Battling the 'BlackBerry White Screen of Death'

Here's my tale of woe (and eventually my tips on how to avoid this unfortunate journey yourself): I requested a BlackBerry Tour to write a review of Bayalink Liberty, a hardware/software product that makes a stab at my vision of a smartphone-centric computer environment. I kept it to review the BlackBerry development software then in beta test. After that, I kept it longer to build a list of good BlackBerry applications for techies like me, as well as another list of good BlackBerry applications for mobile professionals.

On the way to building these lists, I downloaded, installed, and tested a number of likely candidates. Fairly soon, I started finding that each application wanted to update itself over the air and reboot the BlackBerry -- shades of Microsoft Windows in the bad old days of Windows 95!

Worse, the BlackBerry Tour reboot is roughly a 10-minute process. Ugh -- shades of running Windows on a original IBM PC XT.

Meanwhile, Verizon pushed a BlackBerry OS update over the air. The update included a warning that it would take several hours -- it did. I worried that the device's battery might die in the middle of the update, so I kept it plugged into its charger for the duration.

After the OS update, I had to restore the application icons to my preferred arrangement, and I started having trouble with applications. I eventually figured out that the OS update had destroyed all their registration and preference settings. Somewhere in there I tried to downgrade one application -- it might have been BlackBerry Messenger -- to see if that would fix the problem. There was no warning that doing this might be a bad idea; as a programmer, I try reverting recalcitrant software to a known good build as a standard practice.

After -- and possibly because of -- that, my BlackBerry started locking up and exhibiting other odd symptoms. Finally, on Christmas Eve, the reboot from a normal application update didn't complete; instead I got a glowing white screen and the message "Reload Software 552." The power button was unresponsive. Removing the battery turned off the device, but reinserting the battery caused a five-minute boot process that once again ended with "Reload Software 552." I started referring to this as the "White Screen of Death."

It was Christmas Eve. Nobody was working at RIM or its PR firm. My local Verizon reseller was open; its BlackBerry "guru" took one look at the screen, said it need to be reflashed, and sent me to a Verizon-owned store half an hour away. In a mall. On Christmas Eve.

After I fought my way into the parking lot and found the store tucked away at the edge of the mall, I handed my BlackBerry to the first tech I found and asked if it could be fixed. "Let me take it in the back." Forty-five minutes later, he emerged, gave it to me with a relatively normal-looking screen, and said, "I hope you backed up your data to your desktop. I couldn't get it out of the device."

I hadn't. I didn't even know that the device came with a desktop app, because the CD wasn't visible in the package of documentation I assumed was consumer pap that I didn't need. OK, I didn't even RTFM.

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