Building an app already takes a lot of work, so imagine if you have to build another one just like it?
Considering the competitive app market and the many being churned out each day you might be wondering how do developers do it? How are they immediately able to make an app just like the one they released last week? You might be also wondering some apps appear to be so similar.
The answer is that they just re-skin apps to make even more apps.
Re-skinning is defined as the replacement or repair of any exterior surface or coating of something. In the ambit of computers, the “skin” refers to custom graphical appearance achieved by a Graphical User Interface. So re-skinning an app essentially means just modifying the look and feel of an app without changing the underlying architecture of the template, in this case the source code, underneath.
App re-skinning is not to be confused with app-flipping. Flipping is similar to re-skinning but with some small tweaks and changes made to the framework to suit the new product or attract more potential customers.
Why re-skin an app?
With today’s extremely competitive app market and with more and more people looking for the different kinds of apps to do the different kinds of things for them, companies and developers had to think of a way to make apps faster. They turned to an old principle pioneered by Henry Ford of the automobile industry; the moving assembly, where factory workers just attached parts to a moving frame that eventually came out the assembly line as a car.
Although radically different, the principle remains the same; always have a frame ready, just attach parts as needed and the various products will come out.
Re-skinning saves companies and developers countless time normally spent to write source code for apps, and code can take a very long time to write. Sometimes it takes weeks of writing the source code for just one app, and it’s not always a guaranteed success in the end either. Re-skinning also saves on money otherwise spend to hire the programmers to write the code.
With re-skinning an app you also no longer have to worry about its framework, which gives you more time to focus on the changes of your app or the additional features and details to put in if you want to flip it.
Is re-skinning illegal?
Building an app with someone else’s framework or source code is illegal if you do not have that person’s permission, you have to obtain the right to that framework before you can re-skin it.
Today you can now buy any app framework you want. There are now markets in the Internet where you can buy and sell apps and app frameworks like in Apptopia. Be sure you know what you are getting into though; licenses for apps or app frameworks can be quite pricey depending on their quality.
Take note that even if you already have the license to a framework, this does not mean you can do whatever you want with it. You will still be bound by certain terms and conditions, like you cannot in turn sell a copy of the framework to another person, neither can you cannot pass off this framework as your own. Whether you successfully market your re-skin or not the framework will retain its license.
Won’t people start noticing?
Yes, people do notice some apps are essentially just re-skins of others, but fortunately this has not stopped them from trying them anyway.
Flipping, the re-skinning of an app plus the addition of a few features and tweaks, has already been mentioned. It is now one of the biggest Return on Investment strategies of any big app developer. Many developers buy the code of a product used by their competition and re-skin them, or come up with flipped app using the source code of a previous one that did not fare so well.
Re-skinning may translate to lower points where originality is concerned, however companies do not seem to care and, in most cases, neither do users.
Temple Jump, Angry Ninja Birds and Plants vs. Zombie
You read the above titles right. One of the more famous cases of re-skinning gone wrong is that of a developer who goes by the name Anton Sinelnikov who allegedly cloned the famous smart device games Temple Run, Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies into his own apps, then marketed them on the App Store, not even bothering to change the titles that much.
After much prodding, Apple finally pulled out support for those apps, to the relief of game developers including Imangi Studios and Popcap Games who received complaints from buyers. Many had been duped into buying the cloned games online expecting them to be the original games.
Legitimate game developers have also encouraged Apple to take action against Sinelnikov and other developers who put up barely concealed clone games, however Apple has not issued any statement on the matter. In a similar case, Atari also successfully petitioned the remove of the app Vector Tanks, claiming it looked too similar to one of their games called Battlezone.
Is it a sound strategy?
Despite the negative press regarding re-skinning, programmer Tim Buchalka says any developer who wants to make it big should consider turning to this strategy. They just have to beware of the responsibilities when it comes handling the intellectual property rights of others.
“Creating things from scratch takes a long time. I mean you can build a brand new house, or you can just move into one that someone else built immediately. As I found out, there is no guarantee that building a new house is going to give you better results,” he writes.
“The bottom line is I firmly believe you are going to get far better results if you get inexpensive source code, and make changes to it and then put that in the app stores. Less risk, less time, less cost, and (probably) better results. What’s not to love?” he concludes.