The Blackberry Calendar is Broken by Design

I’ve been taking my first trip with my Blackberry Storm 2. I’ve battled through the challenges of synchronization. I’ve got my couple of indispensible apps. So I’m all set, right?

Wrong.

It seems incredible, but the Blackberry, the machine that became the archtype “smart phone” has never, ever, figured out how a calendar is supposed to work. Instead of handling dates and time in terms of local time zones, everything is in Greenwich time.

In practice, this means you type more information to schedule something on a Blackberry than you do on normal phones. Specifically, you must always give a time zone.

This is just bad interface design.

Think about it: everywhere we find dates and times for events. The dates and times are always in terms of the local time zone. I’m currently in Louisville, flying to Minneapolis. The departure time is in terms of Louisville, of couse, and the arrival time is in terms of Minneapolis.

It would never, in a million years, occur to anyone to give flight times entirely in terms of the departure airport, or entirely in terms of the arrival airport. Likewise, when I schedule a cross-zone teleconference, I set the reminder time for my zone while other folks use their own zone.

At some point several years ago, Palm realized that they had to deal with time zones on their Treos. So they added time zones. But (thanks to a merciful God) they also included a “No Time Zone” option. If a time had a time zone attached, then the Treo would automatically adjust the time to reflect the current time zone. If it had “no” time zone, then it left the time mercifully alone.

Even better, I set “No Time Zone” as the default for all calendar appointments.

The alternative is to set time zones for everything, which is what the Blackberry demands. Thus, I have to laboriously insert the time zone whenever I schedule something. Otherwise it defaults to “home,” making my out-of-town appointments (at least, my out-of-zone appointments) off by an hour or two in some bad direction.

Thank goodness appointments never cross time zones!

But there’s a problem, and it crops up with arguably one of the most important things to go on my calendar: air travel.

When I fly somewhere, I’m almost always going east or west, so I’m moving between time zones. A flight is obviously an event with a starting and ending time. But the Blackberry doesn’t let me enter my flight time if I cross a time zone!

This is because an appointment, obviously, shouldn’t start in one time zone and end in another. There’s a place to enter the starting date and starting time, to the minute, and the ending date and ending time. But there’s only one time zone setting for the appointment.

So, yet again, by insisting on time zones, Blackberry makes me type twice as much to enter a modest, and obvious, bit of information. I guess there are two work-arounds: either you recalculate one of the times or you create two separate calendar entries – one for departure and one for arrival.

You would think they would have fixed it by now.

The Awkward Fix

Poking around on Internet discussion groups, I found the inelegant fix: you set your Blackberry to a single time zone now and forever. Whenever you fly somewhere, you manually change the phone’s time on arrival, much like you change your watch. You simply ignore the time zone mechanism.

I remember resetting the time on my Palm Pilot. I thought it was a huge improvement when I could just change the zone. It was even better when the Treo took charge of changing times on arrival – a tedious and error-prone procedure.

I was really looking forward to having a Blackberry because they had such great press. They’d been building smart phones for years. They should have learned a thing or two. So it amazes me that they’ve been doing this the wrong way, with confidence, for so long.

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