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Is crapware invading Android?

One of the things that fascinates me about the way that the smartphone market is developing is whether it is following a similar path to the PC market. It’s easy to see the conflict between Apple and Google, for example, as a re-run of Apple versus Microsoft – and draw the conclusion that the end result will be similar.

I don’t think the analogy holds as strongly as some commentators believe, but there are some interesting areas where Android looks increasingly like Windows. One example of this a what some companies would call “value-added software”, which consumers often call “crapware”: additional software which customises the user experience or (in theory) adds additional “free” functionality to the supplied product.

On Android, this manifests itself as “user experiences” like HTC‘s SenseUI, but it’s not only manufacturers that want to play this game. Consider, too, the kinds of software added by networks like Vodafone:

“Vodafone has flagged up the forthcoming release of HTC’s Android-based smartphones Legend and Desire on its network next month.Legend will come with Vodafone’s 360 content and social networking portal pre-loaded.”

And this is just the start. The temptation for networks to “differentiate” themselves by skinning, amending and otherwise tampering with Android is going to be pretty intense – they’ve done much the same in the past with customised versions of non-smart phones, and they’ll do the same again with the “open” platform of Android.

Of course, the problem with this “value add” is that it rarely adds any value for the customer. The “problems” these kinds of add-ons are designed to solve are usually more to do with operator revenue than customer need.

Thus, Android is beginning its spiral into the world of crapware, software which serves no real purpose other than to give marketing people a “differentiator” which doesn’t really meet a customer need. And just as it has on the PC, the situation will get worse before it gets better – with the unfortunate issue that crapware is even harder to get rid of on a phone than it is on a computer.

(Image from louisvolant)

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  • bstr

    Not sure I agree with the proposed analogy. I hear more praises for Sense UI than complaints. In fact, I’ve never heard a user complaint. What I do hear is complaints about ‘skinning’ from those assessing its fragmenting affect. Personally, I’m against vendors each offering a different user experience to android users. Android needs uniformity to succeed.

    I agree about VCast and the like, but I’m not seeing this to nearly the same degree with skins.

  • Ian Betteridge

    Just to be clear, I personally think that SenseUI is better than the stock Android look. However, that’s really not the point: as you rightly say, Android needs a level of uniformity to succeed, but the fact that it’s open source actually plays against this ever being achieved.

    Think about desktop Linux, for example. While every distribution shares much of the same core UI, there are sufficient differences to make moving from one to the other non-trivial, unless you’re a highly-technical user. And Linux doesn’t have the kinds of pressure that Android has, where every phone maker and network wants to “differentiate” their products from the rest of the pack.

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  • http://moolies.typepad.com Cait

    Well, given that I would never have bought a motorola before if you paid me, I genuinely think the Motoblur service really works, and I like it.

    There are things I would update about it, but the general principles and usage are perfect for me.

    The real issue here is that the manufacturers and the networks both want to own the customer, obviously. So you’ll actually have a competing set of so called ‘crapware’ vying to be placed on the phones, which may lead to some interesting power struggles.

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