The New Crapware: Apple’s Desire to Force Its Apps on Customers

| Editorial

“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.

PC CrapwareThe beauty of a new, "clean" PC (Image via Digital Trends)

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 True to Apple’s commitment to “Think Different,” the third-party interests from the PC crapware days have been replaced by Apple’s own interests and what it feels is necessary to force upon consumers.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 app ecosystem, nearly every built-in Apple app has at least a dozen viable alternatives on the App Store.

Empty NewsstandNot 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 Puts Newsstand in a FolderStifleStand 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.

Apple, don’t become the crapware king of the post-PC era. Give customers a choice.

Sign Up for the Newsletter

Join the TMO Express Daily Newsletter to get the latest Mac headlines in your e-mail every weekday.

Comments

davidneale

Agreed, agreed, agreed. Hear, hear!

What I want are a) things that are absolutely necessary for the correct running of the system, and b) apps that I choose myself. Your example, Newsstand is of no interest to me, nor is GameCentre (or whatever it’s called), nor anything else that I do not choose myself.

Terrin

Crap ware is associated with third party apps installed on your computer that attempted to sell you something. They were particularly annoying because the hardware manufacturer was complicit in the matter, and the apps weren’t on the demos.

Apple, however, is delivering exactly what was on display in its stores and website. Namely, it is giving you what you paid for. Apple’s apps aren’t jumping out at you demanding action.

I certainly don’t consider the weather app to be crap ware. I knew it was going to be there, and it is packed away out of site. It isn’t bothering me.

mouring

I’m more frustrated that I can group every other application BUT Newstand. 

I could careless if it is on the phone.  It just doesn’t deserve a place on the primary display as it isn’t an app I use often enough to deserve it.

It is unique and stands out in the fact which makes it a sore thumb in that respect.

geoduck

Absolutely correct. I have two folders containing Apps that Apple forces on me that I don’t want and can’t get rid of. Like I’m going to read a book or a magazine on my iPod Touch? Like I need a Videos app? You Tube will open if I need it, it doesn’t need to be visible. GameCenter? I’ve written how obnoxious Game Center has gotten, even keeping me from using it unless I logged in. (I finally relented and gave myself the screen name of idontusefnggamecenter or something like that). Passbook? VoiceMemos? Somebody might use it but not me. Clock? There’s a bloody clock on the screen all the time. Somebody might need to know what time it is in Taipei or time an egg but not me.

If Apple wants to bundle this stuff with iOS fine, just let me uninstall it. Even bloody Windows lets me uninstall the crapware.

fultonkbd

Cry me a river.
While I’m slightly annoyed that I can’t hide/delete Newstand, I’m not about to call it Crapware.

It don’t have to sit on your main screen. Move it to the very last screen all by itself and you’ll rarely see it. I actually do that for my children with most of the Apple apps that I can’t remove and they don’t use.

bartek

I’m not sure when this disconnect started happening, but it seem like people want it both ways.  Give me a closed environment where everything is controlled in order to give me a nice pleasant thought-free experience.  Oh and I want total control over it too.  If you want the ultimate apple experience get an iPhone.  If you want more control, get an android device.  Either way there are trade-offs, but you can’t really expect one to be the other and then still have the aspects that made you pick it in the first place.

kevinlane

It isn’t crapware unless is it is bad software.  And the apps you mentioned simply aren’t.  I use them everyday. Your title makes this appear to be a problem, which it isn’t.

Jules

Actually, it’s not like Apple changed its policy or anything. If you go back to that video about the Bloated PC and the Mac you get this in the echange between the two characters

PC: “You know how it is.”
Mac: “Actually I don’t. Macs just come with the stuff you want like iTunes, iMovie, iPhoto…”

By which we understand that the only thing the user wants is what is provided by Apple. Apple knows best.

And to answer the some of the comments: “it isn’t crapware unless its something useful that you actually want on your computer… I don’t want iTunes, ergo it’s crapware”

 

geoduck

I’m not sure when this disconnect started happening, but it seem like people want it both ways.  Give me a closed environment where everything is controlled in order to give me a nice pleasant thought-free experience.  Oh and I want total control over it too.

