The Curious Case Of The (Cr)apps That Make Money

By Trevor Gilbert , written on February 21, 2012

From The News Desk

Apple has a serious problem on their hands, and it is one they need to fix it as soon as possible. No, this isn't a diatribe about the lack of Flash on the iPad. And, no, this isn't about the need for an SD Card slot for iOS devices. Instead this is an issue that Apple's biggest ally - iOS developers - are complaining about, one that hurts the user, and one that could end up damaging the iOS ecosystem more than any set of labor issues ever could.

The issue we are facing, is the proliferation of scamming apps.

Take, for example, the case of iOS developer Anton Sinelnikov. By looking at the screenshot taken a few weeks ago, you are faced with an incredible feat. Sinelnikov has managed to create not just one popular iOS app, but several! Hits like Plants vs. Zombies, Temple Run, Tiny Wings and Angry Birds, all coming from one developer!

Oh. Wait a second. My mistake, it turns out that instead of coming up with original ideas, Sinelnikov takes a different strategy. He copies other applications, takes a similar name, and then forces the application into the Top 100 list, where users mistake it for the original app. After a day or so, Apple notices that these apps aren't actually providing they promise and kick the apps out, but not before users spend tens of thousands of dollars on the apps - money that the developers get to keep, as users rarely ask for a refund.

Of course, this wouldn't be such a big deal if it was one developer, but the problem is that close to a dozen scam apps have made their way into the Top lists on the iOS App Store, netting a veritable fortune for the scammers. Some developers have been pointing this out for a while, asking Apple to fix the situation and be proactive. Apple has yet to respond with the needed force.

One developer that has been pushing this is Paul Haddad, one of the creators of the popular application Tweetbot (among many other best-sellers). I spoke with Haddad today and he pointed out that Apple needs to take a few definitive steps to stop this problem.

First, Apple needs to cut off the funds. Taking the approach of going to the root of the problem, Haddad noted that if Apple "makes it clear that if you try to defraud customers, then you aren't going to get any money. If there's not any financial incentive to scamming then it's very likely that most of the problem will just go away on its own." This would likely cut out most of the scam apps from the App Store.

However, in between the time that scammers hit the Top 100 and the time Apple is issued a takedown notice, many users can get irritated by the lack of quality apps in the store. To mitigate this problem, Haddad recommends that Apple start to curate the Top 100 list beyond automating it based on sales. This would dramatically decrease the number of copies that are sold, while at the same time covering Apple's bases while they wait for an official takedown notice.

The real question is what happens if Apple does nothing and continues to use their flawed policies. It hurts the user, who loses their money. It hurts the overall App Store ecosystem, as people stop trusting the look of applications, decreasing sales. Finally and most importantly, it hurts the developers, who have to fight harder for users, as user trust will continue to decline. There are any number of end-game results, and none of them are good. Apple needs to nip this in the bud now, before it gets any worse.

In the end, Apple needs to take better care of its walled garden. If we go back a couple of years, the original purpose of screening applications was two fold: security and quality. With one of these missions fulfilled, Apple should start paying attention to the second. Without this, the reasons for going with the Apple App Store over another store start to decrease. This is bad for everyone involved.