Disabling System Apps on a Smartphone

Perhaps the main attraction of having a rooted smartphone is the prospect of being able to bypass a lack of current operating system updates from the phone’s manufacturer through the installation of a user-developed port of the latest version of Android. This was in fact the impetus for the present activity in unlocking my Moto G3’s bootloader and rooting this phone. However, there is one other huge reported benefit – the ability to get rid of bloatware!

As I noted at the start of my journey to root, one of the things I found annoying about Android is the fact that I couldn’t remove system apps that I had no use for. For one thing, these took up space in the internal memory (which is always in short supply). More problematic was that considerable time and patience was required for downloading and installing the relatively frequent updates for software that I never used. Rooting promised to change all that.

However, while I thought I was going to simply uninstall the apps that I didn’t use, there are potential downsides to such a “drastic” course of action. One possibility is that removing a particular system app may cause other apps to malfunction. Web postings also suggest that, for certain devices (manufacturers), if an app is removed it may not be possible to obtain the software to re-install the app should we subsequently wish to do so.

So, how can we avoid such pitfalls? Well, there is a more moderate option available – disabling system apps. While this isn’t as comprehensive a solution as completely uninstalling an app, it does still offer significant benefits.

This feature is reported to be available in Android 4.1 or above. Note, however, that disabling a system app doesn’t remove it completely from your phone. It will remove any installed updates, but the base software for the app remains stored in the phone’s memory. What it does do is prevent the app from running (e.g. in the background), and from receiving any future updates. And, because the disabled app is still stored on the phone, it can easily be re-enabled should you wish to do so.

As with many Android operations, the prompts that occur during the process of disabling a system app are not particularly clear. For example I have no need for the Google Japanese Input app since I will never write Japanese characters. The process to disable this app is as follows:

(1) Navigate to Settings – Apps – Google Japanese Input.

(2) Select the Google Japanese Input app and press the DISABLE button.

(3) Ignore the warning message (“If you disable this app, other apps may no longer function as intended”) and press the DISABLE APP button. [Ignore this warning – at your peril – of course! But remember – you can always enable a disabled app, so that should fix any problems – shouldn’t it?]

(4) Now the strange message: “Do you want to replace this app with the factory version?” The answer really is – No, I want to delete this app completely – but the only real option is to press OK. Reading between the lines, I think the prompt really means: Do you want to remove any installed updates, and return the app to factory-fresh condition? In any case, the system indicates that it is “Uninstalling”, then goes back to the app screen, where the DISABLE button has now become ENABLE. So, it hasn’t really uninstalled the app; it may have uninstalled some updates, but what it has done is disable the app (as the button promised).

(5) Hit the back arrow to return to the previous screen where Google Japanese Input is now flagged as “Disabled”.

So, we have now disabled the app. In doing so, we have minimized its footprint in memory (i.e. have removed any installed updates), have prevented it from running and taking up resources, and have stopped it calling for future updates. But, if we ever want the app back, we simply have to enable it (e.g. Settings – Apps – Google Japanese Input – ENABLE).

To go one step further, and actually uninstall a system app, we need to have a rooted phone, and we need a utility that is capable of uninstalling system software.

References:

Taking control of a Moto G3 smartphone
https://linuxnorth.wordpress.com/2017/08/27/taking-control-of-a-moto-g3-smartphone/

Benefits of rooting your Android phone or tablet
http://www.androidauthority.com/benefits-of-rooting-android-284374/

Delete or disable apps on Android
https://support.google.com/googleplay/answer/2521768?hl=en

[GUIDE] How to Disable Apps
https://forums.androidcentral.com/ambassador-guides-tips-how-tos/325138-guide-how-disable-apps.html?_ga=2.173382307.1632007664.1504647794-195346436.1504647794

How to Disable and Uninstall Bloatware on a Rooted Phone
https://www.howtogeek.com/115533/how-to-disable-or-uninstall-android-bloatware/

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