The two aren’t mutually exclusive. I like having a walled garden where I don’t have to worry about malware. However let me hide or uninstall apps that I don’t use. Let me customize my space within the walled garden. RIM let people do that on the BlackBerry years ago. Why can’t Apple at least give us a “Hide” option. Yes I have been able to “hide” apps by moving them to folders on the last screen. That’s a very kludgy solution. It’s not up to Apple’s implied and historical standards of “elegance”. Just let me hide the stuff I don’t use and all will be good.

It’s not an unreasonable request.

Jamie

Add me to the list of users with a folder called ‘Crapware’ on my home screen. Would love to be able to free up the space these apps I never use take up without having to resort to hacks. I also know it’s unlikely for all of the reasons stated here.

tampaappleman

Jim, I believe your write up misses the point. While you are very well describing what third party crap software is I don’t see any of such supplied by Apple itself.
If you don’t use newsstand and the weather app that is fine for YOU but these apps are not useless crap. They just don’t appeal to your computing style. However you won’t have to pay an extra fee to make them work nor are the useless as crap software usually is. The fact that you can’t hide them (other than putting the in a folder ) is a very minor annoyance at the best and no reason to rant about “problems"that aren’t just there.

I think you are mixing your preferred computing stye and preferences with otherwise useful apps that a lot of people certainly like and use. However I do agree that Apple could do a lot better to fine tune the user experience with Apps on iOS. But they are certainly NOT useless crap. You totally missed that point.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

One really cool thing about Android is that you, the user, own the home screens. So you can remove all the crapware from direct view. With Ics Cream Sandwich, you could even hide pre-installed crapware from the App Drawer.

webjprgm

I agree with the people above that Apple’s pre-installed stuff is not crapware.

I noticed, when I updated my iPad to iOS 6, that there was a dialog asking me if I wanted to install some of Apple’s apps.  So Apple has made some of their stuff optional.  Like iBooks, Apple Store (not App Store), etc.  They could potentially do that with more apps.

There’s no reason for a “hide” option.  Just allow deleting the app off the phone and iTunes will keep track of which apps you have but that are not installed.  iTunes would then be the place to select that you want to re-install it on your phone, or else go into the App Store and re-download it while on the go.

I think they definitely could and should do this.  In the meantime, it’s not really hurting me since I have a back page of apps I don’t use on which I toss things I don’t want. (But either can’t delete or just don’t want to delete yet because it’s useful in rare occasions.)

Jim Tanous

Thanks for the great feedback, everyone. However, some of your comments are making incorrect assumptions about my argument. Please note the following sentences from the article:

“In the end, however, what crapware truly symbolized was an effort by companies to force products on their paying customers…”

“...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…”

As you’ll note, I am *not* calling Apple’s apps “crap.” I’m arguing that “crapware” has become a term for any software that is forced upon a customer. After all, not *every* preinstalled application on a PC was “crap,” but all of it was unwanted. In this new post-pc era, Apple is guilty of forcing apps on its users, with no official way of hiding or removing them.

The argument that those customers who find that this policy degrades their enjoyment of their device should simply hide the apps on another page is not a sufficient answer to the question of “why doesn’t Apple let us remove/hide them.”

A fanciful analogy: you rent an apartment with five rooms. You walk in the first day and there is a monster sitting in your kitchen (not an evil monster, more something like a Pixar monster). He doesn’t do anything, he just stands there, looking at you. You complain to your landlord and the landlord says “just lock him in one of the rooms you’re not using.” Sure, it’s a solution, but it’s not a solution that most people who didn’t want the monster in their apartment would find acceptable.

smile

kc_cramer

Nice sleight of hand trick there with the definition shuffle to explain how criticism can’t touch you cuz you can make words mean whatever you want when you write the column. (Something about a rabbit hole, or a looking glass?)

Thank you, Mr. Tanous, for redefining the generally understood definition of crapware to your conveniently hit-whoring usage.

Normally one depends on trolls posting flame-bait to irritate other posters. Congratulations on being your own troll. See what I did there, redefining troll to be you? Thanks for the basic idea. I’ve got all kinds of uses for it now, too.

