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.

Shop ▾
arrow up Amazon Shop buttons are programmatically attached to all reviews, regardless of products' final review scores. Our parent company, IDG, receives advertisement revenue for shopping activity generated by the links. Because the buttons are attached programmatically, they should not be interpreted as editorial endorsements.

Subscribe to the Best of PCWorld Newsletter