I'm more than willing to sacrifice that (to me) minor detail in order to have a calendar that is universally consistent with my presence in the departure and arrival time zone. Or for that matter whatever time zone I plan to be in. This method allows for me to easily show that I will be in Chicago at noon as you mentioned. And I can easily understand that the actual flight time is longer than what is shown in iCal.

    I understand how iCal works for you in managing events that occur in multiple time zones at once, however for me the only time zone I am concerned with is the one that I am in no matter which one it is or even if it changes after a flight. Having time zone support turned off should, in my opinion, allow for events completely independent of any time zone, just like an old style paper and pen day planner.

    Like you I sketch out my schedule with all day event headings showing what city I will be in. However in my method you don't have to be concerned about switching time zone settings, you just enter the event at the time it occurs that day - no matter what time zone it is. You don't even need to consider what the difference is between the various time zones. It doesn't matter that my 9am meeting in LA is also noon in New York since I'll be in LA for it and the local time is what's important to me. You may be diligent enough to consistently track the time zone but I'd be surprised if you didn't accidentally forget to switch/set a time zone now and again when setting your appointments, or forget to set the correct time zone for each one. In my version you don't need to deal with that at all. That's what having time zone support turned OFF should allow me to do. Fewer parameters to deal with - fewer erroneous entries. And I should still be able to change my Mac time without affecting iCal since time zone support is off. That's my complaint.

    I don't use Google Calendar so I don't care how it works. Ditto for Entourage and any of the other programs.It's great that the current implementation works for you and how you need to deal with your schedule. I'm happy that Apple offers the choice of time zone support or not, I just think it should work differently. Apparently I'm not alone in this.
    PB G4 Aluminum 1.67GHz 80HD 1.5G RAM, Mac OS X (10.5.5)
  • Bernard Harte Level 4 Level 4 (3,025 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Dec 1, 2008 3:50 AM (in response to Allan Ross)
    a. I mentioned Google Calendar because you cited it as a paragon. I wanted you to understand that it works the very same way as iCal.

    b. I just don't understand why you want to use System Preferences to change your time zone - rather than just your time. That IS using half the functionality and you're defeating your own aims. If you turn off time zone support and keep your location static in the system preference, nothing will move around in iCal.

    I think we have to agree to differ...
    MacBook Pro, Mac OS X (10.5.5), High-Res 17" 2.5GHz 2GB
  • Allan Ross Level 1 Level 1 (5 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Dec 1, 2008 7:43 AM (in response to Bernard Harte)
    a) I never cited Google Calendar as anything. Other posters have but not me. I've never used it.

    b) Why wouldn't I use System Preferences to change my time AND my time zone? That's what it's for. Plus it allows me to have the date and time automatically synced with Apple's time server. Are you telling me that you don't update your system time zone when you travel, only the iCal time zone? And that you manually change the time in Sys Prefs? If so, then I think you're the one who is only using half the functionality. I completely understand how you use time zone support in iCal to fit your usage needs. But can't you at least see my point about how misleading it is to have time zone support OFF and still have iCal change event times when the computer location is changed? Remember, when time zone support is OFF there appears to be NO time zone assigned, not even the one that the computer is originally set to. Therefore it appears that events should be unaffected by time zones at all. Since time zone support is an iCal preference NOT a system preference, I think it's misleading to have system preferences affect iCal times. The others and I are just trying to point out the logic error in this methodology on Apple's part. What's the point to having the ability to turn time zone support in iCal off if it's going to be affected by the computer time zone anyway?

    As you say, the only apparent solution is to turn time zone support off in iCal and then manually override the system time in Sys Prefs. This means that the computer's time zone is incorrect and seems like a work around rather than a real solution. The other logical solution to me is to turn time zone support ON in iCal and then enter a time zone for each and every iCal event. This is tedious if you spend most of your time in one time zone and if you have a year's worth of events that would need to have time zones added to them. Plus it means that any events in iCal, that are outside your current time zone, show up at the wrong local time until you change the iCal time zone to that event's time zone. To me this means a LOT of additional work keeping track of what time zone an event is in and constantly changing your iCal time zone to match your event time zones. Given that we Mac users are accustomed to a high level of ease of use, I think that the current iCal time zone methodology is counter to this. If you turn time zone support off, it should be off. Period. Not "off except when you change the computer's time zone".

    Obviously we do disagree but can you at least see how misleading the way time zone support works can be?
    PB G4 Aluminum 1.67GHz 80HD 1.5G RAM, Mac OS X (10.5.5)
  • Bernard Harte Level 4 Level 4 (3,025 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Dec 1, 2008 8:29 AM (in response to Allan Ross)
    a) Take a look at your first post: "No other calendar program on the entire market, including Google's much superior calendar, acts like this."

    b) I do change my location in System Preferences and I do sync with a network time server so that I have accurate time.

    I posted here in response to another user about the use of UTC (Universal Coordinated Time). This might offer you some respite from your problems if you are prepared to turn-off network time syncing and "pretend" that you are constantly "located" in UTC. (To achieve what you want, turn-off time zone support in iCal, set date and time automatically in the Date & Time preference, set your time manually, type UTC into the closest city in Time Zone.) This is not really any different to choosing any other nominal location to stick to, but it might be less objectionable to you.

    Without wishing to open another "can of worms" you won't get any daylight savings support by this method.

    I do understand your frustration, but iCal is following an internationally ratified standard. The terminology in time zone support on|off is a little misleading, but it's very unlikely to change. The best you can hope for - and believe me I have tried to find a way to help you with this - is to have meetings defaulting to Floating.

    May I offer you one final thought: Your schedule is increasingly likely to be available - even if it's just free|busy information - to others as the world becomes more connected. Unless someone else is in precisely the same time zone as you always, they can not rely on accurate information about your availability unless you do use fully time zoned events. My calendar is open to my work colleagues - all 60,000 of them - so that they know, for example, when I am on a plane and not able to answer a call or whether I am likely to be sleeping (not that that usually stops them).
    MacBook Pro, Mac OS X (10.5.5), High-Res 17" 2.5GHz 2GB
  • Allan Ross Level 1 Level 1 (5 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Dec 1, 2008 6:55 PM (in response to Bernard Harte)
    a) The first post wasn't mine. Check the name on the OP.

    b) Fair enough about UTC as a solution but I'm trying to manage my schedule not run the Dept of Defense. Without a cleaner solution or a better implementation of turning time zone support off. I'll stick with manually resetting the time in sys prefs when I am out of my usual time zone and leaving my time zone set as EST.

    I appreciate your help on time on this but international standard or not it's the wording in time zone support that is to blame as you point out. Having meetings default to floating might be a solution. I imagine that option isn't available in iCal unless you have time zone support turned on as I don't see it as an option currently.

    Interesting comment about world wide accessibility of personal schedules. If my life does come to that then I will have no choice but to use time zones on all my events I suppose but it sure won't be fun going back and adding in time zones to all my existing events.
    PB G4 Aluminum 1.67GHz 80HD 1.5G RAM, Mac OS X (10.5.5)
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