Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Phone Sounds

By law, digital cameras in Japan must make a sound when taking a picture. Being able to take a pic without a shutter sound or a beep or chime to let people know they are being photographed is a no-no. When I got my N73, at a time it had not been officially released in the US yet, the importer got it from Hong Kong, guessing by the plug on the charger, and thus it had an Asian software build. Had.

When I used to work for Nokia, I was lucky enough to be a beta tester for phone models. This means that often the phone I was testing had to have a new version of its operating software put on it so we testers could find new bugs and report them. This process of updating the system software was called 'flashing the phone', and it could be the quite the production. It always involved a strange custom plug at the end of a data cable that would fit strangely inside the battery compartment, with pins that would probe deeply into nooks and crannies to find the contact points of the memory-chips, and bizarre instructions for using software so unfriendly only a chip-designer could love it. Seriously, on some models getting the flashing to work right involved holding your breath and slaughtering chickens and doing incantations while walking clockwise around the computer. During one beta test we managed to completely brick my phone. Flashing went awry and it could not be reflashed. It had to be sent back to the Mothership. Yes, I managed to really find the bugs everywhere, including updating procedures.

Nowadays the smartphones can be reflashed by anyone at home. I guess Nokia realized that since they were unavoidably shipping bugs on these sophisticated machines, allowing the user to upgrade to new builds would bring support costs down. It must be cheaper than users shipping phones back or going into stores to get an upgrade. You download the Nokia Software Updater, tell it to sense your phone attached to the computer with the bog-standard data cable that was in the box, the Updater downloads the latest build off the net, and shoves it onto your phone. No chicken required.

Back to my Asian-identified phone: even when I set it to the 'Silent' profile (make no noise ever), it will still make a shutter sound when I take a picture, as it should by Japanese law. I didn't like that. It screws up pet pictures: they wonder what the sound is, or wake up, and come over to sniff. Over on Facebook I joined the N73 group, where someone posted a pointer to a page on how to update an N73 to N73 - Music Edition. It turns out that you have to find another shady piece of software that will allow you to screw with the memory settings in ways the standard official Nokia Software Updater doesn't. Specifically, the software allows you to change the Product Code set inside the phone. As in, you change the number and your N73 is no longer Asian-identified, but Euro-identified. Or Bulgarian-identified. Or Australian-identified. Inside it seems they are all the same chips for all versions anyway, it's just that one code set in deep memory tells the phone what software it should have.

I installed the software, and felt nostalgic: the interface is indeed so techie only a chip designer could love it. I found the Euro product code on the list. I hooked up my phone, and made the software overwrite the Asian product code deep in the bowels of my phone, and burn in the Euro code. Yes, phone, you are now an imperialist round-eye model! Then I started Nokia Software Updater, who took one look at my phone and said "Ohgod, you are running completely inappropriate and also outdated software for your model. Here, let me get the latest build that is right for you, you Euro thing."

Now when I set my phone to 'Silent', the camera no longer makes a shutter sound when I take a picture. And a couple of browser bugs are gone. But no shutter sound. Europeans are a devious people.