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Old 28-01-2009, 10:40 AM
slitchfield slitchfield is offline
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Bugs In Firmware Are Here To Stay - Can Companies Deal With It?

The CEO of Research in Motion, Jim Balsillie, has admitted to the Washington Post that the recent release of the Blackberry Storm was buggy, and they knew it. Pushed out to make sure it was in the shops for Black Friday – one of America's biggest day for consumer electronics sales – after the planned shipping date in October was missed. And he ominously warned that shipping with imperfect software was the future of electronics. He's right – and let me explain why.

Read on in the full article.

Old 28-01-2009, 10:58 AM
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If buggy initial firmware is the future... SonyEricsson are well ahead of the curve!

Old 28-01-2009, 11:20 AM
chucky.egg chucky.egg is offline
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Good points, and I understand all that, but...

As a consumer I don't find it satisfactory that there is no knowledgeable or official channel to support me.

As an example I bought a Windows Mobile device a while back. It was network-subsidised, so the only "supplier" I had was Orange. When I called for support their very first instruction was to hard reset the device (back to fresh out-of-the-box state). I'd lose all my data, my apps and settings. For an intermittent problem this might need doing repeatedly, and with no great assurance of a solution at the end of it.

The principle is that if, without any non-standard content, the device works then it's not their problem.

I'd compare that to a hifi only being supported if you only listen to the radio - if you put a CD in then you're on your own!

These are not cheap devices, and they are intended to be used with 3rd party apps and services.

When are the manufacturers or suppliers going to spend some of that early-adopter profit on supporting users who find the bugs that they already know about?

Most of us know that, if you have a bug/issue, you're far more likely to get a timely answer from the community than you are from the network or manufacturer.

Old 28-01-2009, 12:10 PM
ajck ajck is offline
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Good article, but bugs should not be in the least bit surprising, certainly not to anyone working in the mobile industry. It is unarguable that mobiles (smart or not) are already the next generation personal computers, running full complex multitasking personal computer OSes (yes, even series 40). Admittedly people's mindsets need a bit of time to catch up with this concept, but it is the truth, and therefore when compared to e.g. Windows (bad comparison actually, given Microsoft specifically are utterly incapable of producing quality software) or Mac OS X or Linux that have fixes and updates applied throughout the product lifecycle, we see that a buggy Symbian, Android or iPhone is not in the least bit surprising, and yes we will have to live with it, absolutely.

What is required is more communication between vendor and customer, as others have requested.


Old 28-01-2009, 02:32 PM
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Angry Well I almost tossed it

After 7 years with nokia and a 9300 that ran flawlessly for 3 years, I almost tossed the whole S60 experience with the E71 NAM.... Had to hack the phone since my product code had missed two updates. The phone was rubbish before the 200.x.x.x upgrade. If firmware updates will be de rigeur they should split the updates between core functions and "model add-ons" since I really don't care if my # key switches me from silent to normal mode, but if my camera, WiFi and GSP are not ready for prime time that turns me from a Nokia evangilist to a old reactionary that pines for the old days!

Old 28-01-2009, 02:46 PM
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what a load of rubbish... shame on you!

Talk about justifying poor working practices and allowing marketing / accounting to run a company!

So companies have to slow down product releases. So what? I don't go into a restaurant and get my food before its actually cooked!! I don't want my phone before its ready either.

I don't have the time to update and then put back all the data and settings to how they were before. Loads of people never update their phone because they have busy lives and can't be bothered.

Maybe if these companies are so bad at their 'ever so complicated' jobs then they should work out an over the air painless firmware upgrade path - that doesnt need a pc or the use of my data plan!!!

Old 28-01-2009, 02:46 PM
svdwal svdwal is offline
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One of the main reasons to have a proper OS is to prevent combinatorial runaway like the 562 billion application interactions mentioned in the text. If only two apps interact because of they have been programmed that way, and the OS makes it impossible for apps to interact in a non-programmed way, you don't get that many interactions, and the ones you get are known and can be tested. Symbian's client-server architecture in particular is well-suited to make shared resource access possible and easy to use (check your Tanenbaum on Minix book for that).

I suspect that RIM has released the Storm early to take advantage of the Chrismas sales period in the States. Early adopters will buy the device anyway, bugs or not, so there's no point in not selling them the device, lest they decide to buy an iPhone instead. This is a well-known trick, not only in the computer industry. The only cure is to wait half a year after a device launch and buy the bug-fixed version, at a lower price.

Old 28-01-2009, 03:14 PM
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While I accept that devices may be released with bugs, it's what happens afterwards that matters.

