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Are Branded Apps The New Bloatware?

by Anthony Bontrager on August 17, 2016

“Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”

Stephen King, Author



Just when we thought the days of pre-installed “bloatware” were behind us, the ghost of RealNetworks’ past has returned in the form of Verizon offering brands the ability to pre-install their apps on certain mobile devices.

For those of you too young to remember, buying a computer in the early days of internet access virtually guaranteed that a majority of your app tray was filled with everything from audio players, web portal links, stock trackers and a multitude of other useless applications that only served to slow down your computer and annoy the shit out of you. RealNetworks, McAfee and others were the leading culprits of this trend – paying manufacturers significant sums of money just to get their programs pre-installed in the hope that people would pay to use them.

Now, like wide bottom jeans, aviator sunglasses and other pieces of bad fashion finding their way back into the mainstream, we are once again seeing a revival of this consumer tone-deaf concept of forcing a brand presence onto what has become a highly personal device.

With the launch of the iPhone, Apple understood that the smartphone represented something more personal to consumers. It was a device where a user could personally curate its experience through a certain number of features native to the iPhone OS and a host of 3rd party apps that could be selected (free or paid) by the consumer and used to create a unique experience. Their ability to force acquiescence by the mobile carriers was hailed as a huge win for both Apple and consumers.

Apparently Verizon looks to change that and you can be sure other carriers will soon follow.

According to a recent article in AdAge, the wireless carrier has offered to install big brands’ apps on its subscribers’ home screens, potentially delivering millions of downloads. According to agency executives who have considered making such deals for their clients, this marketing reach would come at a cost – apparently between $1 and $2 for each device affected, according to AdAge.

As the largest US carrier, Verizon has 75 million smartphone post-paid subscribers and activates about 10 million new phones a quarter. While this effort will be limited to Android devices (thankfully Apple continues to keep a tight reign on its eco-system), Android phones still command more than 50% of the U.S. market.

Verizon claims that the upside is that brands’ apps, an essential component for any mobile strategy, would get a fast, substantial spike in downloads. Further, the program is priced pretty competitively when compared to the fees charged by Facebook or Google for app marketing.

Obviously, as text and calls have become free over the years, carriers need to get creative when devising new avenues of monetization. However, while users have the option of deleting these branded apps without activating, the potential for frustration remains astoundingly high, opening both the carrier and the brands to significant consumer backlash.

Verizon and its brand partners will need to tread carefully. Absent valuable content and experiences, this could turn into a short-lived and very expensive experiment.

Sometimes it’s best to leave certain things to the past…

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