Lenovo’s Vibe Shot, a smartphone that launched yesterday, comes with 13 preinstalled Reliance Jio apps (Hat Tip: Twitter user Anupam), although thankfully, for now the apps can be uninstalled. Interestingly, according to this RTN.asia report, the phone at launch was likely to carry Reliance Jio branding along with Jio apps, as a precursor to Jio’s launch. However, it looks like the Jio branding was eventually scrapped.
The preinstalled apps include Jio Chat, World, Social, Settings, Friends, Play, News, Experience, Beats, On-Demand, Drive, Broadcast and Mags (each app is prefixed with ‘Jio’). Interestingly, another user in the same Twitter thread mentions that the device would come with bundled with Jio data on Jio’s launch but no such statement was made by the company.
Lenovo’s Vibe is a pretty high-end phone with a 1080p screen, an octa core Snapdragon 615 processor and 3GB of RAM, so ideally the 13 extra apps should not really hamper the phone’s performance. However, more importantly, this sets a precedent for Indian telcos to install bloatware on user’s phones before users can lay their hands on them. The practice is extremely common in the US, where users buy phones on a contract basis from telcos.
An important distinction is the reports that these Jio apps can be uninstalled, unlike much of the bloatware installed in the US. However, we imagine if this becomes a norm, carriers will eventually install apps in a way that can’t be removed without significant user intervention (rooting etc.). Additionally, if such a practice becomes common on low end phones or the apps are not well made, it could seriously deteriorate user experience by hogging space, RAM and cpu cycles, much like unwanted hard-to-remove PC malware that market crappy products while slowing computers down to a crawl.
A note on bloatware: Any app that comes preinstalled unnecessarily without adding any significant value to the user can be defined as bloatware. Here, Reliance ships with 13 apps, many with questionable value and utility to a user. Personally, I would have uninstalled every single one of them. But it can get worse, for example the bloatware on Asus Zenphone is uninstallable without rooting.
Questions over net neutrality: It would be interesting to see if the device indeed comes with bundled data from Reliance Jio, whenever that is launched, and if it will offer zero cost data for its own apps. This would obviously violate the principles of net neutrality, providing an advantage to Reliance built apps, as other apps (competing or not) would still require users to pay for data.
Just last month, Reliance Jio’s Jyotindra Thaker said that “We wanted our network to be long and complete nationwide. We didn’t want to just create a dumb pipe for others come to ride on it. So we wanted to create some intelligence on the network. So we thought about creating apps, and an economy which we believe will succeed in the long run. If apps and bandwidth typically go together, then it becomes a viable proposition for the end user.”
MediaNama’s take: The Internet was built to be a dumb pipe, with innovation and intelligence at the edges. This allowed users and businesses to create services and content and distribute it, and for users to pick winners, without the network interfering with user selection, whether via speed, price or availability. We hope that when Thacker says that “apps and bandwidth go together”, it doesn’t amount to discriminatory practices from Reliance Jio, in favoring their own apps and services versus others, and violating Net Neutrality. MediaNama readers should remember that Reliance Jio, in its submission to the TRAI, asked for:
– Regulatory framework to address security concerns, with communication services like Whatsapp and Viber, to bring them on par with telecom operators.
– Hosting services from within India.
– “All types of OTT services should be brought under minimal and simplistic regulatory framework.” OTT, here, refers to the Internet as accessed via a telecom network.
– “Some form of price prioritisation for India based OTT apps could also be considered within the contours of Net Neutrality”.
More on Reliance Jio on Net Neutrality here.