At CES this year, major mobile carriers seemed focused on innovating the network, virtual reality and advertising. What was missing from the conversation was any mention of innovating the device. One possible explanation for this fear is subscribers’ annoyance over “bloatware.” Consumers widely view carrier-installed apps as useless, redundant and eating up space on their smartphones. But for those looking to be industry leaders, being afraid of “bloatware” may be an obstacle to creating “gloatware” - useful experiences that users love, and that drive enough revenue to make carriers feel genuinely smug.
Not all pre-installed apps are bloatware. Consider some of the pre-installed functionalities on phones today that we take for granted: visual voicemail, voice search, wallets, navigation and much more. None of these would be considered bloatware because each offered something unique and helpful, had few competitive offerings and enough marketplace use to make them seem commonplace.
However, let’s be honest: the leap from bloatware to gloatware is not an easy one. Carriers absolutely must put innovation first and focus on making phones more user-friendly. When carriers put mere ambition ahead of subscriber satisfaction, it will inevitably backfire - and quickly.
To make the shift from bloatware to gloatware without gaffes, there are three questions carriers must consider carefully:
1. Have your subscribers already installed another competitive offering on their phone?
Carriers have insisted on delivering phones that feature their own versions of apps that people already use. If I have Apple Maps or Google Maps, why on earth do I need a carrier’s version? (And why would I pay for it?) Why do I need another photo gallery or file management app? Subscribers would rather prefer innovative apps that advance or change the functionality of the phone. Carrier apps like visual voicemail, or even AT&T’s DirectTV app that transforms your handset into a remote (if you have DirectTV) are useful and novel. Carrier-branded copycat apps are not.
2. Does the app, functionality or service have differentiated features?
Carrier installed apps that are nothing more than substandard me-toos are just going to be dumped for better, more robust options. To make the leap to gloatware, a preinstalled app must innovate, and in a way that people react to. This leads to the last key question.
3. Will some subscribers dislike - yes! DISLIKE - your app?
This may sound odd, but in order for people to specifically dislike something, it has to have created some sort of impact - and let’s face it, most bloatware stays pretty well below the radar. Subscribers don’t even notice these apps, unless they actually take the time to actively dislike them. It’s better to be loathed than unnoticed. Look at Snapchat: 800,000 people signed a petition in protest of the app’s redesign, yet the company continues to produce buzzworthy financial and engagement metrics. Some people dislike Siri or Alexa’s “listening,” while others dislike Amazon’s 1-Click, fearing accidental purchasing. In all of these cases, however, the greater good is valued by the majority of people.
Carriers, you DON’T NEED EVERYONE to love your app. Did you know that more people still choose to drink tap water (35 percent) over bottled water (33 percent)? Yet, no one would argue that there’s no market for bottled water. Ultimately, you don’t need 100 percent of people to like or use a product to achieve market success. You just need enough of your subscribers to want it to make a big splash.
Industry change is coming. New 5G devices are guaranteed to be different than the devices we use today. That means new opportunities for carriers to provide useful apps and services for their subscribers. The next cool phone functionality is out there, and it should be something that makes the phone better - whether it capitalizes on new voice-assisted technology, AI or the ubiquity of unlimited data plans. Be innovative, follow the three keys, beat your competitors to success and then find time to gloat about your gloatware.