Anyone who has searched the App Store for a specific app has undoubtedly encountered the phenomenon of being overwhelmed, or at the very least confused, by a deluge of apps that all sound and appear to be similar in name. The sad reality is that anytime an app experiences even a modicum of success or popularity on the App Store, copycat apps meant to confuse consumers are sure to follow.
Ars Technica recently took a look at this unfortunate phenomenon by examining A Beautiful Mess, a photograph-based app that has seen its IP blatantly ripped off by a number of copycat apps.
A Beautiful Mess first launched in mid-May and soon climbed to the top of the App Store charts. Not too long afterwards, the clones started to sprout up. In typical fashion, applications with names similar to A Beautiful Mess began appearing with increasing frequency. What's more, the app's were titled in such a way as to make anyone assume that all the apps came from the same development house. Of course, that couldn't be further from the truth.
In June, the first clone appeared. It used the same icon and screenshots as A Beautiful Mess, but came with a modified name: A Beautiful Mess Free. The second clone was produced by a developer named John Harlampa: A Beautiful Mess Plus. By the beginning of August, seven clones cluttered up the App Store, and one rip-off was charting in the top 50, according to AppTweak. It hovered in that range until the day it was pulled, sometime on August 19.
While developers can, of course, contact Apple to make them aware of the infringement, Ars points out that unless Apple immediately pulls an application, some clone developers can simply offer up a fake apology and indicate an intention to look into the matter as soon as possible. In other words, they stalemate as long as they can.
So how are these clones often created?
Cloning an app from the version released on the App Store is not a trivial matter. Those involved with A Beautiful Mess couldn't speak to how it was accomplished, but the basic process involves using a jailbroken device and manually decrypting the app with different approaches depending on whether the app supports multiple architectures. More recent apps use address space layout randomization (ASLR), requiring extra steps to get access to the unencrypted binary.
Once would-be cloners have the binary, they can modify it and resubmit it to the App Store, but not under the same name.
What's particularly unfortunate is that even in a best-case scenario where a clone app is shown the door by Apple, developers who have poured a lot of time and energy into a project lose out on App Store sales that are hard to quantify.
There's a lot more to digest in the full article over at Ars, and it's definitely recommended reading for anyone with even a passing interest in IP or App Store economics.