Telling time in other countries

Most people can tell time. But when it comes to telling time across time zones, most people become annoying teenagers who miss meetings and call people who are sleeping, and fall asleep in all the wrong moments.

The confusion gets worse the more time zones you deal with.

Imagine working out of San Francisco with teams in Boston and London. There are two questions. A typical time zone tool works for the first question, “are they sleeping?” You open unlock the phone, find the app, open the app, and find out. If the answer is “yes, they are sleeping” the second answer kicks in, “so when are they not sleeping?” And for that question, a typical tool does not work.

Let’s take a look at the typical tools. Apple’s world clock in iOS is buried inside the Clock app. As is Android’s. And it answers the first question, “are they sleeping?”

Many people find Google to be the fastest timezone converter because Google is always at hand, and listening after “OK Google”

Google recently added an answer to the second question, but only for one city at a time.

One tool that comes close is The Time Zone Converter. Still a lot of fiddling with the mouse and keyboard. And if you’re interested in more than two zones, you better dust off your typing skills.

But it’s also heavy, compared to how small the task is, or, should be:

Kenneth and I made available as a progressive web app (it can live next to your other apps, basically), a Chrome extension and a website. I still don’t use it. Too much fiddling with the mouse and keyboard, and Google is always closer.

Then one jet lagged day in London, I caught myself glancing at my lock screen out of habit, thinking I’d see time at home. I went back to the hotel and drew up an image, added it as my lock screen wallpaper, and used it the rest of the trip. It worked.

I then made an app that generates a time zone wallpaper. There was just one thing that didn’t feel right. It felt like I had decorated my living room with a spreadsheet.

I needed more wallpaper-worthy pixels. Something that works for everyone. Elegant, yet neutral.

The whole idea is that software doesn’t have to always be interactive, and that sometimes, a table of data is faster. I remember seeing my grandmother handling a paper bus schedule a casino croupier handles a deck of cards, faster than any app could have done today.

Clear as the Swiss day. But. If it felt like I had decorated my living room with a spreadsheet before, this felt like I had moved my living room furniture into a train station.

The thing about data is that you don’t ever really want to see it. Only when you’re looking for it. It wouldn’t hurt to look good the rest of the time. And that’s when I found the random photo API from Unsplash and smacked it on top of the time zone data. I have yet to see any of the 30,000+ beautiful photos appear twice.

Here’s what the app can look like,

And what it looks like when you set screenshots as your lock screen.

It’s free on the App Store.

It works great, although I still think that timezones should be solved like many other problems: not having to use an app at all, but having its info in our heads, like an expansion pack for the brain. Maybe in a globalized world, timezone arithmetic ought to be taught along with multiplication and addition in grade school. But for now, here’s a way to fiddle less with the mouse and keyboard.

Follow @mortenjust here or on twitter for more experiments like this. Here’s a bigger list.