Sunday, 7 October 2012

Stuff happens

'New Outhouse'
by andyarthur under
a CC license
Yes, it does.

I've been the proud owner of a humble Android tablet for quite some months now. Not the most mission-critical hardware I have but, still, a fully respectable gadget.

Yesterday, the YouTube app wanted to have it updated. Blindly, I obeyed. The new version kept crashing on start. Then another app crashed. And then another. And then the entire system froze. You know, the point where you restart the thing and hope for the best.

The restart took ages. A few things were missing but, most importantly, no app could start without crashing. They all had to be un-installed and re-installed. One-by-one. Yes, I tried clearing the dalvik cache before that. Yes, I double checked that there is enough space left. Yes, I got rid of things I didn't really need, just in case. Nothing really made a difference.

I ended up wiping the entire thing up and starting fresh with the initial factory version. Let me just say that this one is not a crystal clear process if you don't have a functional device. There is a start-up key combination that takes you to a pre-boot Android menu but that's not easy to assume. You can google for it, of course, and it comes up easily. But, still, you need access to the internet for that.

Getting things back to where they were (well, to approximately where they were before stuff happened) took about 3-4 hours and a good amount of cursing. Having survived that I can come up with a list of nice and bad things).

The nice things:
  • Since most of the apps come from the Android market, Google may remember, right after the fresh installation, which ones the user bought and offer to install them (one by one) again. For some reason, that happens for some only for-pay apps.
  • Google play remembers all the apps the user bought. So in the case Android doesn't remember the apps already bought, if the user searches for them, Google play will offer to install them without having to buy them again.
  • E-mails, contacts, photos and anything that is stored on the Google cloud will be easily accessible after the wiping/ re-installation process.
  • To be fair, the whole re-installation process is dramatically faster than what would be needed for a PC. Then again, I'm only talking about what I think was caused by a software glitch, not a hardware failure. Had that been the case, the only option for the tablet would have been a trip to the manufacturer's service (i.e., weeeeks of waiting).

The bad things:
  • All the good things above can happen only if the user has access to his/her Google account. Being locked out or without internet access is very bad news in that case. In fact, internet access is really needed for things a user would normally do with a tablet.
  • Google play won't remember the list of free apps the user has installed. Those apps have to be located and installed manually, one-by-one (unless the user kept a backup - there are special apps for that).
  • Device settings, widget configuration, notes, calendar entries, documents and any other kind of files, etc. are all lost (unless the user kept a backup).
Moral lines of the story:
  • Tablets occasionally fail. Take backups (yeah right!) both using cloud services and local media.
  • If you rely on access to specific data or applications, have a backup device at hand that can hold and process the data you want. That could be your laptop/ netbook/ etc. As a bonus, you get something that will help you find your way in making the tablet operational again in case you get stuck (yes, Google is your friend but you need something to access it from.
That's all folks.

It wasn't in the plan to write about that. But I'm afraid that those pieces on gluten and crisis management will have to wait for a few more days. After all, stuff happens....

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