Android’s bloatware problem: just how big is too big?

May 1, 2013
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    Android bloatware example In 2010, Android bloatware was still an emerging problem, and one of the publications that brought the issue to highlight was Wired’s Gadget Lab, through a commentary by Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin. Times were simpler back then, and bloatware was not seen as a big concern yet. However, we are now living in that future, and the sad truth is that bloatware has grown to become a big problem.

    How it all began

    It started with the seemingly harmless bundling of third-party apps and services, mostly from carriers. Then the carriers and OEMs themselves moved on to “value-adding” applications to new units that they were shipping out to customers. To illustrate, we told you yesterday that the Samsung Galaxy S4 apparently had 45% of its internal storage dedicated to default apps – and therefore can’t be used for data storage. That leaves users with less than 9GB of space, which is ridiculous considering that the device is being advertised as a “16GB model.”

    How exactly did it even get to that point? In the case of Samsung, the primary cause of the problem is the TouchWiz UI and the many exclusive apps or features that come along with it. To refresh our memory, the S4 comes bundled with a long list of extra software features. Some are interesting and might actually be useful. However, many of them just duplicate some of the functionality already present in Android.

    In short, certain extra features were added even though they were completely unnecessary. Users may or may not end up using them. But all of the precious storage will still be taken up by these things nonetheless. Samsung Galaxy S4 storage For a better perspective on just how much extra space is being taken up by these manufacturer- and carrier-added apps and features, consider this: the size of the stock Android 4.2.2 system image as seen in the Google/LG Nexus 4 is 328MB. Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy S4, which uses the same Android version, has a system image that’s a bit over 1.5GB in size. As you can see, the numbers pretty much speak for themselves.

    The Bloatware Club

    HTC BlinkFeed Although we have used Samsung and its Galaxy S4 as an example of how bad the Android bloatware problem has become, the brand is in no way the sole perpetrator of this absurd practice. Other companies such as HTC, LG and Motorola are also guilty of adding mostly unnecessary space-taking applications and features. Most notably, it is present in the flagship HTC One in the form of “BlinkFeed” (pictured above).

    With BlinkFeed, a good portion of the screen is turned into a clock widget, even if you can already clearly see the time right on the notification bar, as well. The issue of Android bloatware is very clearly not just a creeping problem for users anymore. The problem has grown big enough to need addressing at this point. Surely, no one deserves to get just about half of the advertised amount of internal storage space on a brand new mobile computing device that they paid full price for.

    More than just a storage issue

    And it’s not just a storage problem. As a 2011 report on InformationWeek states, “some Android smartphones are more vulnerable to attacks than others, thanks to add-on software and skins” from the phone makers themselves. Therefore, not only are they causing users grief through severely limiting the internal storage space that’s available on devices, but they’re also opening users up to the possibility of becoming target to malicious attacks.

    Is there an end to all of this? The manufacturers and the carriers must know that all these extra apps and services are just doing more harm than good, right? It’s honestly hard to tell at this point. Although it will always be possible to root, flash, and do a bunch of other stuff to eliminate the bloatware and bundled apps and get the stock Android experience, doing this would only mask the problem. Besides, not everyone has the patience and know-how in rooting and flashing custom ROMs.

    How do you feel about this issue? Does this affect you personally? What would you like to be done about it? Let us know in the comments.

    Comments

    • Victor Meira

      Play Store changed in my phone, with no apparent app update.

      • PLay_store_lover

        calm down son I SAID CALM THE FUCK DOWN MAN!!!!!
        NO NEED TO GET YOUR KNICKERS IN A BUNCH ABOUT A PLAY STORE UPDATE!

        • Victor Meira

          Well, I liked the update..

    • Stychill

      There should at least be a way to get rid of the clutter without having to root your device.

      • IHATEHIPSTERSSS

        It’s called buying an iPhone LOL.

        • Bjajjull

          No, it’s called Nexus.

        • Stychill

          I would prefer a temporarily bloated device as opposed to a forever crippled one.

