The Man on the Bus and the Android Duplicate Apps Problem

On my bus home tonight a man approached many of the pas­sen­gers and asked them if they knew how to use What­sApp. It seemed to me that he had learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, and I asked if I could help. He passed me his phone, and I saw that he was try­ing to install What­sApp, so I opened the Play Store, found it, and clicked the but­ton to install it. But it wouldn’t install; the process start­ed, then stopped, with­out expla­na­tion.

I jumped into the set­tings, and worked out that there wasn’t enough stor­age space on the phone. It was a mid-range Sam­sung device, with 8GB of stor­age, but it came pre­in­stalled with two of every­thing: browsers, office suites (Google and Microsoft), email clients, pho­to man­age­ment… every­thing. And none of it could be unin­stalled.

This is a con­se­quence of Google’s con­di­tions for get­ting the best from Android: if you want to use Google Play Services—which now brings many core fea­tures of Android that are no longer includ­ed in the Android Open Source Project—you have to install Google’s core apps. And as Sam­sung make no mon­ey from Google’s core apps, they also install their own alter­na­tives and pre­sum­ably take pay­ment from com­pa­nies like Microsoft to also pre­in­stall their soft­ware.

What this meant was that, after the core sys­tem files and all the pre­in­stalled apps, the phone was left with about 1GB of free stor­age. And pret­ty much all of that was tak­en by Face­book and Mes­sen­ger.

In the end, I delet­ed a load of data from Google Maps, which cleared up just enough to install What­sApp (but may cause him some future prob­lems, for all I know). I only hope he doesn’t want to take any pic­tures or down­load music, because there’s lit­er­al­ly no stor­age avail­able to do that.

What a sad, sil­ly, user-hos­tile sit­u­a­tion. Com­pet­ing busi­ness mod­els end up screw­ing the per­son that owns the phone, and many people—like Muham­mad, the man on the bus—are left with no idea why, or how to fix it.

It was a stark reminder to me of how much is tak­en for grant­ed when the needs of busi­ness are put above the needs of peo­ple.


Also pub­lished on Medi­um.