Indie developers combat Android 'crapware'

Independent developers are producing streamlined versions of the Google Android operating system which omit the "crapware" pre-installed on most devices.

Android handset manufacturers and carriers are facing competition from indie developers who are producing streamlined versions of the operating system which omit the "crapware" pre-installed on most devices.

Google's open source smartphone operating system has been incorporated into a wide range of devices, with regular updates of the Android code simultaneously released to manufacturers, carriers and developers.

This has created a market of modified Android operating systems, otherwise known as mods, and developers often release updates before the official versions from manufacturers and carriers.

One of the most widely used mods is CyanogenMod, compatible with most Android handsets and is already up to version 6. There are countless others, including LeeDroid, MoDaCo, MIUI and DeFroST. Many of these firmware updates give the user access to the core file structure of the handset, in a process known as "rooting" the phone.

The process of installing mods to a phone will often void the warranty and prevent the use of some services, but the latter has been addressed by a local developer.

A 25-year-old Western Australian developer, Aramis Bel, has developed T-Mod, which he said allows Telstra HTC Desire phones to install the LeeDroid mod and continue using BigPond services, such as unmetered content, mobile Foxtel and the data usage tool.

The Android mods are often faster and more stable than their official counterparts, he said, and in the "arms race" developers are driven by the need to tinker with the code, earn the respect of their peers, and eliminate "crapware" or "bloatware".

"Telstra put a lot of bloatware on their system. [You know] the various icons for Telstra BigPond, Whereis maps and their AFL sports and movie sections? All they really are, [are] basically hyperlinks to open up the browser to a particular web page. They could've been very easily done by adding default bookmarks.

"It's the whole open source mantra, people have the code they're going to do stuff with it."

He estimates that about 5000 users have downloaded the T-Mod update, but can't give exact numbers.

Android is an "Amazon rainforest" compared to the Apple iPhone's walled garden and manufacturers' "plantations", he said.

"With Apple's implementation, they've said it themselves, it's a walled garden: it looks pretty, it's pruned, but it's stale. It's basically a rose garden -- square, pretty functional -- it's just there to look at and use."

"On the other hand, Android is the Amazon rainforest. It's teeming with life, some of it crap some of it good, and you've got these big giant trees that are breathtaking to look at, but it can be hard to trudge through.

"The manufacturer ones would be like a plantation, halfway between the two. They've taken a bunch of wild tree saplings and built them up into a nice row and make it look nice and neat. It still has the power and there's a lot of life in it, but it's still heavily controlled, [though] not as controlled as the iPhone market."

At the time of publication, Telstra and Google had not not responded to requests for comments. Modding your phone may void the warranty.

This article was first published on ZDNet Australia.