          • Nacos

            At least in reference to LG Nexus, fully agree. I have no idea how Google even agreed on marketing and selling such a crappy-two-step-back phone.

      • K.

        When you buy a new computer, it usually comes with pre-installed software. And you can always remove them if you don’t like them and put them back if you need them. Why isn’t this done on smartphones without rooting?

        • Nacos

          Because both, hardware and software wise the comparison brings apples…and peaches together.

          • K.

            Could you be more precise? I can’t see why it would be different. You should be able to remove pre-installed software on a phone the same why you can do it on any computer.

            • Nacos

              A PC stores the info on a hard drive. It’s relatively easy to identify the 3rd party software that you don’t like and simply uninstall it. Also, a user with a bare minimum technical knowledge would be able to repartition a HDD and reuse the new, available space as they would desire.

              A phone stores the info on a Solid State type memory called EEPROM (Electronically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory). Although, as the acronym suggests it, the info can be rewritten, its definitely not something a regular user would be able/willing to tinker with. (You’ve probably heard about installing custom ROM’s) Furthermore, the phone bloatware (especially when developed/implemented by the manufacturer) it’s tightly integrated in the menu/firmware, which makes it even more difficult to remove. Moreover, in order to even start tinkering with these, you need to have an unlocked bootloader and root access – Google Nexus line of phones are the only phones that come with these privileges open, out of the box. Most other phones would require some advanced technical skills/knowledge to obtain root and unlock bootloader – procentually, less than 10% of the users ever do this.

              In PC equivalency, all these would actually translate into obtaining administrative priviledges on all system files and then modifying Windows itself – not the 3rd party software.

            • K.

              Thanks for your answer. Its very clear. However, the manufacturers could always install a “normal” version of android (without out the bloatware) and then add the extra apps as 3rd party software.

            • Nacos

              Not really. Manufacturers install bloatware on top of Android in order to differentiate from the competition. Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense are typical examples of “bloatware” from an Android purist perspective. Sometimes that means extra options in the settings/menus or tight integration with Android. In order for that to happen all those must be SYSTEM AAPPLICATIONS. Like I’ve previously mentioned, a system app is not and should NOT be normally removable. Your suggestion leads to a contradiction in terms. They don’t do this to annoy their users but because they have to, once they’ve taken this road.

      • David Gonzales

        I agree with you completely. Every person with no knowledge of rooting is just that much farther from even knowing there’s an option to get rid of all the extra stuff and free up storage space in the first place.

    • Bill

      Manufacturers do it differentiate their offerings. And, sometimes it goes a bit far for consumers tastes. Just vote with your dollars. Or, root the device and delete the stuff. It’s not that big of a deal really.

      • http://twitter.com/piyushr21 Piyush

        Average joe dont do that dude, the root thing.

        • alun phillips

          Average Joe is buying the S4 on the strength of this bloat, so it’s in manufacturers interest to keep peddling it. Ooh I can control it with my eyes!

          • http://twitter.com/piyushr21 Piyush

            NAHH THEY ARE JUST BUYING FOR REMOVABLE BATTERY AND SD CARD STORAGE.

            • David Brymer

              balls, i would say at least 90 percent dont even change the battery. and sd cards dont mean as much as they did………fact

            • http://www.davidvgonzales.com/ David Gonzales

              It’s kind of the fashionable thing to do nowadays, but I’m sure there are some people who don’t even consider to put screen protectors on their devices, let along make huge hardware changes like that.

        • David Brymer

          i agree with u here.

    • Balraj

      Maybe all oem must have separate internal storage for they bloat
      Just stay away from our storage space!!!
      Idk if it’s possible but
      Something has to be done

      • http://www.davidvgonzales.com/ David Gonzales

        Actually, that is exactly what they’re doing here, as only about 9GB of storage is left for the user of the S4 while the rest is unusable because of the OS setup. The problem is that there isn’t really much storage space in the first place, and then they hog it up with all the extra apps and stuff.

