Apple’s blanket bloatware ban as strong as ever

iPhone 4S

Apple is nowhere near relaxing its strict rules for carrier partners, according to Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo. Negotiations to bring the iPhone to NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s largest cellular network operator, have hit an impasse since Apple won’t back down on a rule that prevents its partners from pre-installing software on devices, according to the carrier’s President and CEO Ryuji Yamada.

In an interview reported by The Wall Street Journal  on Tuesday, Yamada said the “closed operating system of the iPhone,” which prevents the carrier from pre-loading apps like its e-wallet and i-mode email service, doesn’t work for NTT DoCoMo. The reason that’s a problem? Those software additions are “important for Japanese customers.”

Of course, if that were true, there would be no problem with simply providing instructions detailing how to download the apps from the App Store to iPhone buyers post-purchase. Clearly, if the software was so desirable, customers wouldn’t mind a little legwork to get them. But the reason NTT DoCoMo (and all carriers) want to pre-load software onto devices is to give them more control over the customer and their spending practices.

Apple was instrumental in loosening the hold carriers had on content and access to services on cellular devices. Anyone over 25 remembers a time when if you wanted to browse the web on your phone, you used a terrible, limited, proprietary browser managed by your carrier that probably only provided access to select sites. Music stores, ringtones, wallpapers, etc.: All were once the exclusive province of your network provider. On Android devices, the situation isn’t quite that dire, but the presence of half-hearted attempts at carrier-branded stores and software is still a depressing reminder of a far less free mobile past.

Apple changed all that with the iPhone, which shipped with no pre-loaded carrier software, provided unfettered access to the web, and with the App Store, introduced a litany of choice when it came to services like navigation, another area once notoriously dominated on mobile devices by network operators.

Another reason cited by Yamada for not picking up the iPhone is Apple’s extraordinary upfront commitment requirement. The volume of device orders Apple insists on means carriers have to promote the iPhone heavily, which could result in a huge percentage of its subscribers on Apple devices. That in turn leads to less control of the customer relationship through measures like the aforementioned branded bloatware.

If it simply wanted to extend its reach as far and as wide as possible, Apple could ease its restrictions and allow carriers to preinstall an app or two. That would go a long way toward making its other conditions more palatable to network operators. But instead, the iPhone maker clearly wants to maintain complete control of its product, even if that means throwing back a big fish like NTT DoCoMo.

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