Note to new readers: This post is from March 2006, when I was using a SE W800i phone. Today I am using a Nokia N82, and I haven’t used my W800i for about a year. A lot might have happened with the SE Update Service software since then – keep that in mind when reading about my experience with the software. However, with that said, comments indicate people still have issues with the Update Service similar to those I had back in 2006. – Are, 19.01.2008
A few days ago, I decided to go ahead and update the firmware of my Sony Ericsson W800i mobile phone. I had an old version – L1R002 – dated August 2005. From past experience, I know that updating firmware – that is, changing the program code running the operating system of the phone – can be risky. If something goes wrong during the update process, you could be left with a non-functional device, which must be repaired at a service workshop. Thus, I approached this procedure with caution.
However, seeing that Sony Ericsson had launched a new version of their phone software update program – Update Service II – reassured me a little bit. Mature software is usually better than immature software. I’ll quote from their UK Update Service page:
No user data will be lost, and you will be guided smoothly through the update process.
Judging by this, there shouldn’t be any problems, right? Especially not for a computer-literate consumer. Well…
At this stage I should warn the reader – if you mind reading lengthy stuff, you could probably do yourself a service and go straight to the conclusion at this point.
When the Update Service is launched, you are greeted with a computer animated intro of pretty poor quality, juxtaposed with some annoying music that is repeated a few times. At this stage, I thought “hmm, this could’ve been some crappy shareware program for peer to peer file-sharing, but hey, it’s Sony Ericsson”. The next screen is the program proper; you’re greeted with a big Sony Ericsson logo and a nice, flashing progress bar of the kind that tells you nothing about how much time has elapsed or how much remains – just that something is happening.
You know the type, right? It flashes in a nice way, and within seconds you know for certain that the nice flashing isn’t connected to what’s actually going on in any way. It could go on forever, but hopefully it will stop soon. Who knows. At this stage, I started to realise that I was about to flash my mobile phone with a Flash-based application. Now, I associate Flash with funny movies on the ‘net and games you play in your web-browser – not a technology I would rely on in a life or death-situation. Flatmate Anders pointed out the irony of flashing with a Flash application to me later on, when things were going downhill. But I digress.
The next screen allows you to choose your nationality, not from a drop-down list but from a screenful of fuzzy graphics with fancy mouseover effects. It screams “Flash” at you. Maybe some people are reassured by fancy fuzzy graphics; I’m not one of them. Especially not when the quality of the graphics change from screen to screen (the progress indicator mentioned earlier was drawn sharply).
After clicking on “Norwegian”, I wait a few seconds before I realise I have to click the low-visibility arrow too. I click it, and for two seconds nothing happens, then the completely useless progress indicator (sorry, I should really stop saying that – it is a glorified hourglass) starts flashing. In another few seconds (thank God I’m doing this on a speedy machine) the program tells me, in a nice font, “Update your phone and get the latest software”, and lets me choose between “Start” and “Quit”. Somehow I think that I would’ve avoided the program altogether if I didn’t actually want to upgrade, but hey. By this point I guess most of their testers were getting really worried, so they probably thought putting in a last avenue of escape was a good idea.
By the way, this screen we’re talking about doesn’t just have a nice colour photo of a SE phone (not your model, a random one), but it rotates the pictures, smoothy. Is this a fashion show or a software upgrade? (Oh, and lest I forget it, I should mention that clicking in the top-left corner and selecting “Close” doesn’t do anything. Wow. That feels so comforting.)
Doesn’t do anything
Well, I want to upgrade, so here we go. Another click. “Conditions for use – Accept the following” – ah, the standard disclaimer. I’m going to go with the Norwegian version here, because the very poor translation is part of the problem. The disclaimer starts out by saying “The use of this area is at your own risk.” (my emphasis). “Area”? Surely this is a software application? They lost me right there, but we’re all used to silly disclaimers, so I tried to read a bit more. Unfortunately the program drops you back to the handy “Start” / “Quit” screen before you manage to get halfway through. Oh well. This seems to happen at random intervals.
We click on, and are presented with two pictures, and are encouraged to click on the one matching the port on the bottom of our phone. This is a good way of doing it. Yay. I said something nice about the Update Service.
From style to substance
Here, my problems began. I was supposed to be guided smoothly through the process, so confusion mounted fast when I was faced with the following instructions:
“Follow the instructions in the list below
Check that your battery is fully charged.
1. Turn the phone off
2. Remove the SIM-card
3. Switch the battery
4. Press the C button
5. Connect the USB plug to the phone”
Right! The accompanying animation shows the phone with a handy on/off-sign, fair enough, the rear cover of the phone being removed, the SIM-card being removed, and the rear cover sliding back on. Apparently there was no reason to include the battery in the animation. This left me with partly raised eyebrows. “Switch” the battery? Surely they mean “re-insert the battery”? And why mention “switching” it when they didn’t mention removing it before removing the SIM card?
For procedures that can render your hardware inoperable I prefer thorough instructions, written by someone with a decent knowledge of the language used. Oh, and an animation that shows only parts of the process does as much harm as good.
I’ve flashed phone firmware before, so I figured that the SIM-card should be removed and the battery left in, and that’s that.
