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The agony of the smartphone update

Amy Gahran says updating a mobile operating system makes her want to start biting her nails again.
Amy Gahran says updating a mobile operating system makes her want to start biting her nails again.
  • Mobile blogger Amy Gahran tries to update her iPhone software
  • She wonders: What if this update bombs and screws up my phone?
  • Old Nokia update process turned her $600 smartphone into a "high-tech brick"
  • Last weekend she ordered Verizon Droid Incredible, which ships on July 19

Editor's Note: Amy Gahran writes about mobile tech for She is a San Francisco Bay area writer and media consultant whose blog,, explores how people communicate in the online age.

(CNN) -- On Monday, Apple rolled out a major update to the iPhone operating system. As I write this, I'm going through the install process for iOS 4. I hooked up my iPhone to my Mac, told iTunes to initiate the update, saw my phone's screen change to "Sync in Progress," and now I'm waiting.

I've done these major mobile operating system updates before. It always makes me want to start biting my nails again.

20 minutes

So far it's been 20 minutes, and, according to iTunes, I'm only about 5 percent through the phone backup process.

Um, in about an hour I need to go from Oakland to San Francisco for an event. Am I going to have to leave my phone behind? And if so, what will I return to?

Or what if this update bombs and screws up my phone?

That nightmare has happened to me before, back in 2008, when I bought an unlocked Nokia N95.

It arrived working fine, but it had an old version of the operating system. I ran Nokia's process to install the OS update and -- well, that process turned my $600 smartphone into a high-tech brick. (More on that sad saga)

That N95 was my first smartphone, and I owned it for only three days. After struggling with Nokia's unreasonable U.S. service policy, I decided to return the phone. The whole experience was painful and wrenching, because I really loved what that phone could do, when it worked. But at the time I hadn't yet adopted the smartphone as a way of life -- so I was able to carry on with life and work pretty much as before after the demise of my N95.

30 minutes

I fold the laundry, return to my iPhone. The update has been running 30 minutes and my phone is only about 10 percent backed up.

45 minutes

Now the update has been running for 45 minutes, and the phone is only about 15 percent backed up.

I sigh, realizing I'll have to make this trip today without my phone.

And that's what bugs me. Leaving home without my phone. Feeling temporarily disconnected, disoriented. Not pathologically so. But my smartphone has become deeply ingrained into so many of my daily habits.

For instance, I mapped the location of today's event on my phone, with walking directions from the BART subway stop. And later, when I'm at today's party for the launch of my friend Beth Kanter's new book, The Networked Nonprofit, I'll feel frustrated that I can't tweet about what's going on.

Sure, if this update bombs and kills my phone, I'll live. Unlike my Nokia N95 fiasco, there's an Apple store biking distance from my home, and I pay for their Procare program to get preferential service scheduling. So I could probably get my phone at least fixed or replaced quickly.

So I'm not terribly worried that I'll be stuck for a phone for the remaining month on my AT&T contract. I've already committed to abandoning iPhone when my contract terminates in July.

Last weekend, I ordered a Verizon Droid Incredible, and it should ship on July 19. I really like the iPhone interface, and I'm not looking forward to the Android learning curve -- but AT&T's 3G network is so terribly congested that every month I feel like I'm paying for the emperor's new clothes.

Still, leaving home without my phone, while the phone is in update limbo, is stressful.

One hour

It's now 10 minutes before I have to leave. I sigh, grab a notebook, go to Google Maps, and scribble street directions to the book launch party. My iPhone update has been crawling along for over an hour at this point.

It may just be congested servers at Apple. All might be well. I am seeing the progress bar move, very gradually.

I take a deep breath, and head out the door for San Francisco.

Four hours

I return home four hours later to find that my iPhone OS update is complete.


I don't know how long it took, exactly, but I bet more than two hours, at least.


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