My wife has an unlocked Palm Centro, which she likes a lot. However, it suffers from the well-known "crashes when answering the phone" bug, which is actually quite serious in a phone. However, 6+ months after the bug was first reported, no update has been forthcoming. It's possible that it's a particularly tricky bug to fix, but my suspicion is that Palm simply don't care enough to try to fix it, which is a clear indication of how much Palm care about their customer base...

Old 28-01-2009, 03:19 PM
Tzer2 Tzer2 is offline
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I don't think any piece of software or computing hardware has ever been released 100% free of bugs.

If you tried to make a smartphone free of every possible bug, you'd never release the thing. :-) So to some extent every smartphone maker releases all their products knowing that they have bugs on them. Developers simply cannot make something bug-free, all they can do is get the bugs down to a level where consumers are very unlikely to run into major problems. Even then though, if millions of people buy something then the million-to-one bugs will still occur for some people. It's a paradox but in many ways the best-selling devices are the ones where people are most likely to run into bugs, simply because so many people are using them.

It all comes down to what the acceptable level of bugs is, but that's very difficult to define. Some people use their phones so little that they literally never run into bugs, while others do such complex and envelope-pushing things with their phones that they run into bugs all the time. So the same phone can be bug-free or very buggy, depending on what kind of user you talk to. I think that's part of the reason tech sites have so many people complaining about products, because tech site visitors tend to do a lot more with their devices than the average user, so they're going beyond what the manufacturers were aiming for.

In a way this is a philosophical question too: if a phone is aimed at a light user, should the manufacturer really worry about bugs that only heavy users run into? And what about all the people in-between heavy and light users?

Another thing to consider is the guarantee policy of a manufacturer, how easily can a defective device be repaired or replaced? How bad does a bug or defect have to be in order to qualify for compensation? One controversy with many early LCD devices was manufacturers' attitudes to dead pixels, where customers clearly had broken screens yet received no repairs or replacements because the companies said the screens weren't broken enough.

Old 28-01-2009, 04:52 PM
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No matter what you believe bad exp hurts the brand

The expectation is not a bug free phone…especially since no manufacturer can control what I put on the phone- ok, maybe the Jesus phone attempts that trick. Core firmware function at the hardware level should be flawless since every manufacturer controls that 100% and those core hardware functions need to work commensurate to the price point, niche that the phone occupies.

Nokia is in a wonderful situation that they do not leverage. They can find the right combination of best in class hardware/firmware and propagate it across the range. As an AAS regular I feel Steve’s pain and amazement that the N82 has the “best” camera of any Nokia…. and Nokia can’t replicate it, let alone best it, in newer models with equivalent specs.

Mercedes puts its best (bug free) technology on the top of the range… then in 12-24 months ESP, BAS, Pre-Safe end up trickling down to the E and C-Class. Absolutely no reason Nokia can’t do this…

All I have to do is ask any AAS regular to build a Franken-phone with Nokia’s best bits and you would have a fantastic device… that I could ruin with Beta software- but that would be my choice.

Then I pay top dollar for a device I expect top kit. Blackberry will see that their new message will not play well in the five-9 world of corporate IT. The additional revenue is more then offset by damage to the brand – What do you think the N-96 has done to nokia’s fortune?

Old 28-01-2009, 08:54 PM
Tzer2 Tzer2 is offline
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Core firmware function at the hardware level should be flawless since every manufacturer controls that 100%
LOL, flawless? Are you being serious?

Nothing in this world is flawless, especially not smartphones.

(Even aircraft, which have a lot of money put into making them as reliable as possible, do still crash a small percentage of the time.)

The problem isn't control, the problem is complexity.

Firmware and software can never ever ever be flawless, because modern devices are far too complicated to test in every possible situation. There are simply too many things which can go wrong to test them all, so manufacturers can only afford to test and solve the most likely problems.

Ask a manufacturer to create a 100% bug-free device, or ask a developer to create a 100% bug-free application, and they will tell you that it is impossible. You can carry on finding bugs in software forever, it is a never-ending process, and if you can't find any bugs someone else will. Software and firmware would never be released if you tried to literally remove all the bugs.

Because you can't test something forever, at some point you have to stop testing and actually release it, knowing that there are still bugs in it. Hopefully there are no major bugs, but there will always be at least some minor ones.

The problem is getting worse as phones introduce ever-more functions into ever-smaller and ever-cheaper packages. There's more and more that has to be developed and tested, with more and more interactions between features.

Mercedes puts its best (bug free) technology on the top of the range…
There is no such thing as bug free technology, you are deluding yourself if you think there is.

For something to be "bug-free", it would have to always work perfectly in all situations.

Name one device or machine where NO ONE has EVER found ANYTHING that goes wrong.

