Be ready for your app business to be challenged at any time
Having a successful indie app is a fantastic opportunity. It’s also best to know upfront that it’s a fragile business.
You are completely dependent on one or two app stores. They can decide to kick your app out at any time, without even having to justify their actions.
Apple and Google can decide to build a similar app directly into their OS, thus putting you out of business instantly. There’s even a word for it: being ‘sherlocked’.
If your platform provider doesn’t end your business, other app developers could step in. Copycat apps could inundate the store and impact your sales dramatically, especially for paid apps that are easily undermined by free clones. TextingStory clones started appearing in the store a mere week after the app hit the top 5 downloads in the US entertainment category in 2017. They didn’t really work and thus didn’t affect my downloads that much, but it was still impressive.
I encourage you to focus on projects that are harder to copy. It’s interesting if your app is technically hard to build or if building it requires specific knowledge or resources not everybody can access.
Having a trademark should help and you should be protected against blatant copying, even if you didn’t register any copyright for your design. These are technical subjects and it’s a good idea to check your rights with an intellectual property lawyer.
The most egregious case I encountered was an app that looked so much like TextingStory that my first thought was that they had hacked my source code! Apparently, they were just very thorough with their copying. Apple thankfully pulled the app after I contacted them.
Be aware that you can face unethical actors in the stores buying fake reviews or using other ways of manipulating the store to get ahead of you. David Barnard wrote an eye-opening article on this topic back in 2018 and Kosta Eleftheriou is currently lobbying hard for Apple to take action against this practice.
Keep your eyes open but don’t spend too much time dealing with these situations. Your best protection against copycats is to keep innovating and most of your energy should really go towards that goal!