To Clean Up Android Smartphones, Take A Cue From PCs

New Android phones are bloated with unwanted apps. Is there no way to avoid the mess?


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My Android phone has something in common with my desktop PC. It’s riddled with junk. Apps I didn’t install and can’t get rid of, “skins” that make my phone slower and less stable, and who knows what else—all contributing to the fractured headache that has become life with Android.

The devices we’re forced to use feel like textbooks that have been through five different sets of grubby hands before we even use them.

With my PC, it wasn’t so bad. A few hours of uninstalling and I had all that factory-loaded fluff out of the way. But my phone was another, much more painful story. I say it’s high time we were offered some choices in this regard.

The PC: your pre-loaded digital junk drawer

Most of us ought to be intimately familiar with the PC crapware problem. Most newly-shipped PCs come pre-loaded with trial versions of antivirus programs I will never use, limited-use editions of office suites I don’t need, and multimedia-organizer apps that make me burst into tears.

How many people spend their first day of PC use wading through all this and getting rid of it? Raise your hands.

Why do PC makers inflict this clabber on us? Money. Profit margins on PCs are ghastly slim, and anything they can do to wring a few extra bucks out of the whole arrangement is going to be worth it.

If it means taking money from software vendors to allow trialware or introductory versions of their programs to be pre-loaded into PCs, so be it—even if that, in turn, means a PC which comes from the factory practically sagging with the weight of all that extra bloat.

That said, enough people have made a stink about it that a few PC makers are now offering an alternative: Pay a few more bucks and you’ll get your system without all that preloaded clutter. Friends of mine have been more than happy to pay the extra few dollars for such a machine.

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Those bucks ensure the PC will start faster, run better and annoy them less overall—and for most people, a few bucks in exchange for that much more immediately available productivity is a fair deal.

Sure, a smart user can save himself the money by manually removing all that stuff and making his own custom backup image of the system—but most people don’t want to bother. And they’re right not to.

The phone: also crammed with crud

With phones, the situation is even more closed-ended. The vast majority of phone users treat their phone like an appliance: they use it as-is, and don’t think much (if at all) about modifying it save for installing apps.

For the most part the only way to do anything for keeps about the clutter that carriers shoehorn into one’s phone is to jailbreak it or add a custom ROM—and jailbreaking and custom ROMs are for the few, the proud, the absolutely not ordinary users.

Most of what phones come preloaded with amount to three things. The first is carrier-specific software, such as an app that checks your account status and reports back on how many minutes or how many megabytes you’ve used. This isn’t so bad—it’s actually useful, as long as it doesn’t run in the background and gobble up my battery life.

The second is “skin”-type applications—Motorola’s Moto Blur, for instance. I suspect most of these things were created as a way to jazz up Android’s earlier, blander look.

Unfortunately they are more annoying and obtrusive—and inconsistent—than anything else. I hope wider adoption of Android 4.0 and some greater insistence on consistency of interface with Android generally does away with this trend altogether.

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Tags: Android, mobile, smartphone

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