Smartphones are powerful tools, capable of keeping you connected to the world, controlling home gadgets, and so much more. Unfortunately, your phone doesn’t have much function without a carrier to back it.
Big phone carriers like Verizon and AT&T are consistently hated among users, and it’s not hard to see why. Carriers make smartphones a lot worse by adding bloatware, throttling your data, and all sorts of other nonsense.
Verizon recently revealed its plans to introduce a new form of annoyance onto its Android phones. Let’s take a look at this “brandware” and what it means for Android users.
What Is Brandware?
If you know about Android phones (or Windows PCs), you’ve probably heard of bloatware. A colloquial name for any unwanted software, bloatware on Android usually refers to pre-installed apps that a user doesn’t want, but can’t remove. This is common from manufacturers like Samsung and HTC, but it also comes from carriers like Sprint or AT&T. Google’s pure Android Nexus phones (and the new Pixel) generally don’t suffer from the bloatware problem.
Bloatware apps are usually either useless, such as Samsung stock apps that duplicate built-in Android functionality, or annoying, such as apps full of advertisements or other low-quality junk.
Brandware, on the other hand, refers to an app specifically designed to promote a company. With brandware, Verizon plans to load up your brand-new phone with apps from the likes of Burger King, Coca-Cola, and Taco Bell. Of course, the companies will pay Verizon a fee to include their apps on phones, making the carrier even more money in the process.
While fast-food apps like these are pretty useful, it’s off-putting to have them installed for you on a new device.
The reason that bloatware is such a pain is because manufacturers install it to the system partition of the device. This space is reserved for system apps like the Google Keyboard and Phone app, so they can’t be uninstalled by the user unless you root your device. If bloatware is installed on your system partition, the best you can hope for is disabling it.
Google has responded to this trend by creating a new partition for vendors in newer versions of Android. This allows vendors to pre-install brandware apps, or download them from Google Play when the device is set up, on a separate partition. However, this new space allows the user to remove apps they don’t want. While we wish bloatware didn’t exist at all, this is a better solution because it at least gives the user some control.
For brandware, this could also signify a waste of time for the brands. If the McDonald’s app is installed on your new phone and you don’t want it, you’re going to remove it. This means that McDonald’s has wasted the money it paid to Verizon to put that app on your phone. However, it also boosts the download numbers for the app on Google Play, making it look more popular than it is.
Removing Brandware and Bloatware
If brandware strikes, it isn’t too much of a pain to remove. You can uninstall it just like any other Android app.
The process may differ slightly depending on your version of Android. Open the Settings app and scroll down to Apps. Find the app you want to remove; you may have to scroll left or right to find the All column if it was pre-installed. Tap the app’s name when you find it.
On the resulting screen, you can hopefully tap Uninstall to remove it. If you don’t see that option, or if it’s greyed out, the app is likely on the system partition. You can tap Disable to keep the app from running. This won’t uninstall it, so it still takes up space on your device, but it won’t waste resources in the background, either.
If you’d like a more advanced method, have a look at our guide to removing bloatware without rooting. We’ve also discussed ways to remove bloatware if you don’t mind rooting your phone.
Avoid Carrier Phones
In the future, a great way to avoid this ridiculousness is to stop buying your phone from a carrier. When you buy an HTC phone from Verizon, you have to deal with not only HTC’s bloatware, but Verizon’s as well. Thankfully, buying an unlocked phone not only saves you money but headaches as well.
One great way to do this is joining an MVNO, such as Republic Wireless. These carriers charge lower prices than the big names, and use the same networks to deliver services. Aside from software specific to their services, they rarely load up phones with junk like the big carriers. If you want to use a Nexus or Pixel phone, we’re big fans of Google’s Project Fi: it’s an excellent way to get a bloat-free phone for a great price.
Even if you want to still use Verizon’s service, you don’t have to purchase your phone through them. As long as the device is compatible with its network, you can buy a phone unlocked directly from HTC, Samsung, or even Amazon. Then, take it to Verizon and ask them to activate it. This avoids the brandware and bloatware while still providing service to your phone.
Why Doesn’t This Happen on iPhone?
It’s a shame that Verizon abuses one of the greatest strengths of Android: its openness. Apple’s iOS is locked down, so carriers can’t customize it like they do with Android. Whether you buy an iPhone from Verizon or Apple, it’s going to have the same apps installed on it. You might be drawn to Android if you don’t fancy staying in Apple’s walled garden, but that’s where the carriers step in.
So the openness of Android means that the person next to me has Comic Sans as their system font. I hope you’re all pleased with yourselves.
— Benno Rice (@jeamland) December 6, 2016
Verizon or AT&T can take advantage of Android’s easy customization just as easily as you can. It’s not a problem to add a few apps here and there into their standard image so that everyone gets to deal with bloatware. Android experts can always install a custom ROM and get rid of this, but the average person doesn’t want or need to do that.
Brandware Is Annoying, But You Can Avoid It
So, we’ve seen Verizon’s newest plan to annoy its customers, and how you can remove brandware or avoid it altogether. Since Android is so popular and Verizon is such a huge seller, it makes sense that they’d want to make some extra money by doing this. However, it’s a blight on Android’s name, and hopefully they cut it out before long.
Need a new Android phone? Take a look at our best Android smartphones of 2016.
Have you seen brandware or had to deal with bloatware? Let us know what you think about this down in the comments!