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Mossberg: I just deleted half my iPhone apps (theverge.com)
38 points by antr on July 20, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments

I guess for him the apps had a novelty they never had for me. I use a few apps and the browser. I'm very happy with my iPhone.

Overall this reads like "my refrigerator keeps food cold, it is reliable for years, the novelty has worn off" or "I went to the grocery store and bought every cereal in the cereal aisle, there are too many, it's hard to find good ones, the novelty of having all this cereal has worn off, let's go back to when oatmeal was the only choice." I guess this sort of thinking is inevitable when you hunt around for apps. Most people don't hunt around for apps. They have a need, then they get an app. They're happy.

I agree. I consider it a part of a more generic problem. The problem of "The next best thing", to search for novelty; I would say the last NBT was maybe Siri and I just use it to set lazy alarms...

I recently wiped my Nexus 6 because the battery was draining (would die at 2 PM) faster than normal and I had some pretty bad issues with the camera. When I reloaded it I resolved to use the website version of apps as much as possible and not to download native apps.

My battery life now is superior to before. I suspect that a lot of the apps I had were phoning home or disrupting WakeLocks like Facebook does.

I am officially appskeptic. A lot of the old apps I used to use I can do most things through their mobile sites. For the ones I can't that I have to use I go through the website.

I remember the days of the first iPod touch and early iPhone where Apple championed web apps vs dedicated. I wish the trend would have continued that way (even Windows Phone would be viable if so).

Replacing the Facebook app on Android with Metal (or any one of numerous mobile web wrappers as apps) alone resolved most of the problems I was having with battery life.

The argument for apps over mobile web only works when the app respects _both_ the user experience and resources of the device as well as the mobile experience does.

Google Fit and Now (and everyone's friend, nlpwakelock) are also frequent culprits

Man...every single time I see a title like this all I can think is "Oh what a special little snowflake you are"

Read a bit further. It's not really about him deleting apps (his case is an absurd outlier...). It's really more about the fact that, when it comes to apps, Apple and Google are the new Atari: mountains and mountains of shovelware.

>Apple and Google are the new Atari: mountains and mountains of shovelware.

Apple and Google are just HUGE marketplaces where you can find anything, shoveware included.

We don't call Amazon the "new Atari" because you can find tons of crap books, and not just Shakespeare and awarded novelists.

It's absurd to expect not to find tons of shovelware in a app stores with 1 million titles. Plus, one man's shovelware is another man's "gem of an app I use everyday".

The question is whether there are a few thousands of great apps (and the answer is definitely yes) -- not whether all 1.5 million apps in there are great.

For me, the problem is having to sort thru all the shovelware to find one or two useful apps. It would be nice if:

1) there were multiple app stores 2) Apple would curate their own app store

I think that approach would solve so many problems. The first would see app stores that were limited in scope (not all, but some). Some would curate, some would not. The non-curated ones would be easily avoidable.

The second option needs to happen. The shovelware on the Apple app store makes me want to avoid it as much as possible. If Apple would hyper-aggressively curate their own app store, I think the overall quality would rise.

Of course, I realize this probably won't happen. Lockdown of the app store is directly tied to their bottom line.

Android has multiple app stores, but they are invariably worse than the Play Store. I'd agree that there is room for a curated app store, but the question is, what criteria would be used to curate it? No one needs hundreds of weather apps, but I'm sure you'd find disagreement on which are the best 5 or 10. And if we're honest, eventually a portion of the apps would probably be "sponsored" to appear.

Android also has the issue that installing from a third party app store requires enabling installing off all apps from "unknown sources", which presents a malware risk. It would be nice if you could insert trusted third party app signing keys.

There is also the issue that device vendors are contractually obligated to not install any third party app stores if they want to have access to the Play store. Of course, I'm generally in favor of this, since 3rd party app stores are generally awful (and certainly people don't really want a carrier or device manufacturer based app store, which is what would happen). But, that restriction also keeps 3rd party app stores from getting any traction, which leads to developers ignoring them for the most part.

I was specifically speaking of the Apple app store (I'm sooo done with Android), but the criteria for curation would apply equally to any app store: it's up to the owner of the app store.

Personally, I'd hope Apple would keep only the five or ten best-of-breed apps in each category; the apps that best showcase Apple's tech and UI.

>Personally, I'd hope Apple would keep only the five or ten best-of-breed apps in each category; the apps that best showcase Apple's tech and UI.

So, basically keep, e.g. 100 categories * 10 apps, like 1000 apps, kill the other 1499000 apps, and alienate millions of people and especially all those programmers...

For curation, there are tons of websites that rate and review apps. Some even only ever do that -- they are specialized iOS app curation websites, and multiple at that, plus they have direct links to the App Store so you can buy in 2 clicks tops.

