Future of Firmware Updates

Future of Firmware Updates

Firmware updates are an essential way to add value to the products that we create. It enables us to fix bugs, add new features, and keep our products up to date. It’s also one of the things that our customers find most challenging. This is because updating firmware is a multi-step process, and it is an action seldom performed. Additionally, the minute differences between web browsers and operating systems add up to a wide variety of pitfalls, making most support requests relating to firmware updates unique.

Firmware Updates: Challenges

It happened that our last firmware update coincided with Apple’s release of Mac OS 10.10 Yosemite. Yosemite is a great operating system, and Apple takes great care to ensure that their software upgrades are as smooth as possible, but as you can now appreciate, it is very difficult to anticipate every possible situation. It turns out that many people who have upgraded to Yosemite have experienced a problem with their Bluetooth devices. This included the Shearwater Petrel.

The week that we released the firmware update, support requests flooded my inbox from people who were having trouble updating their Petrels, many of whom were using Macs with Yosemite. Disentangling the people with the Yosemite problem from the people who had other issues was tough.

The solution turned out to be fairly simple, but it made for a very busy week for me!

Firmware Updates: Lesson Learned


Since that week, I have learned an important lesson: Don’t make the user do something if it can be automated, especially if it’s something they don’t do very often.

I realized that there is no reason to have people going through the complicated steps of finding the firmware update, downloading it, extracting it, and finally finding the right file in the Shearwater Desktop. Why not let the Shearwater Desktop do that for them? The Shearwater Desktop can detect what kind of computer you have, and can be taught where to find the files on our website.

Firmware Updates: The Future

And so I have decided to redesign the update experience. People will no longer have to look on our website for files, and they will no longer have to worry about what kind of file they are uploading or where to find it in their computer. The update interface will provide clear instructions on how to update, and it will find and install the correct update for your computer automatically.

Please keep in mind that Shearwater Desktop will never install firmware updates unless you request it to. We understand that some people prefer to have control over when their computers are updated, and we will respect that.

I am currently working on the latest version of the Shearwater Desktop, and I will be incorporating the change that I have written about. My hope is to make Shearwater Desktop as reliable and intuitive as every other product we make. I encourage suggestions and feature requests. While I cannot promise to implement every suggestion that is made, it is always helpful to know what people are most interested in seeing.

At Shearwater we strive to make our products the best that they can be. We are serious about our promise to be powerful, simple, and reliable. It is often a delicate balancing act between adding features and keeping the design as simple as possible.

I’ll leave you with a quote that inspires and informs my philosophy of design:

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery