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.

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.