So while it would be nice to have, I don't see anything special in having Apple curate the app store themselves.

Apple and Google are just HUGE marketplaces where you can find anything, shoveware included.

The same could be (and probably was) said about the Atari game collection.

The Atari game collection was at best 3 orders of magnitude smaller (3000 times smaller to be precise).

The iTunes App Store is reported to have 1.5 million apps, whereas the Atari 2600 game collection listing contains around 565 games (and the Atari ST, if we're talking about that 505).

So, yeah, from a pure quantity perspective I'd expect quite a lot more opportunities to fall upon shovel-ware among 1.500.000 million titles than among 500.

And even if both had the same ratio of good apps, e.g. 0.5% this still leaves 7500 good apps on the App Store (more than I'd ever need or could even have time to use), and about 3 good apps on the Atari collection.

At this point I'm not even sure what you're arguing.

In both cases, the sheer quantity of total garbage content gets in the way of individuals finding high quality content that meets their needs and expectations.

Whether the absolute number of quality apps is fairly high or not is entirely beside the point.

This is all about a) perception, and b) accessibility. If the perception of apps is that they're garbage, and that perception is backed up by an experience that makes finding quality content difficult, that's a problem, whether there's 100 quality apps or 100,000.

>At this point I'm not even sure what you're arguing.

I didn't brought up the Atari metaphor. I'm just calling it bogus for 2 reasons: you can't possibly curate and rank 1500000 items the way you could 500 (like Atari had). And you don't need to.

A large amount of crap in such quantities of items is both expected and inconsequential. Nobody calls Amazon a bad shop because it sells all kinds of crap products among the good, or asks them to curate their offerings.

>In both cases, the sheer quantity of total garbage content gets in the way of individuals finding high quality content that meets their needs and expectations.

That hasn't been the case in any other field. There are tons of garbage consumer electronic devices, but people do manage to find and buy good stuff. Tons of bad movies and records, but people do manage to find compelling stuff they like. Tons of crap on Amazon, but people still buy all the good stuff they like.

What I'm saying is, when one is talking about a "shop" with 1 million and more items, it's both totally expected and totally irrelevant that tons of it will be crap.

I don't see any perception problem either. It's mainly small developers who complain about that, implying that their apps should be highlighted by the Apple Store etc -- as if that's even possible when there are 100s of thousands of devs asking for the same thing.

Like with every other huge market, physical or digital, people just search and buy first and foremost the well known and trusted apps (Facebook, Google Maps, Paper, Angry Birds, whatever). Those are the ones created by big players (e.g. Google, Microsoft), the ones talked about in the media, the ones highlighted in review sites, and the ones that get word of mouth and traction for them.

And they can find these easily, by name, affiliate links, etc, whether there are 100 or 10000000 other apps in the store.

As I see it, the big problem is separating the worthwhile apps from the useless (and sometimes semi- or fully malicious) ones. User reviews aren't necessarily trustworthy, and unscrupulous publishers often game the system.

Then there is (at least on typical Android handsets) the undeletable bloatware. It doesn't seem to be quite the problem that it used to be, but it's still annoying. Though I have root, I'm wary of just deleting things.

I have about 85 MB of disabled apps on my current phone, and about 6 GB free out of 16 GB main storage. A 64 GB MicroSD stores my media, so 16 GB is less of a problem here than it is on a Nexus or an iPhone. It's too bad there's such a ridiculous markup on built-in storage, SD slot or no.

I already occasionally purge apps that I don't use, though - and when I install something new, I watch battery life like a hawk. If it shows any sign of misbehaving, away it goes. If it needs ridiculous permissions (like location information for a flashlight or a metronome) it doesn't get installed in the first place.

In-app ads aren't a huge problem to me, but they annoy me anyway just because of so many deceptive "Clean your phone of viruses!" ads (often with fake "close" buttons) that bamboozle less-savvy users.

I'd like to see the FTC give the deceivers a good stomping, but in today's political environment that's unlikely to happen anytime soon.

I've read a few articles like this that start with the assumption that storage space obviously needs to be conserved. I always wonder what these people are keeping on their phones. I always buy the version of the phone with the least storage, and I do zero things to manage how much space I'm using and I've never run out. Is it like large offline media libraries? I don't spend a huge amount of time outside of wifi range and don't really have a problem just streaming everything.

I personally don't want a bunch of personal data, like photos, in the cloud where hackers can steal them, the cloud provider can go down, or decide I don't deserve access anymore. And I also travel on planes that usually don't have wifi. So I keep my podcasts and music local on my device. (I'm less concerned with keeping music in the cloud since it's not that personal in the way that a photo of my family is.) I was just running out of space on my 64GB device when the 128GB model came out. I upgraded, and find I'm just a tiny bit over 64GB 9 months later. So I guess I found my equilibrium (at least until I decide to start keeping something else local!).

