The New Crapware: Apple’s Desire to Force Its Apps on Customers
“Crapware.” It’s a term familiar to nearly anyone who purchased a name brand PC in the last 15 years. It represents the ultimate triumph of a company’s interests over those of its customers, and a frustrating phenomenon that gave Windows-based PCs an even worse reputation than they already had. But in this new post-PC era, have the roles been reversed? Has Apple taken over from companies like HP and Dell as the “King of Crapware?”
Crapware was a good idea on paper. Computer makers, facing razor-thin margins, would be paid by software companies to bundle utilities and games with new computers. The computer makers would make a little extra on each sale, software companies could get their products in front of millions of customers, and, as the theory goes, customers who may be new to computers could get a free sampling of software.
The problems began immediately for obvious reasons. Software that a company pays to give away isn’t going to be very good. And so customers, excited by their new PC, would boot it up and wait while ten different system utilities, an anti-virus, a trial version of an office productivity suite, and fifteen games all loaded in the background.
Most of the software was complete junk, and the software that may have been worth something was only offered in an extremely limited form until the customer paid to upgrade. Worse, all of the crapware slowed a customer’s computer down significantly. Apple even dedicated a "Get a Mac" commercial to the topic.
Thankfully, customers with sufficient technical knowledge could simply wipe the hard drive and reinstall Windows from a clean installation source. This “nuke and pave” approach became a common first step for many purchasers of new PCs.
In the end, however, what crapware truly symbolized was an effort by companies to force products on their paying customers, with many of those customers who lacked the technical knowledge to reinstall Windows stuck and out of luck. In the post-PC era of tablets and smartphones, Apple is now the dominant player, and Cupertino’s own version of crapware has taken hold. True to Apple’s commitment to “Think Different,” the third-party interests from the PC crapware days have been replaced by Apple’s own interests and what it feels is necessary to force upon consumers.
Since the first release of iOS over five years ago, Apple has insisted on a strictly controlled platform. The company preinstalls many different types of applications in iOS and gives customers a very limited ability to remove or hide them.
In the early, pre-App Store days of iOS, this was a necessity to ensure basic functionality; there were no alternative native applications for a customer to turn to. Now that we have a robust appecosystem, nearly every built-in Apple app has at least a dozen viable alternatives on the App Store.
Not the most efficent use of space.
So why does Apple still prohibit a user from removing or hiding undesired applications? Like many iOS users, I have found superior alternatives to Apple’s Stocks, Weather, Notes, and Calendar apps and, on my iPhone, I don’t use Newsstand or Passbook. Newsstand in particular is annoying because there’s no way to officially hide it away in a folder. It just sits empty on my home screen, mocking me.
As I mentioned above, putting all of these unused Apple apps into a folder is a solution, but not a very good one. Why force a user to put up with even a single undesired folder?
Others may argue that the Apple apps are built into iOS itself and are therefore crucial to the system’s overall functionality. That’s understandable. But still, why not allow the user to simply hide unwanted apps with a toggle in Settings? Apple already knows how to do this: pre-iOS 6, the YouTube app could be hidden from the device by turning on parental controls and instructing the phone not to display the app.
Such a system would simple to implement, and makes the case that all Apple apps, possibly with the exception of the Phone app (for safety reasons), should be able to be removed or disabled by the user.
So why doesn’t Apple allow this? Consistency is likely one reason. Apple wants a basic, fundamental level of consistency across its iDevices, and the company may believe that the core applications it includes in iOS are the bare minimum necessary to deliver a consistent and functional product. As I mentioned, however, while this may have been true before the App Store, I cannot accept this reasoning today.
Another reason may be financial. If users could turn off the iTunes, App, iBooks, and Newsstand stores on their devices, they will be less likely to make impulse purchases while on the go.
Many iOS users who find value in all of Apple’s included applications will no doubt argue that “crapware” is too harsh a term. After all, PC crapware negatively affected the performance of the computer, while the inclusion of Apple’s apps do not noticeably impact system performance at all.
As I mentioned above, however, crapware was, at its most basic level, the idea that a company could force something on to a paying customer. Under that definition, Apple is certainly guilty of it and, in a way, the situation may be slightly worse than that of its PC ancestor. With a PC, a user could wipe away all undesired software, something that, as we’ve discussed, is not possible on iOS.
StifleStand lets users trick their iPhone into putting Newsstand into a folder.
There are workarounds to many of these problems, including software released Monday that can hide Newsstand in a folder. But these workarounds are a piecemeal and incomplete answer to the larger problem.
To be fair, Apple is not the only company that forces built-in applications on its customers. Android in particular has been modified by many hardware makers to include all sorts of undesired software. But Apple is supposed to be different, it is supposed to lead the pack on customer experience.
There is a difference between a closed system and a lack of basic customization. Users on OS X can uninstall almost any included Apple application and, if uninstallation is not possible, the application can be easily hidden from view. That same philosophy should apply to the company’s mobile devices.