Can We Stop The Copycat Apps?

Last month, Alexia posted a short manifesto (“Stop Making Apps”), which basically expresses a serious case of app fatigue. It’s something most of us can relate to, at least passingly, in spite of knowing there’s no end to app production in sight. As long as there are downloaders, more apps there will be.

While I encourage developers to continue making great apps, I do question the need for both making and for approving the parade of — for lack of a better word — “rip-off” apps. What am I talking about? Example: Over the last week, I’ve watched another fairly blatant copy of Angry Birds hover inside the “Top Free iPhone Apps” list on the App Store, even grabbing the second spot at one point.

I’m not naming the app explicitly, because I don’t want to give the game free publicity. That’s what they want, and it’s probably a good idea to avoid promoting the production and downloading of spammy (cr)apps. But needless to say, the scenario is familiar: The game’s icon is practically identical to that of Angry Birds, it has “Angry” in the title, the design and gameplay — while not exactly identical — have enough similarities to make for some serious eye-rolling. Not to mention, the game is awful. One-star reviews abound.

Again, this isn’t a new scenario. Om wrote about this last month. GamePro went a step further, publishing an awesome article which highlights the top ten Angry Birds rip-offs. They point out that, yes, Angry Birds itself is somewhat a mashup of games that came before it — some would say, a rip-off itself. And it’s no surprise that imitators keep popping up: Why wouldn’t you want to copy what is basically the most well-known mobile game on the planet? Of course, most app developers aren’t this lazy, but they suffer anyway right along with users.

The Android Marketplace, too, has seen more than its fair share of Angry Birds rip-offs. But it’s not just Angry Birds. This happens across categories. And the very presence of these plagiarizers in app stores is at the very least annoying, but in light of Apple’s “vaunted” approval mechanisms inside its precious walled garden, it becomes even more so.

Now, I understand that it’s not Apple’s job to catch all rip-offs — nor should it be. Unless an app is directly infringing on copyrights or IPs, there’s nothing they can do. If developers like Rovio have a problem, they can contact distributors and ask them to remove the copycats.

Maybe for Apple to simply reject apps that seem too similar to others is a bad thing, as these rip-offs just represent micro-side-steps in a larger process of innovation and evolution — moving forward. But these imitator apps still crap-ulate app stores, take up space, and many of them are just terrible. Yes, it would be naive to think that the gaming of app stores doesn’t happen or, flatly, shouldn’t, but it still feels wrong. It’s stuff like this that leads us to mutter (or blog) “stop making (cr)apps”.

So, what do you think? Is this just an idealistic or unrealistic lament because the market will fix itself (among other reasons)? Are these imitators, in fact, good for business, or is there something we/disributors can do to curb the parade of rip-offs?

Update: Here’s a good example of how the Android Market continues to suffer at the hands of lazy/dishonest developers thanks to few controls on production and approval. In this example, developers eager to piggyback on the success of Siri launch crapps for Android that find plenty of early adoption from unwitting downloaders in spite of being bogus. Boo hiss.

Excerpt image created by Constantin Potorac