My Overheating BlackBerry Bold Experience

Towards the end of February there were several news reports about DoCoMo suspending their recently launched BlackBerry Bold service due to an overheating issue. In my six months of using a BlackBerry Bold I had never encountered any heating issue. But during my Toronto to San Francisco flight to eComm 2009 on Monday, March 2 that changed. I’ll get to the details but first I need to provide some background.

iSkoot_Notification_01.240px As reported previously I often use iSkoot or IM+ Plus for Skype (BlackBerry  version) for accessing my Skype contacts via voice or chat while away from my home office. One benefit of the BlackBerry version is that chat sessions can occur in background while using other applications. (This also applies to iSkoot for Android.) As new messages arrive, I receive a notification which provides me with an option to look at the message or continue my current foreground activity.

Early in February I attended a BlackBerry App World Developer presentation in Toronto where Tyler Lessard, RIM’s Director of ISV Alliances and Developer Relations, made the point that, in designing third party applications, developers need to “write to the device platform”, not simply to the “application”. For instance, any IM or “voice enhanced” application should include access to the native Blackberry address book as a matter of convenience; iSkoot on the BlackBerry can access the BlackBerry address book for setting up SkypeOut calls. But most importantly, RIM provides API’s such that an application can run in the background and receive data in a “push” fashion rather than requiring it poll the network frequently for data. Tyler pointed out that this approach minimizes an application’s dependence on the radio and, ultimately, battery life.

Finally, as background to this story, I should mention that, due to an allergic reaction to watch back covers, I cannot wear a watch; I use my Bold as a clock for time checks.

So what happened during my flight to SFO that resulted in a mild searing of my left hand? While at the Toronto airport waiting area I made a Skype call to Spain via iSkoot. Immediately after completing the call, it was time to board, so I simply pocketed my Bold and boarded. Once seated I turned off the Bold’s radio, more to conserve battery rather than worrying about interfering with aircraft radio.

But about two hours into the flight I pulled out my Bold to check the time and noticed that it was somewhat warm. Checked the radio settings; both GSM and WiFi were off. Checked again half an hour later when I wanted to listen to music on the Bold and all but mildly seared my hand while holding it. And, what had been a completely charged BlackBerry Bold at the beginning of the day was now showing battery level down at one-quarter. Obviously something was still active and draining the battery.

At that point I realized that I had left iSkoot running when I boarded the plane; maybe its background processing was attempting, unsuccessfully to check for my Skype messages; however, being unsuccessful resulted in frequent re-attempts. I closed iSkoot; within 15 minutes the Bold’s temperature had dropped to a point where I could hold it comfortably; an hour later it was back to ambient temperature.

I have contacted iSkoot with a suggestion that they look at:

  • checking whether at least one of the Bold’s radio channels (2G/EDGE,3G or WiFi) is on before attempting to contact the network , and
  • ensuring they are using RIM’s  API’s appropriately, especially with respect to their “push” feature, to reduce the heavy battery consumption I have experienced in normal use of iSkoot.

I also had SocialScope running while in flight; however, on my return flight with SocialScope open, I did not notice any heating issues. And, while I made reasonable use of my Bold during eComm 2009, I have not noticed any heating issues. Blogging colleague Jon Arnold did mention that, during phone calls, he did notice his Bold got warmer; however, it was not uncomfortably warmer. To me this was simply an indication as to how much I use text for conversations from my Bold: BlackBerry Messenger, SocialScope, iSkoot (for Skype IM and chat), email (either BlackBerry or GMail), web browsing and how little I use it for normal voice conversations.

Bottom line: if you’re writing applications for the BlackBerry, ensure you are only accessing the Internet when one of the BlackBerry’s radios is on, take advantage of the BlackBerry’s “push” feature, using the appropriate API’s to help extend battery life while using your application and check for other opportunities to “write to the device platform” as opposed to simply attempting to port an application from another platform.

Final question: does this provide a hint as to the cause of the DoCoMo problem? Is it possible that some DoCoMo-exclusive software is encountering a similar problem? To date a Google News search does not provide any mention of restoring availability of the Bold at DoCoMo.

And I’m still awaiting notification of a new build of iSkoot that addresses this issue. In the meantime make sure iSkoot is closed when turning off your BlackBerry radios (GSM/3G/EDGE and WiFi).

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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