    • mali

      I hate it!.. Example..my surface RT.. Advertised 32gb!.. Open outtakes box.. Stock is really 16.1!.. That’s 49.9% used up for bloat ware.. Granted I can remove the items.. But can’t ever get em back..if I decide I need em one day… In a perfect world..apps will be stored to some kinda external source made by the OS company… That way we all win..

      • Zealot

        You should have done your research. Windows was already called “bloatware” more than 10 years ago, and the same applies to its mobile versions. Management just doesn’t care that Windows is bloated. There’s a good article on Semiaccurate.com on this issue, if you feel like searching for it.

        • http://www.eyelydz.com/ Pity Add

          there’s a difference twx bloatware consisting of entire apps and just bad software. in this case we’re talking about entire apps that are forced on users, like all that google crap.

      • http://www.davidvgonzales.com/ David Gonzales

        Well, to be fair, that’s kind of understandable. MS really should just hold off releasing units with only 32GB of storage in the first place because of that whole storage thing, unless they plan on bundling 32GB SD cards or something.

    • Lil bit

      Xperia Z. Yes the Google default crap is there but it’s not being forced down your throat. Z has all the advantages of nexus but none of the disadvantages, it is by far the best. Sense, Blinkfeed, Samsung S apps and ui, so laughable, Downs and CP.

      • samsucks

        To put it into numbers, note 2 would use around 1.1GB ram, Xperia Z around 800, usually below. So it’s not only storage, but also RAM being eaten by bloat.

      • LALinMN

        “Google default crap”…wh-…what?

      • David Gonzales

        Gotta admit it looks damn sexy, too.

    • Biavela

      I should be able to delete what i don’t need without rooting, and if i want some of it back i should have the option through Play Store or Samsung Apps.

      • David Gonzales

        Agreed. In fact, I think that the whole install/uninstall apps feature could be done much better in Android (in reference to how Add/Remove programs is implented in Windows).

      • Nacos

        You simply can’t do that without root. Read my extensive comment above.

    • http://twitter.com/zeeh0le Paul Allen

      I just read about a study that claimed MacBooks are the best computers for running Windows 8. Essentially it came down to the discovery that because Windows on a Mac requires an OEM bloatware-free version of the OS, the performance numbers were better. I’m sure the same could be said for Android devices.

      • http://www.davidvgonzales.com/ David Gonzales

        I guess the same could be said of any custom-built PC then.

      • Nacos

        While I agree with David on that point, the article in reference sounds more like a marketing blast, rather than a technical breakthrough.

    • mu5a5hi

      This issue definitely affects me, right now. I am looking to switch to android from an iphone 4 32gb. Stuck on Verizon due to coverage, and I cannot find any phone with reasonable storage compared to my 3 yr old phone. VERY frustrating. HTC One looks good. no Verizon. S4 looks good.. 8.8gb of ram left? Ha! Something has to give. And like the article says, as an iphone user trying to switch, I am no expert in rooting Android devices. Also rooting my iphone has lead to stability problems so I’d rather avoid it if I could.

      • Oli72

        Google may launch the Nexus 4 on Verizon and Sprint this month at the Google conference.

      • LALinMN

        8.8gb of “ram” left? I wish….

      • Nacos

        “rooting my iphone has lead to stability problems so I’d rather avoid it if I could” – by far not the same thing, my friend. You’ll certainly make no compromises in stability by rooting your Android phone – if you do it after extensive research, rather than blindly and anxiously applying a patch. Unlike iOS, Android is modular, basically a big package of independent applications that each allows customization. By rooting your phone you simply open up system file privileges for deeper read/write/execute priviliges, not much more than that. Read my rather extensive comment above – I believe it clarifies a lot.

        Furthermore, coming from iOS, I would advise that you wouldn’t be making a mistake at all by buying the S4. Yes, it sucks that Samsung’s system files took more than 50% of the internal memory but you can add at least 64GB in external storage which would definitely be more than satisfactory. Only use your left internal storage for installing apps while storing all your media files, backups, etc on the external SD and you’ll be more than pleased – I promise you that!!