I'm guessing you don't have kids to take videos of, then :)

Podcast apps tend to save everything for some stupid reason. My iPhone was full and I noticed Overcast had saved like 3 GB of old episodes. Pretty terrible UX.

The default in Overcast is to delete after listening and to save only 3 episodes from each subscription, which is quite sensible IMO.

it still seems to...not do this correctly? I have it configured thus but still have to delete 1GB+ of old episodes manually on a regular basis.

Are you sure the episode finished, or did you start another at the end of the episode when it was essentially dead air?

I think I usually just let it run until it plays the next episode, but I'll pay better attention the next time I use the app.

Stupidest one for me is Twitter, after install the app rapidly balloons to 100meg+ for a service that just streams tiny text messages.

Tiny text messages, profile images, avatars, inline linked media, etc.

Start caching the stuff you obviously don't want to re-fetch over HTTP every single time the user scrolls around in their timeline, and 100MB is a pretty reasonable footprint.

If you don't let it finish (say you don't care about that last ad or the outro music and you jump to another episode), it'll keep the file.

Similarly, when you transfer to a new phone or restore, it won't take those files with the backup, and if you have a bunch of files still around, it'll re-download those, taking several hours or days.

>Pokémon Go may be a sensation, but the novelty of the App Store is over

It's been almost a decade since the App Store was introduced.

In what way would it still be a "novelty"?

It's now a tens of billions annual app marketplace.

> For instance, I’d use Facebook and Twitter much less on my phone if I had to use them through the browser

This was the most interesting line in the article for me because I recently had the same thought. But my reaction was to uninstall Facebook because I wanted to use it less!

It's one of the best computing decisions I've made in years. I still have Messenger so I don't miss anything truly important. The FB web app is perfectly serviceable for the rare occasion when I need to use it. My battery life has improved. The rest of my Facebooking now happens solely on my PC and all I really miss out on is scrolling through the same items in my feed 6 times a day.

The two simple acts of uninstalling Facebook and turning off push notifications for email have given me back those periods of the day where I'm alone with my thoughts. You know, those moments that people are always lamenting have been destroyed by the smartphone.

I feel like these purges are a relatively common practice? I've heard people say things to the effect of "Oh, I had that app but I deleted it because I never used it and I needed more space." That's usually what prompts me to delete some unused apps.

This blog feels like it's a few several years too late.

> several years too late

That's Mossberg for you. He's a good and thoughtful writer who today only writes about what we already know.

There's a place for that, as not everyone is an early adopter. He probably knows his readership pretty well, and introduces concepts to them when he feels they have been sufficiently "baked" in tech blogs and other venues.

I use a 16GB iPhone and I delete apps all the time because of lack of space. In a sense I see this as a strategic mistake by Apple, you can't have people downloading and using lots of app and also sell most iPhone with only 16GB space.

Maybe Apple doesn't care about "people downloading and using lots of app" beyond a certain point? The App Store has never been a cash cow for them. Hardware has always bin.

And then carriers will sell Android phones with 8GB in which the OS takes 5GB and undeletable apps use 2+GB. But it runs quickly enough in a demo and once you buy it you're stuck.

There are exactly five new phones on the first page of the AT&T site for sale right now that you can buy with less than 32 GB of memory. They are:

* Apple iPhone SE

* Apple iPhone 6s+

* Apple iPhone 6s

* Apple iPhone 6+

* Apple iPhone 6

The "first page of the AT&T site" is a rather arbitrary criteria for finding what phones are on offer. The only Android phones there are high end ($600-700) Samsung and LG phones.

Its definitely not hard to find Android phones with 8 or 16GB of storage, especially on the cheaper end. Saavy consumers can get a pretty solid Android phone for around $200, though. I'm specifically thinking of the Moto G, now on its 4th iteration, and all of them have been fairly well spec'd and reviewed for that price point.

I would have gone deeper, but their site navigation wasn't working in my browser. That said, it definitely seems that in markets like the US at least, a large percentage of Android phones being sold today are late model Samsungs, LGs, etc. I'm sure you can still buy a PoS Android phone that doesn't really work properly, but it hasn't been the case that people are really buying those in masse for a few years now.

Motorola does have some cheaper options, even the Moto G you mentioned starts at 16GB, and it's a $200 phone that is actually pretty good, as you pointed out. The comment I was responding to was talking about "Android phones with 8GB in which the OS takes 5GB and undeletable apps use 2+GB" that carriers were supposedly duping people into buying. That's just not the case, and hasn't been for probably five years.

Aren't most expandable via SD?

Yes, which is great for photos and other data. You can move individual apps there, too, but parts of the moved apps still stay on the phone and you can't control this.

