Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Why 9:41 AM is always the time displayed on iPhones and iPads (tuaw.com)
279 points by anderzole on Apr 14, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 90 comments

I think the article missed some very interesting aspects of this story. First of all, why bother setting the time in the first place? I think it's because having many different times in different ads/websites/docs looks sloppy. There's also the chance of someone working late (2:00 am) or having a strange time such as 20:02 or 11:11. These are very minor but could be distracting in high-profile ads or consistent docs. Much simpler to just say that all time displays will be a simple 9:41 (time 0 in the age of the iPhone, essentially).

I would be more interested in how they implement this. I assume there is an internal style guide somewhere mandating the use of 9:41. But are people who make the images (photographers, marketing, web team, doc writers) supposed to set the devices (or their clocks) manually? Do they have corporate photoshop scripts for setting the time in "post-production?" Maybe there are test settings (later removed for shipped code) that allow the time to be "frozen" so all screenshots look natural at the desired time. Can anyone inside Apple tell us?

I doubt they take actual screen pictures on their promo materials. This is usually something done in post-production, where you integrate the screen on the frame of the device. Or you make a 3D render altogether.

Actually, I recall a short documentary about the production of the Apple ads and as far as I remember Apple uses real photos of products, not CGI. But probably because of the difficulties of capturing photos of LCD screen(white balance, polarization, luminescence intensity and so on) they may be replacing screens with screenshots.

That just seems too anal retentive, though, doesn't it?

This is Apple we're talking about. Anal retentive is what they're all about, down to the last pixel. It isn't a bad thing.

Kind of amusing how they are so anal with some tiny things, yet allow seriously large cock ups (maps, antennas, etc) out the door.

It's much easier to fix the small details than systemic problems.

Maps were fubar, but when antenagate came around I checked the three android phones I had and they all have zones that killed the signal if you covered them with your hand.

So its all fine because 3 Android phones had a similar problem?

HTC used to have an iconic clock on their Android handset, for which they always used 10:08 in marketing materials.

This probably stems from a tradition in advertisements for analog watches. They are usually set to some time between 10:08 and 10:10. Not only is this setting symmetric and therefore pleasing to the eye, but also any printed brand name is clearly visible and unobstructed.

An interesting note about 10:08 is that on a 12 hour digital clock, it represents the most bars which can be simultaneously illuminated.

What about 08:08? Or won't the clock show the first 0 then?

At least the Casio watch I'm wearing at the moment doesn't dispaly a leading zero.

I believe the custom in digital watches is that a leading zero implies a 24 hour display.

Sorry to dissapoint you again, my watch is set to 24 hours ;)

10:00 would also work, but doesn't seem as visually interesting.

10:00 lights up one fewer segment than 10:08 does, though (assuming a standard 7-segment display).

Right you are. For some reason I read the original comment as "lights up the most vertical bars".. I think I'm jet lagged after getting back from pycon.

That has one less bar (the line in the middle of the 8).

The New York Times had a whole article on why watch ads are at 10:10:


Also, rendering 10.10 is inelegant in many fonts, whilst 9.41 has alot more balance and variety purely from a typesetting perspective. That's a good article on the analogue side, though.

re: 10:08-10:10 on watches in advertising:

Numberphile video with a collection of dozens of such advertisements: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOClr_bew38

Caveat Lector: Crito's description "collection of advertisements" is so accurate that it is almost misleading. I was expecting some advertisements plus some numberphile commentary, I was let down. The video really is just a bunch of pictures from watch advertisements.

Google also uses specific times in their screenshots. But the times match up with the version of Android it is running.

That only appears to go back a couple versions. For example, times in ICS screenshots are all over the place: http://www.android.com/versions/ice-cream-sandwich-4-0/

it seems to be valid for the official press photos of the nexus device corresponding to the android version, at least as far back as the Nexus S at 2:30.

One clock on that page says 4:30. I wader if they reused an image from an earlier version?

How better to version the screenshots? Clever.

IMHO, this is indeed a much more of a real and clever usage of the clock in screenshots. But since its not related to the brainchild of Apple or Steve Jobs, your observation is most likely to languish in the comments section of this article rather than the front page of Hacker news.