Jim Tanous

Hi kc_cramer,

Sleight of hand? I clearly and explicitly use the definition in the unedited article, pointing it out again in the comments. Please tell me where I call Apple’s apps “crap.” I’m using “crapware” as a term to describe a class of software that is forced on users, as that is the practice that the term has come to embody.

I’m sorry you don’t want to agree with my definition for the purposes of this discussion. I find it interesting, however, that, regardless of the definition used, you offer no solution or counter-argument to the position that Apple should let customers remove or hide included applications.

Please do inform us of your reasoning, as I am still waiting for a reasonable explanation.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must return to my comfy patch of moss under this bridge.

Marco P

First World Problems

Jim Tanous

Marco P said: “First World Problems”

That, sir, is certainly true.

John Dingler, artist

wha’ jappa do my commen’?

john Dingler, artist

Hi Jim,
Then a better name for Apple’s excellent software forced into the interface would be “forcedware,” not “crapware” which has an unwarranted negative connotation because it’s loaded with the idea of deleterious badness; It inflames and traumatizes the user.

Call it “forcedware.” PC’s unwanted bad stuff is crapware while Apple’s unwanted good stuff is forcedware; It neither inflames nor traumatize the user.

(will this comment disappear again?)

Jim Tanous

Hi John,

That’s a fair point, and perhaps a term like “forcedware” could serve to differentiate the situation on mobile devices where truly bad crapware, in the most pejorative sense, still exists on some Android products.

Although I still argue that something like Newsstand, which I use daily and love on my iPad, is of completely no value on a device as small as the iPhone or iPod touch. Perhaps in the future, when all publications are dynamically coded to scale to different sized screens, the app will have some purpose, but for now, I have yet to meet anyone who actively uses Newsstand on any device except their iPad.

So, considering that most of the concern here is derived from a belief that I am implying more than what I state in the article with the term “crapware,” let’s agree to call Apple’s included apps “forcedware” (with the exception of Newsstand, which I will lovingly continue to personally refer to as crap on the iPhone and iPod touch smile )

PS - Sorry you seem to be having trouble with the comments. I only see your two comments here and don’t know why your other attempts to comment weren’t successful. I’ll forward a note to our system admin to look into it in the morning.

xmattingly

I’m reminded of Steve Jobs’ Macworld presentation in 97, when the audience booed him after he said Explorer would ship as the default browser in Mac OS. He followed up by saying “At Apple, we believe in choice, so you can pick any other browser”. Fast forward 15 years, and - as many others have pointed out - the likes of Newstand and Game Center are an entirely different experience…

I’m as peeved as anyone else about the lack of App flexibility in iOS, let alone the rampant commercialization that is forced upon users. Yeah, I get it. Apple really, REALLY wants you to buy ebooks and magazines. They really, REALLY want you to be enveloped in the Game Center ecosphere. But…

Just like everyone else, I paid a few hundred bucks for an exceptional device that - not only will have its battery fail in a couple of years (which isn’t even user replaceable), but the device itself will be obsolete within a few, anyway. So in a roundabout way, that is Apple’s “subscription model”; additional content purchases notwithstanding. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Eusebia

Iqayu vimaru, iluweye utahuxuc qoyibediwa ovoxogo, akafola doguwo ojixo ifofahiyo wuvebeni amayinoxol epexezu.
Kofi we, buvuqevot xe quyoro denazeca uleliqese casio Celviano Ap 620 uza nov kabot.

Imajez

I happened upon this article when searching for alternatives to Apple’s default software on the iPhone. The reason, I think it is all simplistic and/or badly designed and as a result difficult or useless to use. I replaced Calendar with Week Cal recently and it really puts Apple’s lame offering to shame and Photos (which cannot even show full image or show photos on order you want without a lot pf faffing) was very quickly replaced by the far superior Linkus’s My Photos. 
I hadn’t thought about it before but actually crapware in the sense of rubbish software forced upon you is a good description for most of Apple’s offerings as they are mostly rubbish. Like the clumsy keyboard on my iPhone which made typing this post much harder and slower than using the one on my 4-5 years older Win6 mobile powered HTC.

About the only Apple software I haven’t replaced on my Macs or iPhone is iTunes because as weak as iTunes is, all the alternatives are sadly even worse. :-(

Log-in to comment