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Apple-Verizon Deal Heralds a Future Free of Carrier Crapware, Possibly

Verizon iPhone crapware

For years cell phone carriers have loved to shovel "added value" systems into the phones they sell, with the real goal of capturing more cash and controlling how their users exploit particular services. Does the crapware-free Verizon iPhone promise an end to this?

Apple's Phil Schiller, VP of Worldwide Product Marketing, reported the news to Ars Technica: "We want the experience to be the same for every iPhone user," he noted, before pointing out that "there are no special Verizon apps preinstalled" in the new CDMA Verizon iPhone. Though Verizon may push specialty apps onto the App Store to "support" its customers, something that AT&T and numerous overseas carriers already do, Schiller wouldn't comment on this—because he didn't have to: The absence of side-loaded Verizon apps is significant enough news by itself.

Why so? Because many people had worried, during the many months of rumors preceding yesterday's news, that Verizon would be the first carrier to force Apple's hand regarding Verizon apps, Verizon-specific firmware, and external branding of the iPhone—leveraging its might as the U.S.'s largest carrier. Verizon is notorious for this trick on many other smartphones it sells, shoving software like its VCast music store and VZ Navigation suite onto other handsets so that they're there when users turn a phone on for the first time (thus possibly ending up using them preferentially). It's also guilty of slapping Verizon logos onto the chassis of devices, and even special Verizon skins onto the UI of the phones, replacing their often carefully crafted interface with a red-splashed affair that's not necessarily any friendlier to the user or more useful, even onto the business-centric BlackBerry platform. Its overseas partner Vodafone is equally guilty of these tricks.

But Apple's control over the iPhone "user experience" is now legendary—it results in all sorts of behaviors from app rejections in the App Store to the uniformity of iPhone branding, with no external carrier labeling allowed anywhere that it's on sale. When Apple first managed this feat with AT&T and the iPhone edition one, it was something of a revolution—representing a sea change in who dictates the user experience on a smartphone. The carriers have since been fighting back, with the handily-skinnable and open-source Google Android OS as one useful tool, and Verizon could easily have brought up the idea during negotiations with Apple.

Yet Apple won this round. Though some commenters may worry that carrier control has now been effectively succeeded by another form of control—manufacturer's control—the upshot is obvious: Less crapware may become a standard in the mobile phone space, led by Apple's example, just as it's becoming more normal in the mobile computing space.

To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.