A smartphone bloatware iconoclast speaks out
- 09 April, 2015 06:41
Meet Jesse Nunez, an avid opponent of bloatware on smartphones.
Nunez clearly doesn't work for a smartphone maker or a wireless carrier. For the past four years, he's been using third-party software to strip off unwanted apps on his various models of Samsung Galaxy S smartphones sold by AT&T.
He's not running any organized anti-bloatware movement, but communicates often online with like-minded users. During the day, he's a salesman of custom car wheels in the Los Angeles area. When he talks about bloatware, Nunez sounds like he's running for office on a platform to liberate the smartphone -- or at least the ways customers use them. He once signed an online Change.org petition urging carriers and smartphone makers to stop adding unwanted apps that can sap the device's resources, take up valuable storage space and potentially cause disruptions or even security issues.
He was especially troubled to learn this week that Samsung won't allow users to uninstall apps from the Galaxy S6 and Edge smartphones that are arriving in stores Friday.
"I'm a purist," Nunez said in a series of email and telephone interviews. "Let me control my own device. The way I see it is, if you buy a cell phone you should do whatever you can with it. It's not like we're trying to bring down the NSA; we just don't want frigging bloat!"
Nunez communicates with other purists, such as someone known as Zedomax, who has thousands of viewers of his satirical YouTube videos of carriers that block customers from customizing their phones as they'd like.
Nunez and Zedomax said AT&T and Verizon Wireless are locking the bootloader software on various phones, including the Galaxy S5, which prevents users from uninstalling apps they don't want or making other customizations. A bootloader is a string of software code and is incorporated into the Linux kernel of Android devices. The bootloader can be used to allow a savvy user to take greater control over a device.
Nunez said he has used software from towelroot.com to get around the Galaxy S5 lockout and to uninstall bloatware. The Towelroot software is from GeoHots, a developer whom Nunez described as a "legend and a wiz." Once a bootloader is unlocked, Nunez said users can install various custom software products for "supercharging" an Android device, including Slimroms, AOKP , Liquid Smooth and CyanogenMod.
While using these tools might invalidate a manufacturer's warranty, Nunez said it won't make a difference to smartphone purists who are able to benefit by "insane" levels of customization. If the process of rooting (customizing) a phone goes bad and the phone is totally bricked, or disabled, Nunez said a savvy user will probably still buy another device from the same carrier that prevented the rooting. By staying with the same carrier, the user keeps the same contract in place, with the same phone number and without paying a penalty to move on to another carrier.
Unlike other manufacturers, HTC has set up a process to authorize users to unlock a bootloader, Nunez noted.
By using the towelroot approach, Nunez said he has been able to eliminate redundant software for navigation, browsers and messaging that take up storage space and use up background resources on his Galaxy S5. "I'm buying this phone and it's mine and I should be able to do whatever I want with it," he said.
In one example, Google, Samsung and AT&T typically each have navigation software pre-loaded on a phone. Nunez argued there's the potential that all three could be using GPS and other location resources at once, resulting in signal loss and screen freezes. "Sometimes the same programs lash against each other," he said.
Carriers and smartphone makers pre-install many apps to meet customer demand, but having their own versions of apps already provided by Google and others is seen as a way to create customer loyalty. Ultimately, these apps can be used to offer advertising, and sell in-app services, but carriers get to increase data usage with updates.
AT&T, Verizon and other carriers were asked to comment about locked bootloading practices, but did not respond immediately. Sprint said earlier this week it allows a dozen preloaded apps on the Galaxy S6 and Edge to be uninstalled entirely. On Wednesday, Verizon said it will allow four preloaded apps on the new phones to be uninstalled: Booking.com, Cookie Jam, Panda Pop and Candy Crush. Other preloaded apps can be disabled and hidden from view, but not uninstalled, a spokesman said.
Concerns over bloatware typically surface when a new smartphone is announced and ready to ship, as with the new Samsung devices. But the concern is hardly new.
"It's an old story left over from PC days and is really about vendors loading crapware on devices that we buy and pay good money for," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "This is even worse in the mobile app era."
Gold said IT shops as well as typical users should be concerned about bloatware, as the apps themselves or the residual software that is left behind following an uninstall could interfere with other apps or cause security risks.
Bloatware has arisen as a problem for Android devices, but also affects other operating systems, Gold said. The problem isn't probably serious enough for the government to intervene. "This is more of an annoyance than a real danger to anyone," he said. "But the industry could be doing a much better job of policing itself."