News Column

Copy apps on the prowl

May 8, 2014

Global Times

Chinese app developers hoping to use Apple and Android platforms to reach smartphone users are often stymied by lack of innovation and capital. Photo: IC

 As the world's biggest smartphone market, China beckons with boundless possibilities for domestic mobile application developers. But despite the profitable potential, many developers have a difficult time selling their apps via Apple and Android platforms due to copyright infringement. The latest casualty is Youtan Dayima, an app that helps women track their menstrual cycle. It was axed by Apple and Android in April amid claims it was a knockoff of an app bearing the similar name of Dayima, the Nandu Daily reported on May 5. Li Yu, founder of Youtan Dayima, accused Dayima of being behind its exile from online stores, but Dayima denied this claim, the Nandu Daily reported.Following an appeal by Li, Youtan Dayima was again made available for Android users, but its ban from the Apple store continued. Since its launch three years ago, Youtan Dayima has more than 12 million users and raised 100 million yuan ($16 million) from investors. Li's case reflects the competitive nature of the app market in China. Business Times reported that Apple and Android's app stores sell around 650,000 and 400,000 apps respectively, with around 200,000 available on other platforms. A low level of innovation, high number of copycat app developers and communication barriers with tech giants are some of the obstacles Chinese app developers face in their quest to profit.


Chinese app developers often deal with a legal minefield having their apps restored to Apple or Android stores after removal, but this hasn't dissuaded startup entrepreneurs from seeking their fortune in the Internet era. Photos: Li Hao/GT, IC

 Standing out from fakesYang Yu, a 24-year-old bank employee, quickly became bored by numerous photo and video apps on her smartphone. When she realized they all performed the same functions, their novelty wore off and she didn't hesitate to delete them."I just search keywords in the app store, but it always returns too many results. It's hard for me to tell which app is the best, so I usually download four or five each time. Most of them turn out to be hard to use," Yang said. Copycat apps are rife on app stores. When the adventure game Temple Run became popular in 2012, more than 30 similar games were released on the Apple Store.Fueling the flourishing copycat app industry is a gray industry chain, whereby the primary objective of developers is to hit download quotas so they can tap advertiser-generated revenue."This is not a secret in the industry," Ye Yun, PR manager for KuaiZhi Technology Co, the developer of Kuaidi Dache, told Business Times. It is important for app developers to find a way to stand out from copycat rivals, added Ye. "We haven't found a good approach to solving the issue of copyright infringement in the app market. Government support is needed to protect intellectual property rights. Developers can also explore the foreign market," April (pseudonym), the founder of lesbian dating app Lesdo, told Metropolitan. Investing in a shaky futureYe said taxi drivers who use their app are collectively paid over  100,000 yuan each month in subsidies, but noted the company is "burning money rather than making a profit." For developers who invest heavily in their apps, being exiled from the Apple or Android store can be a devastating blow."It's no big deal for Apple to remove one or two apps, because the waiting list of apps awaiting approval for its app store is long," Dai Yang, an app developer, told the Nandu Daily."But as a team with dozens of people, the process of researching, developing and marketing an app can cost tens of millions of yuan. All this painstaking effort is wasted if an app can't be sold to users."Developers of 115 Cloud, a mobile storage app, spent nine months trying to launch their product on the Apple and Android stores amid a bitter feud with a rival, who claimed 115 Cloud copied their logo. The drawn-out battle cost 115 Cloud 10 million yuan in losses, according to the Nandu Daily.Li Yi, secretary general of China Mobile Internet Industry Association, told the Nandu Daily that an app developer entangled in a legal battle can easily be pushed to the brink of bankruptcy.Preparing a lawyer's letter in English can cost more than 10,000 yuan, an anonymous lawyer claimed, adding that up to 70 letters or more may need to be sent over the course of negotiations to settle infringement suits, which can drag on for months or even years, according to the Nandu Daily.Growing profit marginsLi Yu's company tried to contact Apple after Youtan Dayima was removed from its app store, but hopes for an official response seemed futile."Our letter of appeal was unanswered. If you appeal over the phone [to Apple], the vice president or even president [of an app development company] can often only speak with an Apple intern, who will repeatedly tell you to read an [Apple] e-mail," app developer Pan Jing told the Nandu Daily. For many grass-roots developers with minimal capital or marketing resources, Android is the preferred platform because it has fewer entry barriers for new apps. "If you want to hit the big time, Android is a good starting platform,"  Wu Xinyu told Business Times. Wu is a grass roots app developer whose most notable product is the children's education app Xingbaoshu. Pan said it can take weeks or even months for apps to be approved for sale via Apple, but the process can be as quick as just 24 hours for Android. Media analysis company Strategy Analytics found in a 2013 survey of 1,600 app developers that 84 percent prefer Android and 68 percent prefer Apple. Tempted by the big markets of Apple and Android despite being a fan of Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system, David (pseudonym) told Business Times that he hopes to develop an app available for Apple and Android users. He considers Android a good place to hone his skills as an upcoming developer, but knows Apple is a more profitable platform. A study by BI Intelligence, a research service under American technology blog Business Insider, found that developers who sell their apps through Apple make an average of $1 per download of their apps compared to $0.19 via Android.Tight supervisionHuang Tiezhuo, vice president of Dianxin, a company focusing on cellphone operation system, had a conversation with a barbecue vendor in his neighborhood several days ago. The vendor said that 80 percent of his sales were driven by mobile messaging service WeChat. Even though the vendor used his WeChat account to grow business rather than app, Huang told Business Times the example had theoretic parallels to the domestic app market.Huang believes it is better for app developers to start out with products that improve people's lives.Japanese Internet company CyberZ which helps Chinese gaming apps enter the Japanese market, released a report that found 60 percent of smartphone users only download apps for games.But gaming apps are considered within the industry to be a short-term product, with most lasting between six months and a year at most on users' smartphones before they are deleted. An app that remains popular for two years is rare, said Huang. As the list of apps barred from stores continues to grow longer, there are hopes developers will unite in a bid to overcome challenges together and set up more viable platforms to market their products with government and industry supervision. Agencies - Global Times

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Source: Global Times

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