We are developing a new device, and we although we have an automatic time server that helps the device to set the time, timezone and time diference (UTC) automatically, for whatever reasons, some users will have problems and will need to set it automatically.

At the end the user is going to select between all the different options, lets say -12:00, -11:00, ..... 0:00, +01:00, .... +12:00. (I dont write all the values, just as an example).

The problem is that the UTC is something users are not very familiar with. For example, USA citizens understande the mountain time zone, but dont know that it corresponds to -06:00. In order to help them in the decision, we are going to add some extra information for the users to be more sure.

One option is to display the main cities of that UTC timezone, for example UTC: -06:00 Principal cities: Chicago, Guatemala City, Mexico City, San José, San Salvador, Winnipeg (See more info here)

Other option is to put principal cities, + main global timezones (USA, Europe, etc....).

Last option is by Timezones, but the naming of the timezones it can be controversial, since CT = central time, CET = Central European Time also known as MET (Middle european time)....

Wow, big mess :D.

Do you have any idea how to simplify this for users?

What is the easiest for users to select, supposing that mostly all users will not know which UTC time they are living in?

2 Answers 2


Most users are going to be more familiar with the names of major cities nearby than with all the various abbreviations for time. (Plus it gets confusing when for example we have GMT, and UTC, which are probably the same, but even I'm not certain if during British Summer Time (BST), Britain becomes GMT+1, or if GMT becomes UTC+1. I know that Britain is GMT, but not certain if it's always GMT, or if BST is different from GMT, or if GMT matches BST.

And I've lived here more than 30 years.

So confusion is obviously possible, and it's better to let your users tell you enough to know which time zone applies, and deal with that automatically without requiring them to know which particular name that timezone is going by in your product.

I would suggest using the cities, and also display a global map with the timezones drawn, and highlight the appropriate timezone

Edit: If the device is location aware, then taking advantage of that to help the user select the proper timezone settings (by offering up the suggested time zone) would be the obvious conclusion. Basing it on major cities will remove confusion based on daylight saving etc. times.

  • display a global map with the timezones drawn, and highlight the appropriate timezone is not currently possible, and it will not be in short term. At the end we need to be able to know inside the device the UTC, -+XX:XX. Thanks for your help Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 9:47
  • In which case, I would go for major cities. Possibly taking advantage of location awareness if the device is capable of it, to narrow it down to the sensible selection (i.e. if the device is aware that it is in North America, there's no point providing a list of cities in Europe or Africa)
    – Nathanael
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 9:51
  • 1
    To answer the uncertainty (cause there's a lot of it; I've written this comment three times now trying to be accurate about it), GMT != UTC. GMT is a solar time standard; the second of time at which the sun is at its peak inclination from the horizon as measured in Greenwich, England, is noon GMT (more accurately, because this happens at a different second in each 24-hour period, the average or "mean" second of the day is used). UTC, however, is an atomic standard based on IAT which is the system used by GPS, but UTC adds an offset of "leap seconds" to stay within 0.9 seconds of GMT.
    – KeithS
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 22:26
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    So overall, GMT and UTC are close enough to consider equivalent when setting your watch, but there are important differences when you care about synchronizing time very precisely. Neither are directly adjusted for DST, but no time zone is; must like GMT vs BST, the U.S. "standard" time zones aren't used in the summer months, instead we use "daylight" time zones (except for Arizona which stays on MST all the time)
    – KeithS
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 22:32
  • I live in the U.S. Eastern timezone, but it always throws me off when I have to find New York, Washington D.C. or whatever east-coast cities the developers decided to put in there. These cities are more than 8 hours' drive from me. I most readily recognize the name of the time zone, FWIW.
    – Nate Green
    Commented Feb 18, 2016 at 20:26

Cities or Timezone names are going to be your best bet.

A user lives in one of these or knows they are close to one of them.

Users can pick from that list and the computer can do useful work in managing how that translates under the hood to an offset.

As mentioned, the GMT or UTC offset for a user in a city is not stable.

Your user does not want to reset the UTC offset in the spring and fall.

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