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Ripoff apps plague some iOS developers

Update: Some of the Tamsong apps have already begun disappearing from the store.

Near-clone apps in the iOS App Store? It's not a new phenomenon, by any means; last week, developer Anton Sinelnikov had the bulk of his app library yanked from the store for plagiarism. In fact, high-profile app launches like RealMac Software's Clear can find themselves with unwanted "tribute" apps even before they arrive in the store.

For major developers like EA or Rovio, it usually doesn't take too long to rouse Apple's app cops to clear out the duplicates, but less well-connected devs may find themselves frustrated by copies that don't get the attention of the authorities. Apple does indeed have a feedback page for this issue, so that's obviously the first thing to try.

Alan Scully of Breaking Art was surprised to discover this week that some of his apps (Flickr HD, Beer In Japan & more) had identical twins in the App Store, all from a single developer: Tamsong Co. In fact, he found out that all the Tamsong (or Tamsung) apps appear to be clones of other developers' work: devs like e-MedTools, Primolicious and others have doppelganger apps in the Tamsong library.

The first question that came to mind: are these apps actually cloned, or just very similar efforts? Second question, how is it possible to make such convincing app copies? And third, what is Apple going to do about punting this xerographic developer out of the store?

Answering question one: These are clones, no two ways about it. Check out the evidence for one example, Beer O'Clock from Breaking Art (thanks to Erica Sadun for digging into the app contents).

Pricing: Identical

Beer O'Clock! $0.99 from Breaking Art, Released: Feb 24, 2010

Beer O'Clock+ $0.99 from Tamsong, Released Feb 10, 2012

Interfaces: Identical

Breaking Art

Tamsung

Looking under the hood

The app .ipa files are actually different sizes. What about the components? We extracted them into separate folders and set to looking.

Inside each is an identical PhoneGap-powered www folder. PhoneGap is an HTML5-based framework for building mobile apps, which will suggest an answer for question two.

Both apps sport nearly identical index.html files:

The _CodeSignature files for each app seem to indicate that many of the files have identical values. Running md5 on background images demonstrates the remarkable similarity:

But how?

Under normal circumstances, doing a straight-up clone of an iOS app would be relatively difficult. The fact that these apps were built with PhoneGap, however, provides a theory about how this might have been done. The PhoneGap development environment may make apps especially vulnerable to cloning, because the web assets making up the UI are stored in the clear inside the app. Developers using this framework (and similar HTML5-based tools) may want to keep an eye out for clones.

In any case, it's clear that we have a rogue developer in the store, and the ball is now in Apple's court.

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