You might have heard that the new Samsung Galaxy Note 5 comes without Google+ preinstalled. While some are using this as more "proof" that Google+ is dead (that's another discussion for another time), in reality it's just one of several Google applications that are no longer required to be included by the folks who make our phones.
The way this whole Android thing works is difficult for some to understand. Google writes and updates Android itself, but gives the source code away to anyone. As consumers, we can get our own copy from the AOSP (Android Open Source Project) repository. Google even has pretty thorough instructions to help you build it into a fully functioning version of Android.
Phone manufacturers have access to the Android source code, too. They also get it for free. Like you and I, they are allowed to modify and change any parts they like. This is how things like the Amazon FireOS happen. And it's a very good thing.
If a phone manufacturer wants to include the Google apps suite they need to conform to a few rules
But things get a little different when it comes to installing Google's proprietary apps and services.
If a phone manufacturer wants to include the Google apps suite — things like the Play Store or Gmail (and more) — they need to conform to a few rules. Once they have done their thing to Android itself, they have to have their version tested for compatibility by Google. Once approved, they are given a package list of apps they must install.
In the past, we've seen all sorts of applications made by Google that many of us wish weren't installed. Samsung, or LG or HTC included them because they were part of the mandatory package list from Google. You either take them all, or you get none. That sounds pretty unfair, but Google never said they were fair. These apps aren't open source, nor are they part of the AOSP. If you want Gmail to be on your new phone from any manufacturer, you're also going to get other apps Google wants to be installed. It makes sense from a business standpoint, but it never felt very friendly. And it's not just Google who does this sort of thing. Apple bundles bloatware many don't want or need into every iPhone, as does Microsoft. These companies want you to see all of their services, and aren't afraid to push them on you.
Luckily, things are getting better. Recent changes to the rules phone makers need to follow to get a Google approved version of Android have allowed for certain apps to no longer be mandatory. Google Play Games, Google Play Books, Google+ and Google Newsstand now join the ranks with Google Earth and Google Keep as apps that aren't a required part of the Google applications package. They are still in the Play Store, are still regularly updated and will work just as well for those of us who want them. And this is how things ought to be. In fact, we'd like to see even more Google apps get sent packing, but still be there in the Play store for those who want them.
I don't want applications I'll never use to be preinstalled on my phone. Whether it's Google Play Newsstand, or Apple's iBooks, or Microsoft Money, these companies have an effective delivery method for folks who want to use them in their respective application stores. The less bloatware that gets tossed in my face, the better.
Of course, this doesn't stop the folks building our phones from installing their own applications. Nor does it stop the carriers from pre-installing every app they think they can make a few pennies from installing. You're still going to have apps like T-Mobile TV, Sprint Zone, AT&T Navigator and Verizon Messenger installed, whether you want them or not.
But at least you won't have to disable Google Play Newsstand, and that's a step in the right direction from Google.
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