After removing the SIM, I pressed the C button while inserting the USB cable. Unfortunately, dear reader, I can’t remember the exact sequence of events that followed, but all the ingredients are included here.
For a short while, nothing happened. Then, Windows reported that it had found a new device. My initial reaction was “what? I’ve installed drivers for this phone already”, so I pressed “Cancel” in the window that popped up. In another minute or so, the application threw me back to the “Start / Quit” screen.
I was getting somewhat concerned for my phone’s health and safety at this point, so I checked the SE website again, and discovered that there is a PDF document available with step by step instructions on how to perform the update. It is probably a warning sign in itself that a program which is supposed to guide you “smoothly” through the update process comes with a step by step guide on how to use it. Amusingly, while the program itself is available in a host of languages, this PDF is apparently only available in English.
The PDF explained that the “new hardware” dialogue was in fact supposed to come up, and that you needed that new driver install to flash the phone. Moreover, after successfully installing the new hardware, the Update Service application needed to be restarted. That piece of information proved to be extremely helpful later on – the Update Service itself is oblivious to this requirement. (Actually, I discovered that some of these instructions are included further down on the Update Service webpage too, at least on the Norwegian one.)
Armed with these new pieces of information, I tried once more. This time, a glorified hourglass, similar to the one mentioned earlier, came up. I was left staring at this while nothing happened for about three minutes. I was rewarded for my waiting with a screen saying my phone could not be found, and that I should restart the Update Service and try again. (Apologies if details are incorrect here.)
I so did, and after about five minutes I was left with the same result. I took the only natural course of action – I decided that enough was enough and unplugged my phone.
“Soft” and “hard” power buttons
Hopefully you, dear reader, will never experience the trauma of pressing a “soft” power button and receive no response from the device in question. Let me clarify. A “hard” power button has an explicit setting “on” and an explicit setting “off”. The button can be pressed, moved or whatever, and is left in the “on” state. When pressed again, it moves back to the “off” state. A “soft” power button simply sends a message to some electronic circuit – “Hello there, someone wants to turn you on or off, depending on what state you are in now”. You can press it again if you like, but there is no explicit state reflected by the button itself. The only feedback that tells you that the device is actually entering the “on” state is observing that the device actually is entering the “on” state.
When it doesn’t enter the “on” state, you will experience (if you, like me, are fond of your gadgets) a very uncomfortable, uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. I wouldn’t recommend this experience.
To be blunt: Nothing happened. Zilch. Absolutely no response of any kind resulted from my repeated, determined presses on the power button. I’m sure you can understand that panic was mounting at this point.
So what could I do? Well, I’m a Windows user, and Windows users know that if you’ve got a problem, the most reliable way of solving it is to clean out the dirt (meaning your entire current Windows installation) and start from scratch. I wasn’t quite at that point yet (although my phone was), so I was content with rebooting and starting the procedure from the beginning.
Unfortunately, I got the same result – the program searched for my phone, to no avail. My flatmate Eivind pointed out that doing this on a Saturday was a bad idea, as far as Sony Ericsson workshops and working hours are concerned. I thought hard. Could I try this on another computer? Or.. maybe.. I could exploit the nice “every USB port must have a separate driver installation” feature of Windows XP?
It was worth trying, so I inserted the cable in a different USB port and started from scratch. When the driver was installed, I restarted the Update Service, and happily, after pressing C and inserting the cable, the program told me it would now update my phone’s software and that I should not touch it. I was already holding it in my hand, so I held it gingerly for quite a while, before daring to put it down on the coach. The update process was slow, but it got there in the end. This text is already too long, so I’ll be brief – I reinserted the SIM card after completing the upgrade, and everything is working fine.
My W800i phone was dead for a while, after an unsuccessful attempt at updating the software, but by restarting the entire procedure from scratch, including installing the required flash driver on a different USB port, I managed to complete the update. It feels like I just dodged a bullet, though. There are quite a few improvements Sony Ericsson could make to the Update Service. Since I’m so happy with the other aspects of my phone (external link, Norwegian) ownership these days I’ll do them a favour and make a list.
- When giving step by step instructions, give thorough step by step instructions – don’t skip any points
- Make the program handle different scenarios – this program was obviously written only with users who already had the required drivers installed in mind
- If you know the instructions in the program are incomplete, explicitly tell the user to read the program’s manual before starting the process. Including them in small print on the webpage somewhere isn’t good enough.
- If you think the program should be translated, make sure the translation is completely unambiguous.
- Don’t add animations that diverge from the written instructions.
- Please spend more resources on making a user-friendly program, which is not the same as making it “look nice”.
- Make a graphical user interface that instills confidence in the underlying code:
- Avoid flashy (hah) “progress indicators” that aren’t progress indicators.
- Make the program respond immediately when a button is clicked – waiting a few seconds and then getting a “progress indicator” screams sluggishness.
And a lesson for me? Look for documentation before doing stuff that can cause real problems, even if the vendor says the process will be “smooth”.
It felt really good to get that off my chest. Thanks for reading. Do leave a comment if you’ve had a similar experience. I’ll remember to write up the tale of “Are and the Soltek BIOS chip” one day – it’s got a few of the same gut-wrenching ingredients this one does.
Relevant link: Thread at Esato with K750i/W800i firmware information