Apps

Five examples where bundled mobile apps are superior

Donovan Colbert offers four examples of how having vendor-supplied non-optional software can be beneficial. Help us complete the list.

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IT professionals, especially those in Camp Android, derisively refer to “bloatware” on their PCs and mobile devices. We can really trace this back to an early criticism among Linux fans against the practice of including lots of software that was difficult to remove and of dubious utility on Windows, and it was a fair enough complaint. But is “bloatware” necessarily always bad? Here are five examples where having vendor-supplied non-optional software can be beneficial.

1. My Verizon Mobile app

Earlier this year, my daughter got her first iPhone, a 4S. She has a 2 GB plan and a serious YouTube habit. Every month, she had been bumping up on the limit or exceeding her cap. It was such a consistent problem that my wife told her she couldn’t stream anymore. I asked, “Don’t your iPhones have the My Verizon data meter on them?” Neither of them knew. My wife began to look for it and couldn’t find it. When I got home, I checked and found that -- unlike Android phones, where it's included by default -- you have to download it from the Apple App Store.

I resent a lot of Verizon apps that are bundled, but My Verizon Mobile is actually fairly useful, and I’ve got a grandfathered unlimited plan. If it stops my wife and kid from fighting or helps you keep users accountable for their use of your corporate plan, isn’t that something you want on a smart device by default? I do.

2. Find My iPhone

Ok, this one isn’t technically bundled in, because you have to download the Find My iPhone app. But the app is really just a front-end interface that plugs into location features that are bundled in. Once you opt-in using the iOS configuration panel and download the app, this is one of the easiest to use and administer mobile device location utilities on any platform. After a couple of scares in my own family, I finally turned it on for all of our iOS devices and then felt silly for not having done it sooner. At my former company, we turned this feature on for all iOS devices. We never came up with an Android solution, but we were still field testing several options when I left. The key to Find my iPhone is that it's there, basically by default, and it's standard -- so it doesn’t take a lot of thought to turn it on, make a policy, and ensure that everyone is using it.

3. Google Maps

The Google Maps app is so good that it always makes the bundled VZ Navigator look desperate. How long did it take Verizon to understand that offering a paid service that had an inferior navigation app just made them look foolish? Android’s bundled app was so good, it forced Apple to follow, and Microsoft is still trying to catch up.

4. Motorola Smart Actions

I was pretty loyal to Motorola, from my first Droid 1 all the way to the Droid 4, and I even considered a Droid Razr Maxx HD for my latest phone. If I had been in the market for a more-corporate and less-personal Droid this time around, I might have picked the Maxx over my current HTC DNA. One reason I loved the Droid 4 was the integrated Smart Actions app that was part of the Motoblur skin. This is another app where there are a lot of general purpose, platform independent choices available. I’ve tried quite a few of them, but I've ultimately always been disappointed. 

However, Motorola's SMARTACTIONS were really good. I had a very easy, rule-based way to set up phone behaviors by time, day, and location that was consistently reliable. It was granular enough that I could turn off alerts, notifications, and calls from all but the most important people in my life, depending on the situation. There just isn’t any substitute for having manufacturer-integrate hardware and software features on apps of this nature. The broader the range of platforms you try to support, the less reliable it becomes and the more granularity you have to give up.

5. (Fill in the blank...)

So, I was ambitious. I couldn’t come up with a 5th example of bundled mobile apps that add value. The bundled trial version of Need for Speed on my Droid 4 sat side-by-side with the paid full version -- it couldn’t be upgraded because it was firmware. The same thing holds true for bundled versions of Kindle. You have to wait for a firmware patch to address bundled software as a general rule. Bundled software on Windows tablets are generally the same kind we’ve been seeing for years on Windows, with Wi-Fi and backups that cause as many problems as they solve. 

Despite this, I think many IT pros dismiss bundled apps without even looking at them, because we're conditioned to dismissing them as inferior alternatives to better 3rd-party solutions. However, this isn’t always the case. So, if you haven’t looked through the stock apps on your device, now may be time to do so. You might find something useful. 

What about you? Do you have a favorite bundled mobile app that could help complete my list? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.


About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

7 comments
trich63
trich63

Please, please, please learn this one thing: there is no benefit to downloading the Find My iPhone app. This app provides the functionality to search for another person's iPhone, but does nothing for the phone that it's on.The iCloud service, which is built into the operating system, provides Find my iPhone merely by turning it on. A lost phone can be located by going to iCloud.com from the browser of any Internet connected device and logging in with the Apple ID and password of the missing device. Please dispel the rumor that downloading this app is a magic talisman that prevents the phone from being lost.

martinwtaylor
martinwtaylor

Have you forgotten Microsoft Office built in to Windows Phone? Surely the best productivity software of all.

brons2
brons2

The complaint that most people have is about their Android phones is apps that the carriers bundle on, not ones that are native to the platform or created by the hardware manufacturer.  With that in mind...