Anywhere else I have ever worked has pretty much always used 4:20 in the UI as a joke. When I started work as UI/UX lead at a bank a year ago, all the process work that was done with the previous team had some arrangement of 4:20 worked in everywhere haha.

I've done the same with 13:37.

Not exactly original.

And depending on who's looking at the material, it could be considered offensive. If you get away with it, great but some companies like USAA require all employees and contractors pass drug tests so suggesting the universal stoner hour might not be the best decision.

There's a reason designers use lorem ipsum in mockups – it's because once upon a time a designer thought they were clever with their fake text, and an account manager had to deal with a pissed off client because of what it said.

> And depending on who's looking at the material, it could be considered offensive. If you get away with it, great but some companies like USAA require all employees and contractors pass drug tests so suggesting the universal stoner hour might not be the best decision.

Just to be clear, you're saying that:

    - The time "4:20" might be offensive to a reader,
    - I should, for some reason, care about this,
    - USAA's decision to drug test employees is relevant.
Did I misinterpret you there? You're basically advocating for removing the 13th floor from elevators because someone might get scared or have their feelings hurt. Or designing a system that applies a penny discount to subtotals that end up at $6.66, $66.66, and so forth (I have heard of this).

4:20 is just a time. And I'm suspicious of your explanation for Lorem Ipsum's usage, as well, given how long it has existed and how long it has been in use.

That is a silly argument.

The designers are specifically choosing 4:20 exactly because it amuses them to include drug references. Therefore management is entitled to be offended by the drug reference. There is certainly no point in being offended over a random number, but this isn't a randomly chosen number.

But before reading responses I though that EC1's comment was about "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" reference. So had I would not returned to this thread I could use it with that meaning.

You're being a but ridiculous, though.

You want to have it both ways. How can it be both a joke/funny and totally unreasonable to be offended by it because it is simply a time. Why would a particular time evoke any sort of humor, right? We are all just tobots that dont ascribe any symbolism or cultural experience to abuthing, right? You're just playing coy here.

I'm not advocating being politically correct because I enjoy it.

My commentary is an alternative perspective based on what I've experienced working at an ad agency (there were many times we pitched extremely offensive ideas), and more specifically working with conservative BANKS. I've had to change the 4:20 timestamp left in Teehan+Lax iOS PSDs countless times before we'd get approval from a bank. I also don't think 4:20 is very original but that's besides the point.

Lorem has a long history in design. There are a lot of reasons it's used in prototypes... reduce client distraction, more accurately reflect the flow of text, easy to calculate word-count when working with copywriters, etc...

Haha coming back later to see the responses to my comment is funny. It's a timestamp on internal documents not many people see, it's fine.

> You're basically advocating for removing the 13th floor from elevators because someone might get scared or have their feelings hurt.

If you want to use an analogy to suggest that a proposal is obviously wrong, you probably want to avoid your analogy being something that is widely established practice.


That's exactly what I meant, actually. I think that practice is stupid.

That was his point...

> And depending on who's looking at the material, it could be considered offensive.

Must be rough getting offended twice daily.

1pm happens twice a day for you? That's impressive.

If some Christian designer would use 3:16 as the time on all their documents and designs, would that also be offensive?

Or, some mystical Qabalist (or Jewish) designer could use Gematria to work all kinds of message in numbers into the designs and nobody would even be able to tell! :)

Another one, quick question, say you see someone being extremely fond of the number "88" in their designs, on a scale of one to six million, how offended would you be?

I had a colleague once who set the salutation for the welcome email to the product to "Yo motherfuckers".

Basically as a way to guarantee that a copyeditor would rewrite it before it went to users and it wouldn't have copy written by developers.

An early beta user got an email calling him a motherfucker. Fortunately, he was good humoured about it.

Did he learn his lesson?

It's things like this, I never put immature things in my code comments or sample texts if it's going to be even remotely connected to a professional setting. In fact, I even do so when it's not. I just have to read back my own code comments from when I was 17, to see that shit isn't actually funny :) :)

(obvious exceptions will be made if I have a really good joke, though. sacrifices for art, etc)

Our original blog post, if anyone is interested in the original source: http://www.secretlab.com.au/ipad-day-941-am

Nokia usually uses model numbers. 9:20 for Lumia 920, for example.

