When your phone is running out of storage, you likely check your apps folder to clear out the games and other assorted apps you never use anymore. But that’s when you discover a bunch of weird apps you not only never use, but never even downloaded. And worse yet: YOU CAN’T DELETE THEM!
At first you’re like “WTF, phone?” But then you’re filled with other, more direct, questions. Such as:
Did someone break into my phone and install a bunch of crappy apps? AT&T FamilyMap? ChatOn? What the hell even are those?
Those are examples of “bloatware,” or apps that come pre-installed on your phone. They’re harmless, except that they use up storage space and possibly RAM (i.e. adding unnecessary “bloat” to your system).
Who put them there?
On Android and Windows devices, both the carriers (the AT&Ts, Verizons, and T-Mobiles of the world) and manufacturers (Samsungs, HTCs, and LGs) are allowed to pre-install their own apps and software. Apple also pre-loads several apps that cannot be deleted, including Stocks, Weather, and Maps.
Why would anyone put these dumb apps on my phone without my permission?
Some may actually be useful, but most will never be used. The carriers add them in the hope that you’ll love them and therefore never ever want to switch to another carrier (“I just can’t live without my Verizon Messages or official T-Mobile augmented reality app,” said no one ever). Same with the manufacturers.
You may even find undeletable apps from third parties that pay the carrier or manufacturer to be included on your device (e.g. music subscription service, game, or anti-malware app)—they often will offer a free trial period of a service that requires a paid subscription afterwards.
Well, how do I get rid of bloatware?!
It depends on which device you’re using. If you’re on a Windows Phone, you can uninstall any of these unwanted apps. Android devices, on the other hand are all over the map—the deletability of bloatware varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, carrier to carrier, and sometimes even in model to model. This is part of a deeper problem with Android known as fragmentation—there’s a zillion different flavors of Android out there, so no one phone’s experience is exactly the same. You’re stuck with the aforementioned iOS apps.
So, if I’m on Android and my phone doesn’t let me delete these apps, I just have to live with them?
You can always root your device. That means removing all the manufacturer and carrier gobbledygook and thus getting down to the root Android software. This process gives you the Android experience as Google intended it, which means there’s a lot more customization options, including the ability to delete any app you please. (If this is the very first you’ve heard about rooting, then this option probably isn’t for you.)
Your only other Android option is to purchase an unlocked version of the phone that is stripped of carrier add-ons, but you still might get some bloatware treats courtesy of the manufacturer. Developer Editions, meanwhile, run “stock” Android, or a version of Google’s OS stripped of manufacturer add-ons, like Samsung Touchwiz or HTC Sense. Both options will set you back several hundred dollars, though.
So, Bloatware is all sorts of dumb, huh?
Indeed. But bloatware on your phone isn’t unique to the mobile age. It’s just a continuation of tech manufacturers giving you a bunch of crap you don’t want. The circle of tech life.