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by Larry Magid
This post first appeared in the Mercury News

I’m old enough to remember those Black Flag commercials from the early ’80s with the slogan “Roaches check in, but they don’t check out.” Today, the smartphone variation of that could be “Apps get installed but don’t get uninstalled.”

While unwanted apps may not be as disturbing as unwanted cockroaches, they can be more harmful by not only taking up precious storage space but by impacting performance, reliability and – potentially – your phone’s security.

This is especially important if you have old or obscure apps that are no longer being updated with the latest security patches or apps that are tracking your location or accessing personal data, in some cases even when they’re not in use. And, unlike Windows and the Mac operating system, iOS and Android don’t have a feature that lets you easily control which apps run on start-up.

You don’t need to extinguish these apps with noxious chemicals, but you do need to delete them.

Strategies to identify and delete unnecessary apps

There are a couple of strategies to consider. One is to simply go through your entire list of apps to delete the ones you never or rarely use.

These instructions assume you are using a recent version of iOS or Android and may not work on some manufacturer’s Android phones.

  • On iOS, you long press (hold your finger) on the app’s icon and select Remove app. It also gives you the option to “Edit Home Screen.” That causes the app icons on your screen start to shake with a little minus sign on their left. Press that and one option is to “Remove from Home Screen,” which removes the apps icon from your home screen but does not delete it. You can still access the app from the app library.
  • On Android, you long press on an app and start to move it to the top of your screen which will pop up options to Remove (from your home screen) or Uninstall the app.

Removing from the home screen is a good strategy for apps that you want to keep but don’t use often. You can still use them, but they no longer take up space on your screen.

Other methods

The problem with using these methods to delete apps is that you might miss apps that are in your app library, so another option is to go into your full library of apps and delete from there.

  • On iOS, swipe left past your home screen(s), and tap App Library at the top. Then long press on each app you wish to delete.
  • On Android, you swipe up from the bottom, long press on an app you wish to delete, and drag it to the top of the screen where you’ll see an Uninstall option on the right and a cancel option on the left.

Tools built into both iOS and Android

Apple’s iOS has an “Offload Unused Apps” feature that automatically removes unused apps, but keeps their data and settings so you have access to that information if you reinstall the app. Deleting them manually will delete their data. One strategy for Android is to open the Files app (it’s from Google) and select Delete Unused Apps. It will show you a list of apps that you haven’t used in a long time and give you the option to remove it, but use this feature with caution. When I did it, it highlighted apps that I did need to keep on my phone, even though I don’t use them often. The Google File app can also be used to select and delete duplicate files, downloaded files, backed media and even blurry photos. On my phone, that blurry photo option found 91 files that were either blurry or blank, freeing up lots of storage space.

An easier method on Android is to go into Settings, select Apps and see a list of your recently opened apps, or all your apps either in alphabetical order or by category, including Unused apps. Just click on an app you wish to delete (you don’t have to long press) and select Uninstall.

Known dangerous apps

So far, I have talked about unused apps, but there are also apps that could be dangerous. I can’t give you a complete list of them but a couple of recent news stories focused on dangerous apps that Google has removed from its Android app store. Engadget,  which is not behind a pay wall, recently quoted a Wall Street Journal article about Google pulling “apps that may have harvested data from millions of Android devices.”

Keep phone and apps up-to-date

It’s also important to keep your phone’s operating system and apps up-to-date. To keep iOS up-to-date, go to Settings/General /Software Update and make sure that Automatic Updates is On. For apps, go to settings and make sure App updates is checked.  You can update Android by going to Settings System Update (or software update), and Android apps can be updated via the Play Store.  Tap on your profile picture and select “Manage Apps and Device.”

Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.

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