Similarly, Free (the ill-named ISP and mobile phone provider run by Iliad in France) uses "13:37" on most ads as a geek joke (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leet).

and "Rock n' Roll" is the welcome message on the device. Gotta love that :)

I don't see anyone has discussed it yet, could it be an advertising technique? You can create a cognitive bias in this fashion, by showing a high number like 941 the customer is less likely to balk at a sale price in the high hundreds. Where if they were pre-exposed to a low number say 3.15 they will probably find a 900 dollar price tag too much.


Another thought is maybe that 9.41 is a lot of peoples reading in bed time, or taking notes in a meeting at work time. Easy to picture yourself using one at those times.

Or maybe its just a clean number that shows the correct orientation of the tablet/phone if you read it upside down

I love these little details. I remember walking past the billboard in front of a not-yet-opened Samsung store that showed the Galaxy Gear and some other Galaxy Smartphones. All devices had different times on them.

Actually, OS X releases up until Snow Leopard the clock was set to the version of the OS. 10:10 for OS X 10.1 for example.

Here is a 2010 article, also on TUAW, about the same thing: http://www.tuaw.com/2010/04/12/9-41-9-42-the-secret-of-apple...

I once setup all of the times in our app screenshots to be the octal representation of our company name.

i.e. 1:02 - b 1:14 - l 1:01 - a 1:32 - z 1:05 - e

I wonder if it's a coincidence that 1, 4 and 9 are also the squares of the first three natural numbers. And, consequently, of course the relative dimensions of these: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monolith_%28Space_Odyssey%29

Yes, of course it is a coincidence. If it weren't - 1:49 is a time too...

<nerdy>And prime, just like 941, 419, and 491 (only a time in late 18th century France). With one even digit, this is the best one can do. I don't think you can do better with three odd digits, either unless you cheat with the triple (1,1,3)

If you stick to squares, 01:49 is the best, though, with the squares of the first four natural numbers, in order.<nerdy/>

I'm honestly a bit surprised by the downvotes. 1:49 would obviously not fit the other constraints involved, and seeing how Apple is known for their eye for details and the pop-cultural significance of the 1:4:9 ratio, I'm surprised if someone didn't at least think of this when choosing between 9:40, 9:41 and 9:42...

The article explains why 9:40 is not used.

As far as the downvotes go, HN is--thankfully--somewhat anti-numerology.

I don't see that there's anything numerological about the suggestion that Apple might have worked into their publicity for the iPhone and iPad some allusions to ... a science-fictional black cuboidal artefact containing mysterious highly-advanced technology that changes the world.

(For the avoidance of doubt, I'm not claiming that they did. It could very well be no more than coincidence. But it doesn't seem all that far-fetched to me that there might have been a conversation like this: "OK, we should set the time to somewhere around 9:40 for these pictures." "Hey, if we make it 9:41 then there's a cute 2001 allusion in there." "Ha, iPhone as the monolith from 2001. I like it. Let's go with that." And there's no need to believe in numerology to find this plausible.)

Exactly my train of thought. Should've probably elaborated a bit in the original post.

Yes, thankfully. However, in this case, the fact that numerology even exists is exactly the reason to at least entertain the possibility that other motives exist beyond the practical one: people like patterns.

can someone answer why 4:20?

My favorite 420 reference is California Senate Bill 420.

The bill was introduced by John Vasconcellos, who was certainly one of the coolest heads in the State Senate.


Mine has 4:20PM all the time. Does anybody know how to fix?

TMYK - I love stuff like this :-P

Why was this comment down-voted?

Probably for not being substantive, made worse by abbrevs and smilies.

HN users tend to punish throwaway one-liners, unless they show signs of thought having been put into them. It's arguably too harsh, because some of these comments are innocuous. But the same immune reation also keeps more malignant things from taking over, so overall it does more good than harm.

It's not like the original article was chock full of substance in the first place, which is why its even more annoying.

Hehe. Interesting and kind of strange. If it's so important that the screen-shot shows the current time when it is displayed why not just have it show the correct time with a program? It doesn't seem like that would be terribly difficult.

