I have been victim to Virgin Mobile hijacking my phone with their Mobile ID app twice now. The first time, I wound up doing a factory reset of my phone and reinstalling all of my apps. That was last month. Just two days ago, I discovered an app that I had forgotten to install. Yesterday, Virgin Mobile did it to me again. Faced with the prospect of spending another 5 hours reinstalling apps, I instead spent half an hour reading Virgin Mobile and Android support forums to learn how to deal with the issue.
The experience has been such that when I can budget a new phone (probably late 2014), I anticipate switching providers. That is one of the nice things about having a no-contract plan. Your ability to switch carriers is limited only by your ability to buy a new (or used) phone.
What is Virgin Mobile’s Mobile ID app?
Mobile ID is a skinning service that lets you download mobile ID packs or skins to change the look of your phone. While skins for Windows can change pretty much every feature of your desktop, mobile skins seem to be pretty much limited to your wallpaper and the icons for your apps.
The app also requires that you download and install a pack called Essentials with is basically a Virgin Mobile themed skin.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of the stock Android launcher. Is computer terms, the launcher is your desktop and the app drawer is like your start menu. All of your isntalled apps (except for the hidden ones) are in the app drawer, but in practice most people (including myself) have shortcuts to those apps on the launcher. Additionally, there is the app dock, which is at the bottom of the screen and functions similarly to the quick launch icons on your Windows task bar or the Apple Dock.
Since I’m not a fan of the launcher that comes with Android, I installed a 3rd-party launcher called ADWLauncher. What it specifically does that the stock launcher doesn’t is let me scroll from the last screen to the first and tapping the home button on my phone while already in the launcher gives me thumbnails of each launcher screen to quickly move to that screen.
Once Mobile ID and Essentials is installed, however, it reverts your phone to the stock launcher and disables your ability to change the default app for the task.
Aside from the fact that it hijacks your launcher, one of the most frustrating things about the app is that it removes the shortcuts to your apps and replaces them with shortcuts to the apps that are part of the skin. Or, more specifically, it replaces them to links to the Play store to download those apps. It doesn’t matter if you already have that app on your phone, it replaces it with a download link.
Can it be removed?
No. Well, yes you can. But once it is removed, whatever programming Virgin Mobile added to the operating system detects that it is missing and automatically downloads it without even asking you. If the phone is up and running it will ask and you can say no. It will ask again in a few hours. If you restart your phone for any reason (yesterday, I accidentally let the battery run down. Turns out the charger won’t charge if it’s not plugged in!), it will download the app without asking.
It will then ask you to install it. Your options are: OK. That’s it. There is no way of closing or canceling the operation save restarting your phone again. For the past month, I’ve been restarting my phone to avoid it. This time, it popped up just as I was about to click another button and clicked the OK button inadvertently. I sat helplessly as I watched my ability to use my phone the way I want to, one of the key features of the Android operating system, was being stripped from me.
How to get your phone back after Virgin Mobile’s Mobile ID app hijacks it
Once it is installed, Mobile ID reverts to the stock launcher and somehow disables your ability to let other apps take over the default. If one app is set as the default for a certain action (such as clicking the “Tweet” button from your mobile browser would take you to the Twitter app) and you install another app that performs the same option (in this example, TweetDeck), your phone will ask you which app you want to use. It will remove the default setting and keep asking you until you set the default again (the checkbox below your choices).
So, if the launcher is reset to the stock app, it should be a simple matter of installing another launcher and get asked which launcher app you want to use. Nope, that won’t happen. It doesn’t even ask, it just keeps loading the stock launcher. You can still load your other launcher app from the app drawer, but returning to your home screen after being in an app will always return you to the stock launcher app.
The other way to reset the default is to clear the default setting of the app. What through me off for the longest time is that the app in questions is NOT Mobile ID. It doesn’t have any defaults set for you to clear.
You have to clear the default set for the stock launcher instead. Here’s how.
- Go to your Settings menu. This can be done by pressing the menu button (looks like 2-3 horizontal lines, sometimes within 3 sides of a box) and clicking on the Settings icon, or going into the app drawer and scrolling down until you see settings listed. In Android 4.0 and newer, the settings menu can also be accessed through the notification window.
- Choose the Applications (newer versions of Android simply call it Apps) menu. On my phone it is about a third of the way down.
- From there, choose Manage Applications. Depending on the version of your Android system, this may just say Manage or Management.
- Tap on the All tab. This will give you a list of every app installed on your phone, whether installed from the Play Store, a 3rd party source, or part of the Android operating system. Apps are listed by alphabetical order by default
- Locate the Launcher app The icon will be a little house with the green android avatar standing in front of it. Tap on the name or icon to load the applicaton manager.
- On this screen, you will see several option. At the top there is a button labeled Force stop to close frozen apps. For installed apps, next to it would be an option to uninstall. Bekiw that there is the information and options related to storage, and then an option to clear the cache. None of this will help us with this problem, but below that there is a section lableled Launch by default. Any apps that currently have a default action set will have this information here. If there are any defaults set (and currently, Launcher will be set as the default launcher app), the clear defaults button will be available. Tap it.
- You now have no launcher app set as the default. Tapping the home button on your phone will bring up a prompt asking you which launcher you wish to use. First click and the Use by default for this action checkbox and select the launcher you wish to use. Your home screen will now load how you remember it.
It’s agravating that Virgin Mobile would do this to it’s customers, but hopefully if it happens to you, this article will get you back on your feet in no time.