My wife's phone has all movable apps except Trello moved to SD, along with all photos, Audible cache, etc., and it's running about 300MB free on the phone most of the time. When we bought it I assumed it would be fine because my low end HTC came with 2GB free space. The difference I missed was Android 4.4 is much larger.

We will try replacing Facebook/Messenger with Metal as suggested elsewhere and see if that leaves more wiggle room and improves battery life and overall performance.

Older ones were, but the new Nexus phones aren't, and I'm pretty sure I've heard of others. I was horrified at first, but I will probably end up buying a new phone before it really becomes a problem... And I bought a huge one this time, too, so it really isn't a problem.

I have an S7 as my secondary (primary is 6S Plus) so I'm a casual user at best, but the SIM slot appears to hold both the SIM and a MicroSD.

> Over the past few days, I’ve methodically deleted 165 apps from my iPhone, about 54 percent of the 305 apps I had on the phone when I started culling the herd

I don't think I've had more than 50 installed at once. Having 305 installed seems like the app version of being on Horders.

Well, he points out that it's because he's a tech reviewer and trying out lots of apps is part of his job.

I have just gone, slightly, in the opposite direction. I used to install almost no apps on my android phone. Now with Android 6 fine grain permissions I have started installing a few useful apps.

Maybe unrelated but I think that the Music app used with Apple Music uses up a lot of storage with caching that isn't surfaced in the app-by-app storage usage. I have a 16GB iPhone (mistake) that I'm constantly deleting photos from, deleting and reinstalling apps to bust caches, etc., just to find the space I free evaporate when I listen to music.

Google Play Music is the same, at least on iOS (well, the storage usage is accurate). It caches any song you listen to once or twice, until it eats up all free space. Then your only choice is to purge the entire cache, except for albums you've manually downloaded (which can only be set at an album granularity).

Well with Apple Music you can't manually trigger a cache purge (to my knowledge) and of course you can't delete the Music app and reinstall it. Maybe toggling Apple Music or iCloud Music Library off/on would do it? But I tend to want to avoid ever changing iCloud-related settings on my phone once they appear to be working correctly, due to my experience of them just falling apart in the past.

I don't see the need to delete an app. Just the quicker access using the icon is reason enough for me to keep an app. Memory is the cheapest thing nowadays. I'm carrying around 64GB memory in my phone. Why limit myself, worrying about space? Even older phones don't have this problem, you can put in an SD card for plentiful storage.

Problem is that new apps are often put near the end, and you're swiping a bunch of screens to get to what ostensibly are more frequently used at that time. Personally, I prefer keeping it clean, and often when I upgrade, I'll just start fresh without restoring. It's amazing what I really don't miss.

It's actually worse when they're alphabetized, and a lot of apps end up with short names that don't match the name you saw in Google Play.

Facebook Messenger, for instance, is just "Messenger", removing the company name. There's a built-in app named that as well, and I always forget which is which.

One of the worst offenders is Zomato food order app. Its icon just shows up with "Order". It took me five minutes to find it.

> Even older phones don't have this problem, you can put in an SD card for plentiful storage.

Unfortunately, not a solution for iPhones.

I have an old but trusty iPhone 4S with 16gb, so I certainly have memory problems. however, I've found that programs usually aren't that big – it's usually the data. Photos, podcasts, caches... those are the things that really add up without you noticing.

>I'm carrying around 64GB memory in my phone. Why limit myself, worrying about space?

A lot of apps can be several GB by themselves alone, e.g. some 4-6 GB game titles, etc. Music apps with sample content tend to be on the multi-GB camp too.

And of course the user might also have most of those 64GB taken by his music, videos, and photos.

>Memory is the cheapest thing nowadays

A bargain at 16 gb upgrade for $100 from Apple /s

Buy it from someone else then ;)

A lot of stuff can end up running in the background, though. Its less an issue of storage space, and more an issue of battery life. Performance and data consumption may also be issues for some people.

This comment/quote seemed interesting to me: "A WELL-DESIGNED APP IS MUCH BETTER TO USE THAN A MOBILE WEB BROWSER, EVEN ON A LARGE PHONE" as The Verge did away with their native app a long time ago.

I wonder how he feels about The Verge not having a native app.

The iOS SpringBoard needs a way to view apps by how often they are used (among other views). That would make it easier to clean up the apps I've downloaded and used only once.

That would be nice. I've developed a system of (periodically) separating out apps I know I use from ones I'm less certain about. So if I have a folder like "productivity" and it has 10 apps, I'll pull out the 2 or 3 I know I used in the past week and put them in a new Productivity folder. If the other apps don't get used after a month or so, and have no good reason to stick around despite their rare use, I'll delete them.

I have a handful of apps I use 2-3 times a year (like Eventbrite or Delta or Airbnb), but I keep them because it's easier than redownloading when an event comes up that does ticketing through them. Those go on the last of my homescreens so they're out of the way until I need them.

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