Attack of the Clones – Encountering an Android Market Plagiarist

On Thursday evening I received a message on Twitter drawing my attention to a new app on Android Market that bore an uncanny resemblance to Rectangular Software’s own Appmonger app for tracking app sales on Android Market. And by “uncanny resemblance” I mean “almost entirely identical”. So much so that both myself and other Appmonger users who looked at it were convinced that the distributor of this app had downloaded the Appmonger .apk, removed the licensing protection, made a few cosmetic changes and republished it under their own name. The feature set and UI structure were identical, the on-screen labels matched word-for-word and the charts were in most cases visually so close as to be almost indistinguishable. The final insult was that the app was made available as a free download whereas Appmonger sells for £2.49 / $3.99.

Appmonger vs. CrapmongerThe motivation for cracking a niche paid app and giving it away for free is not at all clear. It would have required a fair bit of effort since the Appmonger code is obfuscated. The person responsible had not added any adverts so they did not stand to derive any direct financial benefit from their actions. Perhaps they had added some malware to the app?

A visit to the website linked from Android Market revealed that the perpetrator is a woman in Texas. As well as promoting the app, the website included a support page that was remarkably similar to the Appmonger FAQ on the Rectangular Software website (question titles were identical but the answers had been reworded slightly).

On her blog she claimed to have spent $4,152.11 on developing “her” new app (seemingly the first and so far only app that she has released). On the surface this was an odd claim for an apparently pirated app. I could at least confirm that she had spent $3.99 because a search in Google Checkout revealed that the same person had legitimately purchased a copy of Appmonger on October 21st 2011.

Takedown

At this point, convinced that Rectangular Software was the victim of pretty blatant code theft, I filed DMCA takedown notices with Android Market and the woman’s web host. Within 24 hours Google had pulled the app from Android Market and the web host had removed the offending pages from her website.

The Plot Thickens

When I later had time to analyse the suspect app more closely, I discovered that things weren’t quite as they had originally seemed. Playing around with the app on an old phone (I didn’t trust it on my phone), I noticed that the whole experience had more rough edges than Appmonger. If this was modified Rectangular Software code then the modifications had been done clumsily and introduced issues that weren’t there previously. Digging around in the .apk, the structure of the app was not as familiar as I expected it to be. If this was modified Rectangular Software code then they had gone to some lengths to try to disguise that fact. Furthermore, I discovered that this app uses achartengine to generate at least some of its charts whereas Appmonger uses custom chart classes that I wrote myself. That at least explains why the line charts look different between the two apps.

There are enough differences for me to entertain the possibility that the person distributing this app did actually pay somebody to build it from scratch and what we’re looking at is a very uninspired clone rather than a pirated and modified version of the original Appmonger. Though why on earth anybody would spend thousands of dollars going to such lengths and not at least try to make something a bit different is beyond me.

On the other hand, there are also certain similarities that would be unlikely to occur without reverse engineering of the original app, particularly in regards to the back end services and the database (all table, column and index names are identical between the two apps except for a few extra columns in the clone).

Anybody is free to create an alternative Google Checkout reporting app and give it away for free if they so choose. As a competitor I might not like it but I’d have little cause for complaint. However, regardless of whether or not it includes any Rectangular Software code, this app takes the sincerest form of flattery to ludicrous extremes.

 

Flagpole for iPad

Having previously added tablet support to the Android version of the educational flag recognition game Flagpole, we’ve now brought the iOS version up to speed with proper iPad support (including support for landscape orientations).  This new version (version 1.3) is available on the App Store now.

Flagpole for iPad

Flagpole for Android Updated

FlagpoleThe release of the Kindle Fire just over a week ago has breathed new life into Amazon’s Appstore. One of the consequences of this is that Rectangular Software’s flag recognition app, Flagpole, has sold several copies to Kindle Fire purchasers in the last few days having previously barely registered on the Amazon store.

Until now Flagpole has only been optimised for phone-sized screens. Today we’ve released an update that improves the experience on the Kindle Fire and other larger devices such as the 10.1″ Samsung Galaxy Tab. As part of this update the app now also works in landscape orientation as well as portrait mode.

In addition, version 3.4 includes the updated flag for Malawi that didn’t make it into the previous version.  The new version is available from the Android Market right now and has been submitted to the Amazon Appstore where it should appear some time in the next week.

Rectangular Video Poker for Honeycomb Tablets

Rectangular Video Poker on Honeycomb
Rectangular Video Poker was originally designed for Android phones and, as such, while it was usable on tablets, it didn’t really integrate with the Honeycomb experience. That has changed with version 2.4 released today and available now on the Android Market. This version improves the layout for large screen devices and takes advantage of the Honeycomb action bar to provide a tablet-optimised experience.

Appmonger 2.2 Adds Groups & Aliases for Apps

Following on from adding Google accounts authentication in Appmonger 2.1, version 2.2 moves on to the next most requested feature – the ability to alias and/or group apps for reporting purposes.

