'Fixing' Flash Lite 3 on the Nokia E90

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You'll recall that the Nokia E90 Communicator recently received a major official firmware update, to v210.34.75, as reported by me here. This brought the E90 into a pretty mature state apart from the fact that Web's Flash integration seemed horribly broken, but only for some people. Read on for my investigation...

The really bizarre thing, as I say, is that for some people v210.34.75 worked properly, with Flash-enabled web sites rendering properly and YouTube (etc) videos playing, while others (including me) were left floundering with an almost useless browser that simply terminated itself whenever anything Flash-related was called upon. Which means virtually every major site these days...

What was especially interesting was that the problem manifested itself on my newly updated E90 with no user data on, no previous backups restored and with no memory card inserted. In other words, we can't blame the usual culprits - third party software, microSD conflicts and so on.

So what's left? I decided, on a hunch, to do a factory reset using the usual *#7370# sequence. And yes, I know that the Nokia Software Update had effectively done the same thing, starting the E90 with a clean internal disk and everything on defaults. But I was curious.

Flash Lite 3 on the E90 with v210 firmware

Web worked. It played Flash video files, it displayed complex Flash animations, and seemed almost 100% stable. Hmm.... I started installing my 30 or so (Nokia and) third party applications, bringing the E90 back up to the spec level I need for day to day smartphone use. You know, Quickoffice 5.0, Handy Safe, Internet Radio, Nimbuzz, Location Tagger, Sports Tracker and the rest...

Flash Lite 3 on the E90 with v210 firmware

As I installed, I'd stop every now and then and check that Web was still working. Yes. Video playback from YouTube wasn't as smooth as on the N95, but then the E90 has a larger screen to drive and slightly less graphics processing oomph. But at least it was working and not crashing.

I started running everything in sight, leaving it all going in the background and then trying Web video playback - it still worked.

Flash Lite 3 on the E90 with v210 firmware

Flash Lite 3 on the E90 with v210 firmware

So why on earth did this not work after the original v210.34.75 firmware update? I'm not completely sure, but here's my theory - do please jump in if you know enough to correct me....

After a wipe to factory settings or after a firmware update, the internal disk is basically empty. As the phone is powered on, a sizeable number of system working files are created for the first time, along with configuration files, all of which are added to or modified as you start using the device. In other words, the system area on the internal disk is both complex and always changing, in ways that you and I never get to see.

My theory is that at some point in S60's initialisation or when Web is first launched, the Flash Lite 3 modules are integrated - the OS and browser make a note of where to find them when needed and what capabilities are present. At this point, things sometimes go wrong. And sometimes go right. The situation seems to be binary - if Web and FL3 work fine straight after the update/hard reset then they'll carry on working forever more, whereas if they don't work at first then the system is 'broken' and you need to hard reset again.

The reason why FL3 sometimes integrates OK and sometimes doesn't, in my theory at least, is that we're talking about real time operating systems and complex interactions between all the different tasks, added to which  you're likely to do things in a slightly different order each time in terms of keypresses and application launches/installs. It obviously doesn't take much to make FL3 on the E90 unstable, at least in this current OS build - it's ultimately down to an instability (the new name for 'bug', you know?....) in either S60 Web or Adobe's Flash Lite 3 code.

The bottom line? If Flash videos don't play in your E90's Web, then it's time to do your backups, hard reset it and try again! [footnote: the 'solution' has now been tested on several problem E90s and has worked each time]

Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 4 June 2008

Flash Lite 3 on the E90 with v210 firmware