Apple bounces big-name fake apps from App Store

by Phil Hornshaw

Not long ago, a game called Temple Jump reached the top of the paid apps list in the iTunes App Store. There was only one problem: the app was a fake, meant to trick iOS device owners looking for the popular Temple Run game.

Apple recently took a stand against apps that mimic big-name titles, syphoning sales away from the makers of titles such as Tiny Wings and Words With Friends. TechCrunch has the story, explaining how it seems that Temple Jump’s rise to the top of the Paid Apps list was the straw that caused Apple to start knocking similar apps off the App Store.

“Rip-off” apps have been a problem in the App Store (as well as on Google’s Android platform) for years now. There have been several instances in which developers have stolen from existing games – often popular Flash-based games found for free on the Internet – and turned them into low-quality but profitable mobile games to capitalize on the popularity of the original. What happened with Temple Jump was similar but somehow more insidious. Instead of lifting a game from the Internet and selling it as if the developer had made the game itself, in the case of Temple Jump, Tiny Wings rip-off Tiny Birds and Words With Friends fake Numbers With Friends, the games are already popular in the App Store.

As TechCrunch points out, there’s currently no way for users to report apps to Apple that are clearly stealing from other apps. Apple purports to screen the apps that make it into the iTunes App Store, but with tens of thousands of apps and games available, it’s hard to fault Apple too much when copies or other less-than-honest apps slip through the cracks. Depending on the circumstances, Apple can be pretty quick about removing apps guilty of copyright infringement and other problems, although the process of lodging such complaints with Apple can be difficult as well. Over the last year, the iPhone maker has gotten a lot better about dealing with problematic apps and getting them removed.

Still, it can take a while for an app such as Temple Jump to garner enough attention for removal, and in the meantime, those apps tend to draw sales regardless of whether they’re honest or not. In fact, rip-off apps tend to draw attention – and sales – as much because users do know what they’re downloading as don’t. Often fake apps draw a lot of attention and outrage from users, and that attention gives the app more steam than it would otherwise have; as some users decry an app as being a rip-off, others download it out of curiosity. It’s probably a combination of factors that drove Temple Jump to the top of the App Store list, but it’s hard to deny that at least some of those sales should have gone to the legitimate Temple Run.

After Apple’s proactive steps to remove copyright infringing apps from the App Store during the last year, it seems high time for the company to enlist the help of users by adding a button allowing customers to mark apps as infringing or problematic, as TechCrunch notes. Sure, it would likely create some extra baggage for Apple to sift through as apps that don’t deserve the designation catch heat from upset customers. But if Apple means to protect developers and maintain the integrity of its walled garden of a marketplace, having a means of leveraging its huge customer base to identify problematic apps seems like a no-brainer solution.