Smartphone crapware: worse than laptops?

Mike Jennings
22 Aug 2011

A couple of years ago I holed myself up in the PC Pro Labs with some new laptops to see what impact their pre-installed software -- known as crapware, bloatware and shovelware -- had on performance.

The results proved shocking but, when it comes down to it, that software is pretty easy to deal with -- it’s just a matter of uninstalling everything and, if you’re really particular, running an app like CCleaner to get your Registry back to its fighting weight.

Not so with smartphones. On Friday, I eased the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro from its box, turned it on, and was greeted with a message urging me to set up McAfee WaveSecure before I’d even set up the phone with my Google account.

Delving into the app drawer revealed more unwanted software, with a host of apps neatly summarising Android's perennial fragmentation issues: alongside the official Market, the Xperia Mini Pro comes loaded with four different app stores. There’s also other McAfee apps installed as well as a Popcap Games trial and a selection of media management tools.

It's not restricted to Sony Ericsson handsets, either. HTC's often held up as the paragon of Android quality -- alongside Samsung -- but my own Desire HD is riddled with stuff that I simply don't want: 3Mobile-TV, 3Musik and Planet3 were all installed alongside third-party apps such as Amazon MP3, Bebo, Bejeweled Deluxe and a demo of EA’s Sims 3.

Who's responsible? Networks, largely, which receive clean handsets and then load them up with rubbish after signing deals with numerous partners. And it’s not like you can just get rid of this software, either -- most of it’s there to stay, with hard-coded blocks in place to ensure you don’t uninstall any of the tat you don’t want.

There are ways around it, with rooting a possibility if you’d like an untarnished Android experience. Personally, I use a superb app called LauncherPro to kill two birds with one stone: it replaces HTC Sense with its own customisable home screen, and it also allows you to hide apps in your app drawer -- the next-best option if I can’t uninstall.

Vodafone’s actions prove that smartphone bloatware can go very wrong, but other companies don’t seem to be learning lessons. Instead, this greed continues, and comes at the expense of Android’s reputation and, more importantly, the tarnished experience that users will have with their new phones -- after all, this sort of thing doesn’t happen on iOS.

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