Gadget owners beware: Daylight saving time has changed

Smart phones will need a software update to know when to adjust to DST, but TiVo owners needn't worry about missing an episode of 24.

Daylight saving time is springing forward three weeks earlier than usual this year, but consumers may be unaware that some of their gadgets won't automatically be making the transition.

Daylight saving time (DST) will begin at 2 a.m. Sunday, March 11, and will end a week later than usual, on Sunday, November 4. The change, thanks to a massive federal energy bill passed in 2005 (click for PDF of energy bill) adds extra hours of daylight with the hope of decreasing national energy consumption.

This small change could have big implications for a range of gadget users, from employees of multinationals relying on their devices to remind them of appointments in different time zones to average consumers who count on their smart phones to be, well, smart, and tell the time correctly.

First, the good news: don't worry, your TiVo is fine. TiVo says it sent an automatic software update to its digital video recorder customers last month that included a patch for the DST switch.

But smart-phone customers should take heed: if they don't update both the mobile device and the computer software it synchronizes information from, scheduled items will be off by an hour.

"The way to think about it is to consider any deadline requirements an application has that are more specific than midnight or close of business," Pete Lindstrom, an analyst with the Burton Group, said in an e-mail. "Of course, financial transactions are of the most obvious concern, since minutes and even seconds can matter there. In a smaller way, other deadlines (like the end of the quarter) may be affected, but remember, (it)is only a four-week period...where the impact is felt."

The problem with DST and smart phones can be fixed with a software update that will adjust the date tables that are preprogrammed to tell the device when to move the clock forward or backward by an hour.

Consumers carrying a mobile phone running on any version of Windows Mobile except the recently released Windows Mobile 6 will have to download software updates from the Microsoft Web site to the devices themselves.

Microsoft says there are several ways to perform the update--for instance, downloading the software to a PC and syncing via a cable or downloading the update directly onto the device from Microsoft's Web site. Alternatively, IT department managers can issue an e-mail containing the update, which individuals have to install themselves.

But there are already signs DST won't be a perfectly smooth transition for gadget holders. Susan Bradley, a network administrator for an accounting firm in Fresno, Calif., reported having difficulty doing automatic updates for Windows Mobile phone users.

"I've had to manually update them and I don't know how larger firms will handle this," she said. "In my early tests, one phone is syncing to the mailbox with the right time, one isn't, and I haven't a clue as to why one is working and one isn't when they have all the same patches."

Some Palm devices run Windows Mobile, but for those running Garnet OS, formerly known as Palm OS, the update is not yet available. Palm is "currently working on" a DST software update, which will be posted on the Palm Web site along with instructions once it's available, according to a company spokesperson.

All BlackBerry models will also need to be updated. Individuals can manually download the software patch or IT managers can do the same and automatically push the update to all phones connected to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

BlackBerry users can instead choose to manually adjust the time forward and back on the appropriate days to avoid the software update altogether.

Though Research In Motion and Microsoft are letting customers know about the problem by posting fixes on their Web sites and e-mailing some customers in advance, the update process is complex enough that many users may not know whether the problem has been fixed on their device until they've missed an appointment, said Ken Dulaney, an analyst with Gartner.

"I expect over 90 percent of users to ignore any proactive effort on their part. If their company or operator is able to fix the problem then it gets fixed. Otherwise I think they will brute-force it and rearrange the appointments to fit the schedule," he said. "I think that many users will change their signature line on their smart phones and PDAs to say 'Please note, if I (am) an hour late or an hour early for my meeting with you, please understand, its not my fault, it's my government.'"

CNET's Joris Evers contributed to this report.

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