1.  You can download MyVerizon even if you have a custom ROM.  I have a 4.3 based ROM on my Galaxy S3 and I have My Verizon installed.  So does it really benefit the end user to have it preinstalled?  I guess I would have to concede maybe end users of Verizon Android phones would not know about MyVerizon otherwise?  This is probably the only good one you listed.

2.  You have to download the Find My iPhone app.  Just because it accesses the features built into the phone, does not make it a bundled app.  And the features built into the phone such as location are native to the platform, not forced on there by the carrier.


3.  Google Maps is native to the Android platform, not bundled by a carrier such as Verizon.

4.  Motorola Smart Actions was created by Motorola for their Android phones, not bundled by the carrier.  I have 2 Motorola phones on my shared plan for other family members and while I think SmartActions is a great app, it's not something that Verizon forced on us.

5.  Well you don't really have a 5th one so not much to put here.


Overall I would have to say that you don't lay out a very compelling case for carrier bundled apps.  Only one of the four apps you mention is something that the carrier puts on and I agree it is potentially beneficial.  I use MyVerizon all the time to check which family member.


The junk apps Verizon puts on wouldn't be so bad if they didn't cause the phone to slow down.  And I have an additional concern from a parental standpoint that some of those Verizon apps can allow users on my plan to access features that would add charges to my bill.  Granted, I have them locked down so they can't do that, but still, I'd rather the potential didn't exist.


So anyway, in conclusion, can't say that I agree with you that carrier bundled apps other than the ones that allow you to view your account, are beneficial to end users.


sonicsteve
sonicsteve

I have the Motorola Razr V. While it's not the best phone, I have to agree about smart actions. I had an Atrix MB860 "4G" sadly it didn't come with Smart Actions. I used to forget to silence the volume when I went to bed and some annoying server would send me an email or text at 2-4am that would wake me or wife up. With Smart Actions I can count on 2 fingers how often this has happened. It used to happen on a weekly basis. 


I have looked for a way to put smart actions on my old phone or some equivalent and it seems that it can't be installed and nothing else exists that matches it.

dcolbert
dcolbert

@martinwtaylor 

You know, I wanted an example for Windows 8.1 or an MS Phone, and I couldn't come up with anything.

A full blown bundled MS Office Home/Student with Outlook on Windows RT is probably the *best* bundled solution offered on any platform ever, to date... and I totally missed it. 

I am ashamed and hanging my head in disappointment. #5 was right there in front of me and I didn't even think of it as bundled. Great call! 

dcolbert
dcolbert

@brons2 I had a long response that got lost yesterday.

The highlight of the article was certainly the My Verizon app. But I don't think your assessment of the other apps is strictly correct.

2: Find My Iphone is just a front end GUI that exposes features built in to the OS layer. The settings are there even if you don't load up the app. This seems at best as a "glass half full/glass half empty" argument. I don't disagree with your feelings on this - but for the article at least, I chose to take the "Glass Half Full," perspective. 

3: Because of Google Android device fragmentation - it isn't really that clear what the lineage of Google Navigation is compared to Google Maps. Look back across Android devices and you'll find both appearing as separate stand alone apps, while also finding the Navigation icon missing on newer devices like my Droid DNA. In any case, if a complaint of software publishers like Netscape and Norton was that Microsoft *bundling* of non-OS related software like IE and Defender was causing harm to their business, then certainly a GPS navigation app that destroyed a whole class of hardware DEVICE was a *bundled* feature. Navigation isn't essential to a fully operating OS by any stretch of the imagination. It was a value-added feature that Google "bundled" into Android, by any reasonable classic definition of the word.

4: People specifically complain about manufacturer skins and go as far as installing their own custom ROMs, including versions as close to "pure Google" experience as possible. I don't think it matters if the distinction is carrier or manufacturer bundled software, anything beyond the pure Google experience you would encounter on a Nexus device is *extra software added to the Android experience*. That is... bundling. The entire Motoblur experience is *bundled* software added on top of the base Android experience. In the case of SmartActions - it is one of the best pieces of bundled software you're likely to encounter on an Android device that has been enhanced by the manufacturer over Google's base design specs.

So, I see your point - but I maintain that under flexible definitions, the 4 examples I've provided all fit the criteria for *bundled* applications that enhance the end user experience even though some out there might resent their inclusion on their devices.  

dcolbert
dcolbert

@sonicsteve I agree completely. I dumped Motorola after the Droid 4, partly due to frustration with the fact that they were headed in a positive direction with the USB and HDMI ports evolving into a standard, along with webtop/lapdock development - and then with Google's acquisition of Motorola much of that progress was killed. 

In my opinion, that was the beginning of a bad turn for Google on taking a more Apple like interest in promoting Android, to the liability of consumer freedom and experience. But anyhow...

Going to the HTC DNA that is one of the features I miss the most. My wife and dog both complain whenever a notification goes off after bedtime - and Smart Actions helped remove the hassle of my wife yelling at me to silence my ringer at 12:30 at night right as I'm drifting off to sleep. I can sleep through the notifications, but even the buzz of vibration mode will wake my wife up. With Smart Actions, I could ensure that if my wife was going to have her rest disturbed, it would only be for a really good reason. 

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