‎Widgetsmith and The Case of the Missing App Store Bunco Squad

Widgets and custom app icons via Shortcuts are the breakout hit features of iOS 14. This should not be surprising: people love to customize their stuff, and until now you couldn’t really customize much more than your wallpaper and icon arrangement on the iOS home screen. Now you can, and people are digging it. For youngsters who’ve grown up only knowing iOS, this is their first taste of this sort of thing.

“Underscore” David Smith’s new app Widgetsmith is, thus, having a bit of a moment. Widgetsmith is like a widget construction kit:

It starts with a wide collection of highly customizable widgets, which range in function from date, to weather, to astronomy. Each can be adjusted precisely to best fit your desired function and appearance.

This set of widgets can then be dynamically scheduled to appear on your home screen following rules you define. For example, a particular widget could show the weather first thing in the morning, then your calendar during your work day, then switch to your Activity ring progress as you wrap up your day. This lets you take full advantage of each slot on your home screen.

It’s rocketed to the #1 spot on the App Store’s Productivity list. My teenage son, out of the blue, asked me if I’d heard about it — not iOS 14 widgets in general, but Widgetsmith specifically.1 A well-deserved hit product. If you’re having fun playing around with widgets, you should definitely check out Widgetsmith if your neighborhood teenager hasn’t already turned you onto it.

And but so of course the rip-off scammers are already doing their thing, and the App Store is welcoming them. Search for “Widgetsmith” — the exact name of Smith’s app — and the first app in the results is not Widgetsmith but a name-alike rip-off called, I swear, “Widgetsmith - Color Widgets”. This utterly shameless rip-off, replete with a ham-fisted knockoff of the icon to boot, is listed above the actual Widgetsmith, despite the fact that the actual Widgetsmith is currently the #1 app in Productivity and has over 53,000 overwhelmingly positive reviews. The rip-off app has 25 5-star ratings, one 1-star rating, and one written review, which reads, verbatim, “Thank developer for making such great app especially for iOS 14!” The entire description of the rip-off app is written in similar broken English.

[Update 6PM: Two hours later, and the rip-off Widgetsmith is gone.]

Three points.

First, how in the world did this app get approved with this name and with this icon? And how is it still there? The rip-off version is now popular enough to be ranked #7 on the Entertainment list. Where’s the App Store bunco squad? This wouldn’t even be a hard case to crack. It wouldn’t be more obvious that this app is a rip-off if its name were “Widgetsmith - Rip-Off Version”. Apple keeps telling us how great the App Store is, but rip-offs like this remain commonplace. Apple right now has a promotion touting the benefits of the App Store on the front page of apple.com (gee, I wonder what prompted that?), which states:

The apps you love.
From a place you can trust.

For over a decade, the App Store has proved to be a safe and trusted place to discover and download apps. But the App Store is more than just a storefront — it’s an innovative destination focused on bringing you amazing experiences. And a big part of those experiences is ensuring that the apps we offer are held to the highest standards for privacy, security, and content. Because we offer nearly two million apps — and we want you to feel good about using every single one of them.

I doubt anyone feels good about “Widgetsmith - Rip-Off Version”, including the hucksters who made it. And if only the App Store were run just as a storefront, this wouldn’t happen. I’m pretty sure that if you go to Apple’s online store and search for “Solo Loop”, or walk into one of their retail stores and ask for one, you’re not going to be presented with a fly-by-night piece-of-crap knockoff named “Solo Loop - Color Bands”, with Apple’s actual Solo Loops hidden behind them.

The App Store is not trustworthy if that includes trusting that the apps in its trending lists and search results are legitimate. If Apple ran a food court like they run the App Store they’d let a McDowell’s open up two stores down from McDonald’s.

Second, even accepting that this app was allowed into the store with this name and this icon, how in the world does it rank ahead of the actual Widgetsmith in search results? How can App Store search be this wrong? It’d be bad enough if “Widgetsmith - Rip-Off Version” were listed after the actual Widgetsmith, but listed ahead of it? (And to be clear, the placement of “Widgetsmith - Rip-Off Version” atop the results is not from paid search placement — those are a problem too, but they are marked as ads. This is not an ad.)

Third, go check out the actual Widgetsmith, trust me.

  1. I’m like, “Yes, actually. In fact, I know the guy who made it! He’s …” and before I could finish, my son’s eyes rolled to the back of his head and he wandered away. ↩︎