Uninstalling Android Apps via ADB

For decades, PC makers like Dell, HP and Lenovo have allowed third-parties to install trials and demos on new PCs. It’s all about money: the margin on most consumer computers is razor-thin… so if Symantec is willing to pay an OEM $5 per PC to install a Norton Antivirus trial, most PC builders are only happy to oblige.

While an annoyance, this isn’t a big deal on PCs. After all, most of the time it’s easy to uninstall this junk, or wipe the PC and install a fresh copy of Windows without the bloat. But it’s much more difficult to get rid of this sort of thing on smartphones. In some cases (looking at you, Facebook), you can’t really uninstall the software; the best you can do is disable it. But sometimes you can’t even do that. This is especially irritating since phones tend to have much less storage than a PC, and resetting your phone only brings all those apps back, with no way to uninstall them.

Or is there?

You can use ADB to uninstall most any app on your phone. It requires a couple of apps and some command-prompt work… but it can be done.

But before we get into the how of it, it’s important to know what you can uninstall. To be completely honest, I haven’t really messed with this sort of thing in a few years, but back when I did the “rules” were this: if the app you want to uninstall was available on the Google Play store, you can absolutely delete it… because you can always reinstall it from the store if need be. Some apps – like the built-in email, calendar and SMS apps – should preferably be left alone or, at most, disabled. The reason for this is that some third-party apps use parts of the default apps, and by uninstalling them, you can break the third-party app you prefer. Here’s an example: I owned a phone where the default SMS app controlled the settings for Amber Alerts. Since I prefer Google’s SMS app, I deleted the Samsung SMS app from my phone without thinking, and thus could no longer control those types of messages. I looked hither and yon on the Internet for a legit version of the original Samsung SMS app, but could not find it. Thus, in order to get the app back I’d have to reset the phone and start all over again. Lastly, if you don’t know what an app does, leave it alone. Deleting Facebook is a no-brainer; deleting “Android Services Library” is just asking for trouble.

So, having said that… how do you delete this junk off your phone?

The first thing you need is to download and install an app called App Inspector from the Play Store (be sure to get the linked one, by a company called Projectoria, not the identically named one by a company called UBQsoft). Once installed, open it; it will scan all the apps on your phone. Tap each app you want to uninstall and note the “package name”:

App Inspector Chrome
(click to embiggen)

So, the package name for Chrome is com.android.chrome. Scroll through the app and get all the package names for the apps you want to uninstall.

Once you have a list of what you want to uninstall, you need to enable Developer Mode on your phone if it hasn’t been enabled already. To do this, go to Settings > System > About Phone. Rapidly tap “Build Number” 7 times – you’ll know you’re getting close when your phone starts saying “only 4 more taps to developer mode”.

The next step is to install Android Debug Bridge, commonly known as ADB. If you’re running most any version of Windows, you can watch this video for the complete how-to:

Here’s the webpage with written directions and the link, as mentioned in the video.

One last prep step on your phone: enable USB debugging. Go to Settings > System > Developer Options and enable USB debugging. BE SURE to turn this option OFF when you’re done.

So… you finally ready to uninstall this junk? Cool! Connect a USB cable to your computer, then connect your phone to the cable. The first time you do this you will probably have to wait a few seconds while Windows installs the driver for your phone. You will also get a prompt on your phone asking if you want to allow USB debugging. Tap “Always allow from this computer” (if you wish), then tap “OK”:

Allow USB Debugging

If you don’t see this prompt, check the notification area. If you still don’t see it, disconnect and reconnect your phone a couple times until you do.

Now, open a command-prompt in your ADB directory. In the YouTube video this was C:\ADB; on my computer it’s C:\Program Files (x86)\Minimal ADB and Fastboot. Once the command-prompt is open, type ADB shell. You should get a different prompt, like this:

ADB Uninstall 01

Type the following at the prompt EXACTLY as shown below:

pm uninstall -k --user 0 [package name]

then press ENTER. So, like this:

ADB Uninstall 02

You should get a SUCCESS message if the removal was successful. Note that the above pic is from me trying to remove the Kindle Special Offers app from an Amazon tablet. It didn’t work… well, it WORKED in that it uninstalled the app, but it didn’t work in the sense that the Fire just reinstalled it 10 minutes later.

Here’s the command-prompt from when I (successfully) deleted a bunch of junk off my old phone:

ADB Uninstall 03

Note that in this instance, instead of entering ADB Shell and typing the uninstall commands, I did both at the same time… which is something you can do if you prefer:

adb shell pm uninstall -k --user 0 [package name]

If you’re curious, the apps I uninstalled are (from top to bottom), the Samsung web browser, Google Docs, Google Duo, Facebook, the Samsung App Store, Google Play Movies & TV, the Samsung SMS app, a Tracfone downloader (which allows you to download the service-specific app, like Total Wireless or Straight Talk), and Google Photos.

When you’re done, just unplug your phone from your computer, close the command-prompt on your PC, then turn USB debugging OFF on your phone!

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