A traveling frog exposes concerns within Apple's Chinese App Store

A traveling frog exposes concerns within Apple's Chinese App Store
From TechCrunch - February 2, 2018

An app about a frog that likes to travel has exposed worrying signs that Apple isnt doing enough to prevent fake apps from entering its App Store in China, the worlds largest smartphone market and Apples single largest country for app revenue.

The story centers around Tabi Kaeruor Travel Froga Japanese app that has become an unexpected viral hit in China. The game, which is only available in Japanese, stars a frog that requires feeding and care butperiodically leaves on trips, returning withmementos of the places it has visited.

The New York Times reported that the app struck a chord with Chinese consumers who were drawn in by the frogs vicarious travel, eager to find a companion that fits in their pocket, or a combination of the two.

Aside from shining a light on cultural trends in China, the rise of the app highlights alarming signs that Apple isnt as strict at enforcing rules for its App Store in China as it is in other parts of the world.

Screenshots from the officialTabi Kaeru app

Gaming the gamers

The iPhone-maker has a reputation among developers for its tough approach to vetting apps before they are allowed into the App Storejust yesterday it briefly pulled apps from popular messaging firm Telegrambut research from China-based social media marketing firm China Channelhas shown that more than 30 apps imitatingTabi Kaeru were accepted into the Chinese App Store.

In one case, the most successful knock-offan app named .was able to generate significant revenue after seeming to game the App Store and gain a prominent position in its charts.

The genuine version of Tabi Kaeru surged to the top of the Chinese App Store on February 21, which is when social media sites in the country became flooded with images, comments and hashtags related to the smash-hit. That awokeunscrupulous developers, who quickly coded up fake versions and submitted them to the App Store.

. entered the App Store on January 22 as a paid download costing30 RMB, or around$4.50. But beyond just surfing the wave of interest in the game, the developer behind the app also took out paid App Store ads against the hot keywords that had flooded social media in order to attract attention.

The app also benefitted from another key incident, when the official game was delisted from those same keyword searches later in the day on January 22. It isnt unclear whether the developer of the fake (.) app was behind that, but the person or team certainly did benefit from the delisting.

The fake app

The official incarnation out of the picture on search, the fake app surged to reach the top of the paid-for download chart for all of China that day. It stayed there for 10 hours until it was removed by Apple when, presumably, the company noticed it charting high. The genuine app was later restored to the search positions it had been removed from before.

Samin Sha, Chief Analyst at China Channel, told TechCrunch that thefake app is estimated to have clocked as many as 30,000 downloads during that brief time in the App Store, which he estimates at around 30 hours. That means it could have grossed as much as 900,000 RMB.After removing Apples 30 percent cut for app transactions,that would give the developer a payout of around 630,000 RMB, or approximately $100,000.

Given that it was a paid version of a fake app, Sha said he expects that a portion of that figure was returned in refunds, but even still it remains a shockingly high number.

In particularly, Sha believes the sequences were planned, and that thedeveloper of the fake app knew how to get the genuine app delisted from search terms in order to maximize his apps time in the store.

Most people have an impression that Apple is the king, that it rules everything and knows what is going on. But in this case we found that the situation is shifting. [The developer behind the fake app] seemed to know all the rules of the App Store, and where Apple is weak, he explained.

It gets worse, however.That particular fake app was just one a cluster ofTabi Kaerus knockoffs that made it past Apples vetting team and into the Chinese App Store.

Unclear vetting process


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