25 March 2021

Copycats Haunt App Developers: Trends in App Developments

Cloud & Data Center Cloud 

Copycats haunt all types of creative workers anywhere, including app developers. The copycats have been using what is known as the knowledge spillover effect from the original apps to simulate how they operate.

They have indeed spelled trouble for the app developers, with the fact that half of the mobile apps released today are imitations. The issue is so commonplace that plagiarizers even attempted to take on powerhouse names such as WeChat, TikTok and Spotify once upon a time, a subject which we will revisit later in the story.

How they’d done it?

Harvard Business Review article explained how the copycats managed to rip these apps off. It cited an econometric analysis of more than 10,000 action game apps released over the course of five years. The analysis was applied using natural-language processing, image analysis and other machine-learning techniques to classify each other as original or imitative. 

Apparently, the analysis found that the copycats used deceptive and nondeceptive methods. The nondeceptive ones are easy to tell apart from the originals, while the deceptive ones closely mimic the originals. The interaction between the non-/deceptive nature of the counterfeit apps, along with their quality, as measured by consumer ratings can actually undercut the sales figures of the original ones.

Furthermore, the Harvard Business Review asserted in its May 2020 edition that for each 10 percent increase in downloads of a high-quality non-deceptive imitation, downloads of the original app could fall by nearly five percent. Yet, for each 10 percent increase in downloads for the low-quality deceptive imitation, download rates of the original increase by about nine percent. 

Researchers said similar but low-quality imitations boost awareness of the original yet they did not pose a threat quality-wise, if not promoting or advertising the original app’s superiority for free. 

The article also asserted that users tended to prefer the counterfeit version of the apps because it is much cheaper than the original one. At the same time, these ripped apps are also not protected by intellectual property law, thus easier to plagiarize, much cheaper to produce also, which circles back to its “friendlier’ price as well. 

Another problem: a lot of developers have already called on their platforms to take protective measures to prevent such intellectual property theft, yet these measures bear little results.

So how can app developers buffer themselves against these copycats?

Lessons learned

Another article by hbr.org on July 21, 2021 publicized some analysis based on case studies on how TikTok and Spotify managed to beat their imitators by mitigating the knowledge spillover effect. According to the article, the formula to shield oneself against plagiarizers is: complex and continuous innovation. The concept actually refers to how developers can use recombination to repeatedly reconfigure elements of their existing knowledge, fusing this together to deliver new product solutions. 

Yes, the article argues, the strategy can actually prevent the knowledge spillover effects obtained by rivals, thus actually making rivals’ imitation attempts less effective. At the same time, developers need to tackle complex opportunities composed of many interdependent features in order to accomplish such a feat.

So, are you ready to protect your invention from copycats by continuously engaging in the complex continuous innovation?

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