How to Fix Your Android Phone After Mobile ID Hijacks the Launcher

Image representing Virgin Mobile USA as depict...

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. Choose the Applications (newer versions of Android simply call it Apps) menu. On my phone it is about a third of the way down.
  3. From there, choose Manage Applications. Depending on the version of your Android system, this may just say Manage or Management.
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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35 thoughts on “How to Fix Your Android Phone After Mobile ID Hijacks the Launcher

    • Try this too, it may be accidental but whatever. I tapped the mobile id icon, tapped the manage id packs, removed all but the current id pack, then backed out, customized my phone to my settings, and things are still good for about a month. I had the same problem but no more it seems. Maybe this will work for someone else

    • I know I hate it when I have to slog through 5 pages of forum postings to piece together an answer through 6 different comments, so I wanted to put all of this information in one concise spot.

    • It’s a shame because Virgin has the best plan pricing and one of the best selections of phone for a no-contract carrier. If you decide with another company, let me know who you choose. I may wind up following you.

  1. Wow, great detailed step-by-step walkthrough. I always find it extremely irritating when I think I’ve set something up the way I want, only to find that whatever program I’m running decides to do things differently. This seems to happen most often with my phone, though certain software programs work similarly. They must have done some research that tells them that this is a good idea, but I would think not frustrating the customer should be priority #1.

    • I know what you mean. I have my “My Documents” folder set up an another, larger drive, which works for most programs, but programs that were originally written for Linux and ported to Windows just won’t recognize the other drive as that folder and keep pointing to the empty default location.

  2. Since you seem to be the only person talking about this right now (and thank you for that), I tried to follow your guide, but under the Launcher app info, under “Launch by default”, the “Clear Defaults” button is greyed out and it states “no defaults set”. Is there any other place I should look? I can’t get this thing to let me use my ADW launcher when I press the home button and its driving me nuts, after a week of trying to bypass the Mobile ID launcher I figured what could it hurt…well its wrecked my setup and I am going to light into Virgin Mobile support tomorrow over it.

    • I’m sorry these instructions didn’t work for you. If you get anywhere with VM support, please report back and I will update these instructions.

  3. Thanks so much for posting this. It worked. All I had to do was change my wallpaper and it was back to how it originally was set. This is after calling customer service and being forwarded to one of the “tech experts”. There solution was that there was nothing I could do, but to do a factory reset.

    This has been bugging me for a long time, thankfully I wasn’t the only one, even though Virginmobile made me feel like I was.

  4. I don’t like this Mobile ID crap either. I am constantlystopping it from downloading by going into Application Manager, press “Force Stop” and” Clear Data”. Sucks losing the ability to move apps to SD card also. I don’t want this thing using any more of my limited memory. I keep the mobile network off and when I turn it on or use wifi, it starts trying to download itself again. I’m grandfathered in at $40 month, so thought it was a good deal getting the Reverb upgrade. Considering returning the phone and using my old optimus V a while longer.

  5. Hmm thanks for the guide, but I have had no luck as of yet. Launcher was greyed out for me, but i went to another launcher default on my phone, TouchWiz, and it was default. I cleared defaults from it, hit home and nothing, no option to select launcher (which is exactly what i wanted to do). Went back to Launcher in the application manager, still greyed out, nothing. Mobile ID is a horrible idea and its total bullshit that they force it on us, their paying customers.

  6. I too had a very meticulously thought out home screen that the Essentials update completely hijacked. Figured it out though. Click on Mobile ID, click on Manage ID Packs and the remove it. My previous setup returned automatically.

    Great company and great plans, but they need to not jerk us around like that 🙂

  7. I’ve tried all these things (your instructions and those of commenters) and nothing got me back to my original setup, unfortunately. VMUSA just gets more and more annoying, it seems.

  8. First, thank you for this resource. You’ve put a lot of thought and effort into fixing a problem for a lot of other people.

    I, however, am having a problem that this article can’t fix. Yesterday, I purchased a new LG Optimus F3, running 4.1.2, and the item called “Launcher” does not exist in the menu. There is a “Home” and a “Home Selector”, neither of which allow a change to the default. I have downloaded both TouchWiz and ADW Launchers. Right now, it seems to be working ok. HOWEVER. (yes, again) It does not give me the option to stop Mobile ID from doing its thing, which is rearranging everything, and re-downloading the bloatware I ALREADY UNINSTALLED. Seriously, I’ve had the thing for less than 24 hours and I’m getting ready to throw it at the wall.

    TL;DR – pls to be helping with Jellybean I think they’re on to us…

  9. I have the same problem with Mobile ID. Hijack is the right word for what Virgin Mobile is doing with the phone I paid for. Trespass is another good word, as is vandalize. You spend a lot of time setting up your phone the way you want it and overnight or like yesterday when I was trying to upload pics to Facebook, it just downloads a new ID pack that you didn’t want. It trashed my upload as well as destroying all my pages. At least Virgin Mobile told me how to quickly revert to my old pages and delete the current ID Pack:

    1. Select the Mobile ID icon from the home screen.
    2. Select Manage ID Packs.
    3. Select the pack to remove.
    4. Select Remove from the summary screen.
    5. A warning message appears. Select Next.

    This has removed the ugly wallpaper, and restored the pages including my home page to the way I wanted them. It doesn’t give you back all the time that Virgin Mobile felt entitled to waste out of your life or the sense that your phone belongs to you even after you paid for it. Virgin has told me there’s no way to get it off the phone so I’m certainly in the market for a way to get Virgin Mobile out of my life. Could they show more contempt for what their customer’s want? I’ve also deleted the data belonging to Mobile ID and I’ll have to see if they re-install it.

      • You’re welcome. I’ve found that deleting the data for Mobile ID will not work. I deleted it yesterday and it was back this morning, no doubt ready to pounce at the first opportunity.

        I haven’t tried this but I’ve read that a free app called Titanium Backup will allow you to delete any apps permanently, including the system apps like Mobile ID. You can find articles about it and also YouTube videos. The only problem is that you need root access to use it and that’s another project. But once you’ve done that Titanium Backup appears to be a very powerful tool for using your phone any way YOU want, including wi-fi tethering, and also a lot of backup features.

  10. I just did this for my VM Samsung, and you rock. Really. Thanks for ending my frustration with mobile ID! 🙂

  11. I have an idea about how to block the Mobile ID from downloading.

    –First, root your Android phone. (Do this however you want but I think you can do this without resetting your phone and losing all your apps by looking on google for a specific app that uses something called the “Gandalf exploit”. Though I mightbe wrong.)
    –Second, download an app from the Google Play store called “Memory Booster” (the icon looks like a blue graph).
    –Third, when you open the app click on the “task killer” tab at the top it will say something about how rooted users can use this app to permanately kill apps. Notice I did NOT say this would delete or uninstall Mobile ID, only counter it, kind of.

    I haven’t tried rooting my phone yet but the app seems to be doing ok, in addition to it’s original purpose as a non-rooted RAM/app manager.

    • It’s been five months since I had this problem. A VM rep once mentioned to me that this is an auto-update so I turned off auto-updates and I haven’t had any more MobileID download or surprise installments. Unfortunately, it’s been so long that I can’t remember how I did it.

  12. OOOR if you don’t mind rooting, use Saferoot for the Galaxy S4 (Works with the f3) factory reset phone if ID pack and essentials are already installed, then quickly turn off data and wifi, install SU and some thing like root browser. Go to the root, then /system/app and then search for the mobileid apk. Did it on a Rise, about to factory reset F3 to do it too

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  17. This is great information. It saved me from undo aggravation and stress. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share. The world needs more people like you!

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