There is a poster on the wall of the shop I walk past occasionally. This is in print media too, and having the same advert on TV, print and web probably is something Apple likes.

Fair enough. Yes. I guess I guess I can understand it being nice to always use a standard time.

It would be really awesome if whenever there was an advert on TV if the iPhone showed the current time. However with the scheduling of TV ads I don't think this is really possible.

Imagine having to reprint brochures, reshoot something or even have to tinker around with the clock so all your screenshots are 9:41.

There are cute quirks and there is attention to detail. But at some point or another it becomes a cultish bureaucracy no one knows the origin of demanding that all clocks alway show 9:41 for some long lost reason.

I think you may be downvoted (wasn't me either) because you assumed a negative consequence and negative reason without even trying to think of positive ones.

I would assume that they don't reprint or reshoot things, they just have a style guide so all affected people know to set the time right. As I wondered in my other comment, maybe they have tools to help them do this. And if there is a mistake (somebody forgot to set the right time), they probably fix it in photoshop.

As to why this is done, I think a company that displays so many interfaces containing a clock of some sorts, and that is known for attention to detail might try to remove any possible negative view of their ads. We often rely on the devices they sell to tell the time, so our eyes are naturally drawn to the time display in ads. If it were something odd like 3:33am or 11:12pm that might make the viewer wonder why, and get distracted from the message of the ad.

I also think that 9:41am is a positive time. It's when most people are alert and productive, feeling like they have a whole day ahead of them. I would not overlook such touchy-feely effects in advertising.

In my experience people love quirky details performed for long lost reasons. They are central to our culture and identity creation. Take Santa Claus on Christmas dressing in red and saying hohoho, and entering through the chimney. Why not a blue woman squeezing through a tiny crack in the wall and saying neeneeneeneenee?

EDIT: Didn't downvote you btw

Ah, yes, quirky Santa Claus who dresses in red and white for some long lost reason...

"The Santa Claus we all know and love — that big, jolly man in the red suit with a white beard — didn’t always look that way. In fact, many people are surprised to learn that prior to 1931, Santa was depicted as everything from a tall gaunt man to a spooky-looking elf. He has donned a bishop's robe and a Norse huntsman's animal skin."[1]

"Close your eyes and think of Father Christmas. What do you see? A jolly, fat man, with rosy red cheeks, a fluffy white beard and a red suit? Well close your eyes again and try and imagine him with a green suit rather than red...

Difficult maybe, but that is how the British Father Christmas should be dressed. In the 1930s a certain American soft drinks company decided Santa should be dressed in red as part of a marketing campaign and that has stuck."[2]



Sorry but Coke didn't make Santa read and round, the character had been depicted like that before. While they did popularise this, and has gone on to inspire the popular image of Santa, so say they created it is going a bit far.

http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/santa/cocacola.asp http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7152054.stm

I guess its all context. When you do it yourself, it can be fun. When you do it as an homage, that can be nice too. When you do it because someone else wants you to do it for some reason they themselves don't know or care about, it's not fun. I suppose that is the origin of cultural memes but in the context of a big company workplace, my mind tends to go the other way. I'm not a perfectionist so I guess I don't relate to this from the start.

PS: This is perhaps the most disliked comment I've ever made on HN. I'm genuinely confused. Did this seem like trolling?

it's cute, but pointless. probably contributes close to nothing in terms of revenue.

And that's exactly why Apple is the world's most valuable brand. Attention to detail, even if it doesn't directly generate revenue can have profound effects that will never be discovered in an A/B test or by crunching financials. Unfortunately most tech companies (and businesses in general) don't understand this.

yes, but it's nothing to be written about or discussed. lots of startups do this and they get no attention

But probably costs next to nothing in terms of time. Look at all the companies we're discussing just in this thread. Why does everything have to be only in terms of revenue?

Surely they'd just alter the time in Photoshop (or what ever they use).

Or, for a photo shoot, set the time and take a screenshot and then display the screenshot full screen.

Advertising standards in some countries forbid digitally modifying photos of the products. I'm not sure how they define the grey areas like adjusting constrast/etc. though.

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact