Sprint allowing Android ‘bloatware’ removal is a step in the right direction

by Marty Gabel

After the release of its new flagship smartphone, the HTC EVO 3D, Sprint surprised the Android community this week by doing something unprecedented. It is letting users remove the ‘bloatware’ apps that come pre-installed with the device. The carrier is going to allow it to happen on future phones too.

For the initiated, ‘bloatware’ is the commonly-used name for apps installed by either manufacturers or cell phone providers onto devices which, they feel, will be useful to the end user. Yet more often than not, these apps go unused and cannot be removed.

Some claim such apps run in the background and can limit battery life. Others feel they serve no purpose. For example, why does Verizon need to offer a pay-for mobile navigation app and service when Google Maps does the job does as well, and for free? Most consumers get irritated because there’s often no way to remove such apps unless you resort to ‘rooting,’ which many feel uncomfortable doing.

For the pure, ‘vanilla’ Android experience, you either need to choose a phone like the Nexus S (only on T-Mobile and Sprint right now), or go the rooting route (sorry), otherwise you’re often left with a whole heap of junk apps you just don’t want. You pay $200 for the device and the carrier’s probably getting almost $2,000 more over a 2-year contract, but you still can’t remove these apps?

Well, Sprint has taken a step in the right direction. Question is -- will other providers follow? Just the other week, a spokesperson from Virgin Mobile mentioned how for their upcoming Motorola Triumph, they’re also going the ‘vanilla’ route:

Virgin Mobile USA aims to make available devices that allow the end user to have the freedom to customize the device to their liking. We like to take a consistent approach with our Android portfolio and so we prefer to have the true Android experience loaded on all our Android phones.

There’s a bit of a difference of course between what manufactures decide to put on their devices (like Samsung, Motorola, HTC, etc.) and what the carriers (like AT&T and Verizon) choose to tack-on, but they’re all software, and a device like the Nexus One (by HTC) and Nexus S (by Samsung) show that keeping it plain and simple (running ‘pure’ Android) can really work, especially for enthusiasts who want speed, and don’t want to be bogged-down with unnecessary apps they didn’t even choose.

While lots of the manufacturer skins (think HTC’s Sense or Samsung’s TouchWiz) can be covered using great launcher apps, they never truly disappear. While some of the apps installed by carriers are merely variations of ones consumers might want anyway, the issue here is often down to choice. I applaud Sprint’s move in letting people decide what they would like on their phone. A manufacturer skin is often bearable because the customer can decide whether they want a Sony or LG device, but the extra bloatware that comes via the carrier when they’re already being paid thousands of dollars over a two-year contract... that’s not so cute.

Your move Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. Or are we still going to have to root?