How can I get rid of bloatware on my phone?

If you bought your phone through a carrier, the chances are high that it has apps on it that you rarely, if ever use.

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Commonly referred to as "bloatware" (although there are other, less pleasant terms also applied to it), these apps take up storage space on your phone. Which is fine if you use them every day, but not so much if you never actually use them or wanted them in the first place.

What qualifies as bloatware?

While it’s a term that’s often applied to bad apps, the reality is that bloatware is effectively any app you don’t want on your smartphone. If it serves no purpose to you, it’s sitting there taking up storage space you could be using for other purposes. Some applications may be worse, as they make take up processing cycles if they automatically run in the background.

The short form of this is that if you don’t want it there, it’s bloatware.

How can I get rid of bloatware on my iPhone?

Apple’s controls over the iOS platform have kept carrier bloatware to a relative minimum on iPhones to date. The major players do have their own apps that they offer for iPhone devices, but you’ve generally got to install them yourself, which usually meant you wanted them there. As with any other app, you can uninstall with a simple long press on the app from the main home screen and then tapping the "X" icon that appears to the top left of the app.

That doesn’t mean that iOS is entirely bloatware free. Apple supplies its own apps for a variety of functions on the iOS platform that, up until iOS 10 you couldn’t easily remove without jailbreaking your iPhone. It’s safe to assume that most folks would want the phone dialler and mail clients, but the relatively weak bundled Weather and Stocks apps were very quickly overtaken by third party alternatives early on in the iPhone’s life. For most users, all you could do was shuffle all the unwanted Apple bloatware into a folder so you didn’t have to look at it.

iOS 10 changes all that; once it’s released you’ll be able to uninstall pretty much every Apple supplied app on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch at will in the exact same way that you do for regular apps. Apple will offer each individual app through the app store if you decide you want them back, but you can be rid of them if you wish.

The one notable issue here is that Apple isn’t allowing other apps to take over the default actions of those apps. So if you uninstall Mail because you prefer another client app for your emailing purposes, you can’t set that as the default. Click on a mail link when you’ve uninstalled the mail client, and you’ll be prompted to download Apple’s Mail client instead.

How can I get rid of bloatware on my Android phone?

Removing bloatware from an Android device is a significantly more difficult prospect, because the more open nature of Android has allowed carriers to install applications on devices in ways that makes it more challenging to uninstall them.

Depending on the carrier and the app, it may be possible to uninstall carrier apps you don’t want simply by heading to Settings>Applications, selecting the rogue application and choosing uninstall. That’s if the carrier’s playing friendly with its apps.

Uninstall is greyed out or unavailable. What do I do now?

There are options open to you if an app’s been installed with permissions for uninstalling locked down. At a very simple level, you may be offered a Disable/Turn Off option within the app itself, which won’t uninstall it but should stop it running all the time. Don’t mistake that with Force Stop, which will temporarily stop the app, but only until the next time your phone reboots, at which time it’ll be back full force.

I really want this Android app gone. How do I do that?

In order to remove locked down applications on an Android device, you’ll need to gain what’s called "root" access to your device. This is an administrator-level access to the software running on your Android device. It is most commonly used by tech-savvy consumers who want to try out different forks of the Android OS for productivity reasons (or simple curiosity).

Rooting your Android device isn’t a trivial matter, however, because doing so will void your warranty should anything go wrong. Now, if you root your device, decide it isn’t for you and reflash it with the original software that was on it, there’s really not much of a way for a manufacturer to tell you’d done that, but if something goes wrong with the rooted device while doing so ("bricking" it), or while it’s rooted, you’ll almost always be denied any kind of warranty service on it.

As such, while it’s something you can do, cannot advise you to do it or offer any support whatsoever if something goes wrong. Proceed at your own risk with rooting your phone.

It’s also a relatively complex topic given the number of Android devices out there. You’ll need to know the precise model of phone you’ve got – not just the manufacturer’s general name for it, but the multi-character country specific firmware you’re currently running – in order to properly break into the full capacity of the phone. The methods for doing so usually revolve around software applications that talk directly to your phone when plugged in via a USB cable to a PC (and less frequently, a Mac) which are constantly being updated.

As such, your best bet is to do a substantial amount of searching around for common methods at the time you’re planning to gain root to your device, because these methods are a constantly moving target. Be very careful out there, however, as a rooted device is one with many of its security features left wide open, which also raises the prospect of Android malware making its way onto your system.

Looking for Anti-malware software for your Android? We've compared Antivirus Software with mobile coverage in our Antivirus Comparison.

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