There are two use cases that this new feature addresses. Firstly, when you translate your app into different languages the translated names show up in Appmonger as separate apps. This is because the data from Google Checkout does not include the app’s package name so there is no way for Appmonger to reliably infer which different app names refer to the same app. You can now assign the same alias to each of these translated names and they will be grouped together as one app.

Similarly, you can now organise your apps into groups. By assigning the same alias to different apps you can treat them as a single entity for reporting purposes. For example, some developers release several different variations of the same basic app and might want their reports to show the combined figures rather than figures for each individual variant. This is now possible.

To assign aliases to apps, simply select the “Groups/Aliases” option from the main Appmonger menu and then tap on each app that you want to enter an alias for.

Appmonger 2.2 is available now on Android Market.

Rectangular Software Formally Recognises South Sudan

South Sudan in FlagpoleThere are many important milestones in the early life of a new country. The declaration of independence, diplomatic recognition from other states, and membership of the United Nations to name just a few.

South Sudan is the world’s newest country. It gained independence on July 9th this year and joined the United Nations five days later, but until now it has lacked the prestige of an entry in Rectangular Software’s Flagpole mobile app.

South Sudan becomes the 234th flag to feature in our educational game  for Android and iPhone. The updated Android app is available now on the Android Market. The iPhone update has been submitted to the App Store and should be available soon. Also included in these versions is the change of Libya’s flag back to the pre-Gaddafi red, black and green design.

Appmonger For All – Banishing Merchant Key Blues

Appmonger Google Checkout CredentialsOne of the major limitations of Appmonger has been that it requires you to use your merchant ID and merchant key to authenticate with Google Checkout to download Android Market orders. At first glance this doesn’t appear to be a limitation at all – it is simply how Google requires clients to connect to the Order Report API. But for reasons that are not at all clear, Google does not provide merchant keys for all Checkout merchants. It seems that all US and UK accounts have merchant keys. In other countries some accounts do have this basic integration option but many don’t. As a result, the number one most requested feature for Appmonger has been for some alternative way to connect.

Finally we have a solution. Appmonger 2.1 provides the option to use your phone’s Google Account to authenticate with Google Checkout. Appmonger gets an authentication token from the Android AccountManager and then mimics what your browser does when you download CSV data manually from the Google Checkout website.

To use this new mechanism, select the “Google Account” radio button on the Checkout credentials screen. If there are no accounts listed (only accounts associated with Google Checkout are shown), you will need to add one.  This can be done from Appmonger (select “Add Google Account” from the app menu) or from the device’s settings (under “Accounts & Sync”).

Granting PermissionPermission RequiredYou will need to grant Appmonger permission to use your Google account.

Users with a merchant key should probably continue to use that as it is Google’s officially supported way of integrating with Google Checkout and as such is less likely to break if Google changes something.

Beep Test for Android Scoring Changes

Version 2.1 of our Beep Test for Android application is now on the Android Market, which merits a blog post because there is one significant change that might cause confusion. You are now fitter. Or at least that’s how it will appear since we have changed the way that scores are presented.

This makes no difference to you if you only ever performed your Beep Tests using our app; it just means that the numbers are slightly higher than they were previously (your saved scores are automatically converted on upgrade so that they are consistent with any new scores that you generate).

Where the change does make a very important difference is if you were comparing scores from our app with scores generated using other Beep Test software or procedures, or comparing against specific fitness targets set by certain organisations. The way that we were presenting scores previously was not consistent with these third-party scores. Our scores were one level too low because they displayed the last fully completed level rather than the highest level reached. We have made the change to make your scores more readily comparable with scores from other sources.

Flagpole for iPhone

Flagpole for iPhoneFlagpole for iPhoneFlagpole, the educational flag recognition game, is now available for iPhone as well as Android. Featuring the same 233 national flags, 7 challenges, flag browser and flag descriptions as the Android version, Flagpole for iPhone can be downloaded from the App Store for just £0.69/€0.79/$0.99.

Download from App Store

Orders Not Appearing in Appmonger

Many Appmonger users have been in touch to say that they are having problems with Appmonger not displaying all of their recent orders. The problem is that Google Checkout is not including these orders in the CSV data that Appmonger downloads, even though it is showing the orders in the orders inbox on the Google Checkout web interface. This has happened a couple of times in the past and usually the situation has been rectified within 6 to 12 hours with the orders eventually reappearing.

On this occasion the problem has persisted for a couple of days. Some users have no orders from the last 24 hours, some have no orders for a longer period, and some have the recent orders but are missing orders from previous days.

Unfortunately this problem is not something that Rectangular Software is able to do anything about. If Google Checkout provides the data, Appmonger will display it. We are assuming that Google will rectify this problem shortly, as it has done in the past. Your orders have not been lost (as you can see, they are in the orders inbox) and should become available to Appmonger in due course.

Update (13th July 2011 11:00 BST): Google Checkout appears to be back to normal now. If your orders haven’t already reappeared they should do shortly.

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