History has a way of repeating itself… some people (and by extension, some companies) are not willing to learn from this industry’s mistakes. We have all dealt in one form or another of bloatware. For those of you who don’t know what bloatware is about; it’s software that you never requested but comes bundled along with your computer, some of it is useful, some of it is just crap. Even if you specifically don’t want to have that software installed, it somehow comes bundled with your computer. Early examples are AOL and other ISPs client connection applications, and more recently, software for special effects with your webcam that adds “cute effects” to the images being captured on your webcam while you are video conferencing. Like all bloatware, it may just be cute as a novelty, but its usefulness is questionable at best and can be catalogued as the shiny object or the smoke and mirrors needed to get you to either purchase the “full version” or some kind of subscription for a service you probably didn’t need in the first place. This software is normally tough to get rid of and is most likely residing in memory at all times, putting a strain in its resources and making your computer slower. Even if you successfully remove the software, there are good chances that a few running components may have been left. In the mean time, the computer manufacturer gets paid for pushing a particular piece of software per computer sold; all at the expense of the consumer.
Enter Android, this is a great technical implementation of a general purpose OS that happens to run on smartphones. I describe Android as a general purpose OS because it is essentially being used in multiple devices, not only smartphones, but tablets, netbooks and other devices such as Google TV, etc. This has several pros and cons; in the case of smartphones and some tablets and netbooks, the carrier providing connectivity to the web is also bundling lots and los of bloatware that supposedly “help the consumer”, but admittedly by the carriers is aimed at increasing their bottom line by enticing the consumer to purchase more software for the device. As it reported earlier, some of these applications are not even full versions and need a license purchased or require a subscription to a paid service. Android being a general purpose OS has to expose multiple services and calls, in a sense the same way Windows Mobile was up until Windows Phone 7, this poses several risks. Because of this applications can eat up most of the memory needed to run basic services as voice and data communications, rendering the device essentially useless. On top of this, applications running in the background that do not act according to basic programming rules keep consuming juice even when deep in the background, which kills battery life also turning your phone in nothing but a useless brick in a few hours of pretty much standby and zero activity.
While it is mostly the carriers that add bloatware to smartphones, the manufacturers are just as guilty when they add their UI overlay of choice. Some of the many examples are HTC, Motorola and Samsung which make great phones but add UI overlays such as TouchFlo 3D, Sense UI, Motoblur, Droid and TouchWiz overlays, etc. This seemingly innocuous “UI enhancement” usually affects the performance making it noticeable slower, something never intended by Google; the creator of the OS. These overlays offer what seems to be “better customization”, but at the cost of severely crippling performance. Obviously if you were aware of these pros and cons you may have chosen differently, and at least make it YOUR decision whether you really want to add the newest shiny object at the expense of actual functionality.
On top of this there is also a considerable number of applications readily available on the Android Market, some of them even being reported as malware. One of them is the wallpaper application by a company called “Jackeey Wallpaper”. The applications affected could be “Star Wars”, “Gundam” or “My Little Pony” or all of them. The software in question extracted personal information from about 1.1 million to 4.6 million users and it was sent to a website located in China. I would stay away from all of them, even the ones I have not mentioned, just in case. If one positive can be extracted of this story is that kill-switch in the Android Market that so many complained about, it turns out to be a handy tool with these cases.
Fortunately, the Android crowd is not taking this lightly and “themes” are being offered (as opposed to full UI replacements), but the OS still has a few items that are not completely customizable.
In any case, it does seem that Android is at a turning point and has one of two different paths to choose. The smarter option is to tighten up restrictions, iOS, Blackberry OS, Windows Phone 7, Symbian are all going in that direction albeit with some restrictions being different. The other option may not be completely dumb, but keeping services, hooks and calls available will require of a resource pool larger than current devices can provide. What path will they choose? One can only infer that a smart choice will be made, but history has a way of repeating itself…