Bloatware happens when you aren’t the only customer

This article in Ars Technica reminded me of one of the things I never liked about PCs you bought from Dell, HP, or any major vendor–bloatware.  Every PC I’ve had that I didn’t build myself, and every Windows laptop had multiple pieces of software that I didn’t want.  The least-offensive of these apps merely took up hard drive space.  The worst made the computer slower and more of a hassle to use.  Switching from Windows to Mac at home meant no more bloatware.  Moving to an Intel chip-based Mac extended the no-bloatware experience to Windows VMs.  Moving to the iPhone a couple of years ago (and sticking with it by buying an iPhone 4) seems to have spared me from vendor bloatware as well.  This is especially important in the mobile space because today’s smartphones have a lot less storage space to waste, and less-powerful CPUs than modern PCs.

Bloatware happens on the PC because even though we buy them, we aren’t the only customer.  Every company with some anti-virus software to sell, a search engine they want you to use, or some utility they want you to buy wants to be on your PC or laptop.  They’re willing to pay to be on your new machine, and PC vendors aren’t going to turn down that money.  A similar thing seems to be happening on Android phones now.  Here’s the key quote from the story:

“It’s different from phone to phone and operator to operator,” says Keith Nowak, spokesman for HTC. “But in general, the apps are put there to meet the operator’s business and revenue needs.” (emphasis mine)

The money we pay for our voice and data plans isn’t the only money that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, & T-Mobile want.  Some of these carriers have decided that they’ll take money from other companies who want to put applications on the smart-phones they sell.  This highlights one of the key differences between the way Google approaches the mobile phone market and the way Apple does it.

When it comes to Android, you and I aren’t Google’s customers–not really.  The real customers are mobile phone hardware vendors like Motorola and HTC.  They need to care how open and customizable Android is because they expect it to help them sell more phones.  Making the OS free for the vendors is in Google’s interest because the bulk of their revenue comes from advertising.  The more phones there are running Android, the more places their ads will appear.  Android’s openness is only of interest to us as users to the extent it allows us to do what we want with our mobile phone.

Unlike Google, Apple is in business to sell us electronics.  They expect iOS4 to help them sell more iPhones and iPads.  But since you and I are the customers Apple is chasing, no pre-loading of apps from third parties.  It doesn’t mean they won’t feature apps that highlight the phone’s capabilities (Apple does plenty of that).  Nor does it mean we can’t get apps from AT&T, just that putting them on and taking them off is our choice.  There is a tradeoff as far as how long iPhone users wait for features when compared with Android phone users.  But I think the iPhone features all work better, and work together to create arguably the best smartphone available.

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