So companies have to slow down product releases. So what? I don't go into a restaurant and get my food before its actually cooked!! I don't want my phone before its ready either.
Slow down releases to what? Once every five years? Ten years? Twenty?

How do you decide when a device is ready?

Even if you took fifty years on a device there is bound to be some set of unanticipated circumstances that causes it to malfunction, so it would never be bug-free.

And when companies DO delay a release to fix problems, everyone starts moaning about how incompetent they are, so they're in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.

It's the same if companies release tried and trusted technology, they're condemned for using equipment that's "obsolete". The E71 deliberately used S60 3rd FP1 instead of FP2 precisely because FP1 was more stable, but many tech reviewers criticised it for being behind the times.

To use the restaurant analogy, would you expect a 100% guarantee that the food was safe to eat? If you do expect that, then you'd die of starvation.

Old 28-01-2009, 09:16 PM
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I'm just going to reiterate what svdwal said, since nobody seems to be understanding the concept. Whether or not a system crashes because of a rogue application is solely dependant on the underlying OS. Get the OS right, and you'll rarely if ever have issues; get it wrong or make shortcuts, and there'll be failures galore. In an ideal OS, it should never matter if you've got 50 applications running at once and/or if the mp3 player is running as well -- all apps should be isolated and preemptible.

So, no, it's not an issue of increasing complexity. It's an issue of slackness at RIM and others. And, incidentally, stability in a phone is paramount -- once your customers start losing important calls because of a bad phone OS, you've lost them for good. RIM, more than most, relies on its reputation and I suspect releasing the Storm half-baked has hurt them severely, if not terminally.

Old 28-01-2009, 10:18 PM
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Don't let Flag Ship become Flog Sh#t


That “can’t do” attitude is exactly what the manufacturers are looking to foster in the man on the street. Nokia 100% controls the hardware and firmware interfaces – green button talks, red button hangs up, power button…well you get the point.

Yes people then write application code that talks to that interface, which is where we get problems, in Nokia’s case its often internal dev teams, so tell me why the E71 has to be released with a camera that has a purple tint- what? Nokia does not have a 3.2 Mp Af unit in another s60 phone that works well? Is the camera app on the E71 that unique…no!

Let’s remember the point of the article here- we are not talking about small annoyances we are talking products that are major dog rockets until they are patched. Yes, Mercedes does put out bug free technology- because if the ABS or ESP software and firmware freak out while you’re going 75– people die. Not saying that things don’t break, yes things break….but the avionics on an Airbus are not buggy little affairs that need a quick firmware patch en route over the Atlantic because every time the passenger in seat H29 flushes the loo the aircraft looses 5,000 ft of altitude.

Now your going to say “well it’s not a $75k benzo…it’s just a phone” Cha! 1) I almost spend more time holding my phone “smart phone” then my loved ones – it’s an integral part of my life. 2) Plunking down $500 to $800 for a phone – proportionally factoring in the plastic and chips- I’m buying software and functionality NOT keys and LCD’s.

Unlike many fanboys I don’t buy my tech based on reviews, defer a purchase because the item isn’t sporting the latest un-ratified hardware standard, or the Dr.Strangelove feature-war escalation. I have been on the tech bleeding edge for most of my life so if you give me a mobile phone with a new 3D holographic video conference function… I get the risks (Do any of you use the video call feature on your Nok?).

I respect your right to your opinion, but the truth is that Nokia came very close to loosing a long time customer who regularly buys $500 plus sim free cell phones. I vote with my dollars… but enough of us have to rise up and say we are not going to take this…or else Flag ship will soon be Flog Sh#t.

Old 28-01-2009, 11:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Unregistered View Post

Yes, Mercedes does put out bug free technology
This is the same Mercedes that had to recall whole initial production run of "Mercedes-Benz A-Class", due to faulty electronic stability control and badly tuned suspension structure (which caused these cars to "flip over" during fast and extreme maneuvers)?

Old 28-01-2009, 11:30 PM
Posts: n/a
It's funny that the industry is telling the customers to accept bugs and people are actually defending them because its 'so' complicated! You realise you are talking about making a mobile phone? "It's not rocket science, boys!"

These same companies exist to make profit!! Not to make phones! Does that not tell you something? You are just being taken advantage of. Why don't you demand more from these companies who make huge profits from their customers?

I don't think people are expect 100% bug free but come on, saying you are going to release buggy equipment to cash in on sales and you think that's ok??? I just don't get it.

Many people have highly technical jobs but they don't get to tell their employers 'I am going to make mistakes today but I'll probably fix them later'....

No wonder the world is in such a mess!


bugs, companies, deal, firmware, stay

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