The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

White Screen Of Death

– December 23rd, 2008 –

I was on a business trip last week, and as always, rely heavily on my iPhone for not only calls, but email, navigation, and - courtesy of AirShare - a method of carrying files to and from meetings. Who needs USB sticks, right?

I’ve used this 3G phone since August without too many problems. Well, that’s not strictly true, I’ve had the usual phantom restarts, blank screens, and general software lag. Just like everyone else. But, as I’m an Apple fanboy, I’ve put up with it, hopeful that with subsequent software releases, the platform would become more stable. The pitfalls of early adoption.

That all came to a grinding, abrupt halt on Thursday when my phone croaked and then died. 

Here’s what happened.

I’d just finished a call. Then two minutes later, I tried to call someone else. The iPhone was just a white screen. Unresponsive. I turned it off, turned it back on. Same thing. This was a problem as, because of AirShare, I had some important documents I’d just picked up from a client (who needs USB sticks right?), that I needed to review on the journey back to Cardiff. Back to the white screen. This must be a known issue, so I started on the hunt to track down either some wifi, or at the very least, a book on the iphone, where it might just give me some indication of what to do. Even a hard restart. I could live with that.

Sod’s Law dictates that ‘if something can go wrong, it will’. Following missed trains, cancelled trains, momentary panic when I thought I’d lost my wallet. All of this without being able to call anyone, email anyone, Google for help. In a crowded station, I felt completely alone and helpless. Then, I came to my senses. I wasn’t going to let blind panic ruin an otherwise good day.

I couldn’t find a book, and the wifi was down. My last resort was to quickly hook into the wifi in the stations en-route to Cardiff. Reading, Didcot, Swindon, & Bristol all have wifi, so I was able to snatch moments to try to get to the bottom of the mysterious White Screen Of Death.

Common problem

Turns out it happens a fair bit. Your iPhone will enter some kind of error loop. It will still be visible to iTunes. In fact, it will still be operable ‘behind’ the white screen - you just can’t see anything. It can usually be fixed by a hard restart of the device. Holding down home and sleep for 10 seconds should sort it out. Well, it didn’t. Failing that, I read, you might need to do a factory restore. Bugger. Not to worry, I have a backup, should be fine. Although, I didn’t backup AirShare before getting this important file.

The restore didn’t work either.

Apple were surprisingly helpful. ‘It’s defective’, I was told. Yes. It is. ‘Take it back to where you bought it, and they will replace it’. All good.

O2 where actually quite helpful too. Although, it was all a bit of a headache. They couldn’t issue a replacement, as they had to send it off for repair. So, I had to buy a new handset, wait for the replacement to come through and then get a refund on that handset. A lot of messing around. Why can’t they just replace the handset? Why can’t O2 interface with Apple customer support (with reference numbers)? Why does the consumer have to jump through hoops to replace a defective handset?

Over-reliance

This whole episode made me realise the over-reliance I have on this phone. The gravitation from simple phone, to mobile computer has made business possible on the move, but with that, it’s made business potentially impossible too. Previously, when travelling, I’d be incommunicado. Sure, I could answer the phone etc. but the enforced solitude from the daily grind had massive benefits. Not just the headspace it provides, but by not raising expectation of what I could and would do whilst sat there watching the world go by.

I learnt some important lessons about data too. I lost that important file from a client. I lost the time to review it on the journey. The following day, I had to call to explain, the file was resent, reviewed etc. Luckily there was a copy. AirShare is a cool app, but I was using it in the wrong way. I won’t be doing it again. 

Filed in: personal.

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