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The iPhone Alarm Bug: A Retrospective

As Europeans bask in the warmth of a working iPhone alarm once more, and Americans sleep with one eye open as the first weekday following their clock change dawns, we take a look at one of Apple's biggest mistakes.

If you're unfamiliar with the story so far, you either don't own an iPhone or you don't have a job. Following the clocks moving back, iPhone owners across Europe woke up an hour late - despite having scrupulously checked their alarm settings to make sure it had accepted the new time.

Sadly, it turns out that iOS 4.1 has a pretty serious bug: while it will quite happily accept daylight savings changes in the Clock app, it will invisibly ignore them for recurring alarms. The sort of alarms, for example, you might set if you had to get up each and every morning to face another day of work. The sort of alarms, in fact, that are rather bad to set an hour later than intended.

That's a pretty embarrassing thing for Apple to have missed, but the story gets worse. It appears that the problem was first discovered weeks before the change in Australia, where daylight savings happens significantly earlier than the rest of the world. Sadly, Apple didn't feel it important enough to warn anyone else about the impending plague of lateness that would befall those relying on the iPhone's in-built alarm.

Learning from its public relations foul-up, Apple has been spreading the news in the US press about the issue - although it's pretty confident that the problem has now gone away, with a permanent fix planned in a software update due for release later this month.

But how did Apple, famous for its quality control, make such a major error? The most likely solution for the problem can be found in the timing of its 'fix.'

Apple announced last week that the recurring alarm bug would be resolved as of Sunday the 7th, after which time recurring alarms should work as expected. As readers wrote in to tell us late last week, Sunday the 7th has a special significance in terms of daylight savings: it's the day that the United States of America puts its clocks back.

Now, it could be a coincidence that Apple's 'fix' for the problem comes literally in the nick of time for US customers relying on their recurring alarms to get up in the morning - but Occam's Razor tells us a different story.

The most logical explanation for the timing of the fix is that the recurring alarm portion of the Clock app is perfectly set to understand daylight savings changes - in the US. Internationalisation, however, seems to have been skipped.

That's not to say that the iPhone itself doesn't understand that not everyone in the world sets their clocks back at exactly the same time - just that it seems likely that nobody bothered to tell whichever poor employee was given the job of coding in the alarm clock functionality.

The good news for iPhone owners worldwide is that now the Centre of the Universe, or the United States of America as it's more commonly known, has changed its clocks, everything is working the way it should - and with iOS 4.2, which doesn't contain the bug, expected to launch later this month, it won't be an excuse people can use twice.

Further, it's an important lesson for Apple: if you want to sell your products internationally, you need to actually test them internationally.