Android phones almost always come loaded with bloatware, from carrier-specific app stores to messaging apps you’ve never heard of. These irritating apps and services are forced on unsuspecting customers by carriers and smartphone makers alike. The worst part is, you usually can’t delete them. They languish on your phone taking up valuable storage space you might have otherwise used for cat pics.
Now Amazon is taking bloatware on Android phones to the next level with its precedent-setting deal to subsidize non-Amazon smartphones with “personalized deals and product recommendations.” That’s marketing speak for advertisements and a boatload of pre-installed apps. It’s a shoddy deal, and it sets a poor precedent.
It’s unclear whether Amazon’s ad-service framework will slow down Android version updates.
The deal is exclusive to Prime members, and targets the new Moto G4 and the Blu R1 HD smartphones. With Amazon’s ads and apps pre-installed, the 16GB variant of the Moto G4 drops from $200 to $150, and the 8GB version of the Blue R1 HD costs $50, from its retail price of $100.
Sure, those are low prices, but it’s only a $50 discount on phones that were already affordable. In return, you get a smartphone chock full of Amazon apps that can be removed from the home screen, but not from the phone itself. You’ll only be able to disable them, so those apps you’ll never use will take up important space. On budget phones that only offer 8GB and 16GB of storage, that’s a big deal. You’re going to run out of space for your cat pics very quickly on these devices.
What’s worse is that you’ll be seeing all kinds of special offers and promotions, just like you would in Amazon’s Kindle e-book readers and Fire HD tablets. That was manageable since most of these promotions were related to Amazon’s Kindle bookstore. However, on smartphones, this would extend to other marketers, and while some people may enjoy checking these promotions out, many will not. You even have to unlock your phone to dismiss them, according to Amazon’s news release.
To make matters worse, it’s unclear whether Amazon’s ad-service framework will slow down Android version updates. The mobile operating system is fragmented enough already, and Amazon’s additions could make a bad situation worse. As it stands now, when Google releases a new version of Android, manufacturers and carriers have to roll out updates, which typically takes months, if not a year. Would these devices take even longer if Amazon needs to issue an update as well?
When we asked, an Amazon representative gave us a rather vague response: “We expect Blu and Motorola to release software updates as they are available. Apps will update via Google Play and Amazon Underground.”
Unfortunately, buying unlocked devices just isn’t a path most consumers take.
Granted, Amazon is still letting you buy the phone without these special offers, just like you can for Kindle devices, but you’ll see the same retail price as everywhere else. That’s fine, and choice is always a good thing, but ad-stuffed phones set a scary precedent: What happens if other retailers start loading up lovely unlocked devices with tons of ads and apps, and don’t offer ad-free versions?
Will Best Buy pre-install its app if you buy a device from them? Will Walmart include Walmart Pay? There may be ways around these services, like flashing a custom Android ROM, but the average consumer won’t know about it.
For now, you can still buy an unlocked device at full price from another retailer like Best Buy or B&H to avoid the bloatware, but you may not be able to hop on a monthly payment plan to cover the cost of the device. Unfortunately, buying unlocked devices just isn’t a path most consumers take. People see the high cost of a smartphone and immediately back off, even though you’ll end up paying that amount in the end, anyway.
We use our smartphones every day, and we live in a world where we already face targeted ads and personalized offers all over the internet and in real life. Baking those services into our smartphones isn’t worth saving $50, but it’s likely to become even more prevalent in this advertising-driven world. For now, the choice still rests with the consumer, and we urge you to speak against it with your wallet.