Imagine your newly-manufactured smartphone or tablet as a clear blue sky, with one or two balloons floating serenely across it.
Now imagine the sky in the midst of a balloon race, with numerous large objects competing for space and blocking out the light.
Something similar happens to your home screen, hard drive and processor resources when bloatware is installed.
This term encapsulates any unnecessary software added to a device by the manufacturer or network operator, before it’s sold to consumers.
What purpose does it serve?
From the public’s perspective, not much.
But then bloatware isn’t really aimed at making our lives easier, regardless of the claims made about it.
Hardware manufacturers want you to use their apps so they can learn more about you, and gradually enmesh you in their products and services until it becomes hard to switch brands.
Locking customers in is a practice historically associated with Apple, though Samsung are almost as bad nowadays.
Mobile networks are the other main culprit.
Installing their own apps helps them monitor your activities, upsell related products or services, and make you so brand-loyal (or dependent) you’ll never move to a rival network.
Can’t I just ignore it?
Imagine buying a brand new car and turning a blind eye to a bootload of brochures promoting accessories and servicing offers.
You could keep the boot permanently shut, but its contents would still weigh down the vehicle, affecting its performance and fuel economy.
Meanwhile, the space occupied by those brochures could be used to house things you do want to carry around.
Even a brand-new smartphone processor struggles to run dozens of applications simultaneously.
Some apps insist on running in the background, slowing load times for other programs and potentially consuming data allowances.
Surely I can delete it?
Much of this software will be unwanted or unused.
Yet it’s often so deeply embedded into smartphone operating systems that removing it becomes impractical, or simply isn’t permitted.
Sometimes, disabling an app is the only alternative to rooting the device – a complex and risky process that automatically invalidates any warranty.
An undeletable app could be ignored, and moved into a sub-folder where it’s less visible. But it’s still there.
Is every smartphone equally affected?
The simple answer is no.
The Californian brand Essential has created a handset using a bloatware-free version of Android, though you’ll have to buy it from third-party retailers like Amazon.
The Android One range is also marketed as being light on bloatware, encompassing a range of Nokia and HTC handsets.
Again, you won’t find Android One units on the high street.
If there’s a specific handset you fancy, run its name through a search engine and add the word “bloatware”.
You might decide an array of pre-installed software is a price worth paying, or make a conscious decision to upgrade to a processor capable of carrying this burden lightly.