        • mu5a5hi

          This is probably what I am going to do. I just hope I don’t regret the 16gb limit. I’ll grab a 64gb sd card and hope for the best. My old iphone 4 has 32gb, but I’ve only used about 13 of it.. that said.. I have NO 3d game apps on there.. which is part of what I am looking at these powerhouse android phones for. I guess i will have to address it like a game console.. One disc/game installed at a time. Anyhow your post is very helpful. At any rate, I have plenty of time to learn the rooting options as I don’t need to deal with it until I run out of space or get sick of Touchwiz, etc..
          Thanks!

          • Nacos

            …you’re very welcome. Honestly, the rooting and all that become a must only when it feels that you’re missing some functionality or you’d like to do more than what you’re currently doing. There is really no point in rooting your phone before knowing what it does or what you would need it for – but keep in mind my last statement from the previous post.

    • Oli72

      Totally agree. That’s why I have a Nexus 4. Less bloatware.

    • Bruce Gavin Ward

      this has no effect on me as i use Nexus devices 4/7; my old samSung ‘Youth’ i now use as an mp3/radio player [the Nexi have no fmRadio support] and the bloatWare [mostly games] on the samSung is why i didn’t buy another [was looking @ the Note II ] and i’m patiently waiting to be one of the first to update to 4.3! [and, of course no carrier, no contract!!]

    • http://www.facebook.com/odorizzibnu Diego Odorizzi

      How big is too big? I’ve had a Sony Xperia X10 Mini Pro, a Motorola Milestone 2, a Samsung Galaxy S2, a Samsung Galaxy S3, and switched to iPhone 5 now that S4 launched. I just can’t stand a powerhouse that can’t open a Gallery without lagging.

    • Simon

      The 1,5gb for system and such are because of partitioning. It makes sure that the phone will handle the next Android in case Google wishes to come up with a huge ass Key Lime Pie.

      I agree that the trash apps are a major problem though. I’m a minimalist, I only want what I need on my phone. There’s nothing I hate more on a new phone than apps I will never use taking space on my app drawer and internal memory, and feeling that I can’t do anything about it.

      • http://www.davidvgonzales.com/ David Gonzales

        Well if the latest version of Android now only comes out to 300+ MB then I doubt that the next one will go over 1GB total. There’s just too much stuff on there that isn’t needed and needlessly takes up space.

        On your second point, many people feel the same way and that’s why they purchase Google Nexus devices. Those provide pretty much the closest experience to having just the bare essentials that you can get.

        • Simon

          Well, I’m pretty sure Samsung wants to make sure they’ll be able to support their flagship phone for a relatively long amount of time. Android has changed a lot since 2.3 when the Galaxy S2 came out, and it’s still supported. They’ll likely want to be able to include their own added features as well. A huge system partition makes sure that it’s possible.

          Now if it comes to the Nexus devices, I have the Nexus 7 and while I agree it’s the closest to a clean device, it also comes with programs such as Play music, Google currents, and a couple of other apps for Google services that aren’t even supported in my country and if they were, I wouldn’t use them. There is no way of removing them as well, even though I absolutely don’t need them. Bloatware is a huge problem indeed. I believe there should be an option to choose basic setup upon installation, there should be an option to start only with bare essentials.

    • Mike

      If they would just offer the 32gb and 64gb versions there would be no problem. I have an s3 that is 32gb and have no problem. Also Samsung FAILS to mention you CAN NOT move apps to the expandable memory. I will stick with my s3 until one of 2 things happen. A) I can get a 32gb version or B) a device with the exact specs of the s4 is available in a different brand. I like android too much for anything else

    • Deny Watanabe

      Bloatware is the reason I’m steering away from the Galaxy S product line after owning the original S, S2, S3 and S4. It’s gotten to a point where bloatware makes their version of Android unstable, sluggish and drains the battery faster than it should. I will never buy Samsung again and am actually looking for a replacement. BTW I’ve come to realize that our asian friends from Samsung and LG are great for designing hardware but are extremely incompetent at writing software, I firmly believe they should give it up for good. My $ .02 anyway.

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