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Apple Is Letting You Delete Preinstalled Apps Because You’re Neurotic

Home screen obsession is real

Ringer illustration
Ringer illustration

S ince the inception of the iPhone, iOS stock apps have haunted our home screens. You know them: Tips. Find My Friends. Stocks. Apple’s insistence on programmed rigidity has meant that these useless apps are permanently affixed to your smartphone, unhideable — except, of course, by you, the user. This leaves you — and I, and everyone else — to create a folder named something unflattering (“Stuff”; “Apple Crap”), and move the useless apps in there. Not only don’t we want these apps, we don’t want to see them. So we hide them. Everyone has a method for burying the Crapple.

But no longer: At this week’s WWDC, Apple finally introduced the ability to delete (most of) these apps. Why, after holding strong for so long, has Apple changed course?

Maybe it’s data-related. Functions like Live Photos (introduced with the iPhone 6S) and the various new Photo features announced this year are incredibly fun (if quite reminiscent of Google Photos!), but they are also data hogs. In the age of app overcrowding, it’s in Apple’s interest to let users willingly clear a little space. But let’s be clear — it’s very little space. According to Apple, about 150 MB. So no. It’s not data.

Maybe it’s battery life? Maybe, but unlikely. It’s never been exactly clear how much juice preinstalled apps suck, but take a look at your battery use right now — the more likely culprit is Snapchat and not Calculator.

What this is really about is our own obsessive-compulsive home screen behavior. “It helps a lot with the user interface [and] experience,” says Amir Ghodrati, senior manager of market insights at App Annie, via email. “It’s one thing to have apps that you never use and never want to use installed on your phone; it’s another thing to have them taking up real estate on the home screen — which is valuable placement!” Since the iPhone shipped, users have been hoarding all of those unnecessary icons and hiding them away — out of sight, hopefully out of mind. In fact, you aren’t even really deleting these apps: Yes, trashing them removes them from your screen and also gets rid of user data tied to these apps, but they’re still lurking in the bones of your iPhone. This is about nothing more than getting them off the screen, out of the folders you hid them in. It’s actually sort of reassuring to know that this update had less to do with specifications than with our own digital neuroses.

This is, of course, not how Android deals with its preinstalled apps, which are packaged away inside of functionalities or wiped from the home screen entirely. Of course, there are also more preinstalled apps with Android — Google and the manufacturer bury their own flair into the phone. While this concealment might look nicer, it’s gotten Google into trouble. Because different manufacturers create Android phones, the EU decided to investigate whether Google was pushing certain apps on its smartphone makers. (Google denies this claim.) Despite these issues, Android has been letting users delete bloatware for a long time. But now, finally, it’s iOS’s turn.

Before you go on a deleting spree, though, it’s important to note that you can’t replace defaults. For instance, if you delete App Maps and then hit a direction link in Safari, you’re going to get a prompt that tells you that you don’t have Apple Maps installed rather than the direction loading on Google Maps as a surrogate. You can’t somehow tell your iPhone “Hello, yes, I have deleted the painfully awful Apple Maps, please replace it with Google Maps, which is perfect, as the default!” Yelp, for instance, doesn’t currently access Google Maps at all, so users will be forced to type addresses in manually. (It’s almost like using, ugh, a real map.)

Mike Herrick, SVP of product and engineering at Urban Airship, points out that deleting Apple’s preinstalled apps could cause some other friction with your phone. “Siri might be less helpful. Connected devices and vehicles might feel less connected,” Herrick says. “Fortunately, these are exactly the type of issues that companies try to sort out in the beta, before general availability.” He says, though, that Apple opening up SiriKit, Messages, and Maps will help smooth out the wrinkles. Eventually.

Until then, deleting the home screen staples will be messy. Maybe someday our obsession with curating The Perfect Smartphone Experience will influence Apple yet again and we can program our own default apps for third-party software to leverage. “It will be interesting to see if consumer responses about not being able to choose a new default will eventually lead to enabling that feature,” Ghodrati says. From this page to Apple’s ears.