There are an estimated 2.8 million mobile apps available on the Android platform, so it’s perhaps not that surprising that some of them aren’t especially original. A recent study by Carnegie Mellon University underlined the extent of the copying in the app world however.
It found that roughly 33% of all apps are direct clones of other apps. The researchers also explored the impact these clones can have on the success of the originator app. Interestingly, this impact depends largely on the quality of the copy.
Sincerest form of flattery
The study found that the number of original apps released in a typical month declined significantly from 90% in 2012 to just 45% in 2017, despite a significant increase in the volume of new apps created in that period. The authors attribute this rise in clones to lower production costs and difficulties in protecting and branding content.
The researchers examined over 10,000 apps for things like functionality and appearance, and attempted to compare originals with their copycats, and how easy it is to distinguish the original from the clone.
When the copies were high-quality and non-deceptive, they had a negative impact upon the demand for the original app as users unwittingly select the clone rather than the original. Indeed, for every 10% increase in downloads of the copy, the originals would suffer a 5% fall.
“While the original apps are innovators, they do not always enjoy technological advantage over the copycats,” the authors say. “As the concept of an app is not protected by patents, a copycat can imitate the original and beat it by exploiting an overlooked additional feature, undercutting the pricing, or out-advertising.”
When the copies are of low quality however, then they boost demand for the original as they serve to advertise them whilst offering little in the way of real competition. The researchers found that for every 10% increase in the number of downloads of such low quality copies, demand for the original apps would grow by more than 9%.
“A mobile app copycat can be both friend and foe of the original app,” the authors say. “Both competition and advertising effects exist, depending on its quality and level of deceptiveness.”