Saturday, September 13, 2014

Android vs. Apple IOS: the takeaway for Korea

Two interesting articles caught my eye today. The first one, in The Wall Street Journal's Digits by Jonathan Cheng noted that, once again "In Samsung Country, iPhone 6 Fans will have to wait."  The article traces a bit of history, including the two and a half year delay before the original iPhone reached Korea after its U.S. launch in June of 2007.  Back then, Korea's mobile service providers, handset manufacturers and even the government had reasons for delay in welcoming the iPhone.  Those days are gone, but some speculate that the reason for iPhone 6's delayed arrival in Korea is because this country has stricter regulatory procedures than some other nations.
The second article, in The Korea Times, is an interview with a senior Google executive entitled "Android thriving on openness, accessibility." According to the article, "A senior Google executive said the Android operating system will continue to evolve and remain competitive on the strength of its openness and easy accessibility. Sundar Pichai, Google senior vice president and Android chief, said the company's commitment to startup entrepreneurs will strengthen the Android ecosystem." Google recently decided to open a startup-incubating center in Gangnam, one of Seoul's trendiest districts, because of the Korean mobile industry's growth potential, he said. "When we were looking for cities in which to open a campus in Asia, we all believed what's happening in Korea and in Seoul with the mobile industry is breathtaking," he said. "Korea is now one of the top five countries in terms of the number of Android developers. We looked at that, and we realized that given how everyone in Korea has access to smartphones, some of the most important ideas are going to come out of Korea in the future. We wanted to be a part of it."
In fact, the open source nature of Google's Android platform is the major factor that differentiates it from Apple's closed system.  Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard, author of The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, would call the iPhone "sterile" and the Android platform "generative."  Companies, large and small, in Korea should take note.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The deepening dictator's dilemma: North Korea bans WiFi and Satellite Internet

The recent news that North Korea has banned use of WiFi networks and Satellite Internet for foreigners brings that nations dilemma once again into clear focus.  It needs to develop digital networks and use the internet if it is to have any hope of economic development.  However, by doing so in this age of ever smaller, more powerful and cheaper internet-capable digital devices, it loses the tight control over information that the leadership covets.
As reported by the North Korea Tech website on September 9,"North Korea has banned the use of satellite Internet connections and WiFi networks by foreign embassies and international organizations unless they get government approval."
The reason for this ban?  Last month The Diplomat reported that housing prices had skyrocketed in a residential area of Pyongyang where the foreign embassies are located as North Koreans were scrambling to move to that area, expecting to use the embassies’ Wi-Fi. The article further noted the following. "For example, after a Middle Eastern embassy installed a strong router, college students in Pyongyang began walking around the embassy in order to use the Internet with their mobile phones. It’s known that North Korea removes all the programs related to usage of the Internet, such as Internet explorer, when selling mobile phones to its people."
Although anecdotal, this adds to a growing body of evidence that Johann Galtung's conception of how Korea might be reunified has merit. Galtung argues that unification only necessitates the free flow of people, goods and services, and information and ideas between the two Korean states, not the dissolution of ROK and DPRK into a single Korean state. This was discussed in an earlier post after his 2008 lecture at a university in Busan.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Google's Seoul "Campus" and the startup climate in Korea

Google announced this week that its first Campus in Asia will open in Seoul next year.  Google's Asia Pacific Blog carried an announcement about the plan, with information about the nature of campuses as spaces where entrepreneurs can learn, connect and change the world.
Also on the topic of startup ventures, my friend and fellow Korea Fulbright alumnus Danny Crichton has an interesting piece in Techcrunch entitled "As Samsung Falters, an Opening for Startups."   It is a thoughtful article, with useful links to a number of English and Korean language sources.
In the big picture, the relationship between Samsung's difficulties (or challenges) and the prospects for healthy growth of small and medium sized enterprises is a very important topic.  In the long run, it will help to determine the success of the Park Geun-hye administration's central policy initiative to develop a "creative economy."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What's wrong with these maps?

This morning I showed the accompanying map from the Information Geographies collection at the Oxford Internet Institute to students in two of my undergraduate classes at SUNY Korea in Songdo. (click to see a full size version of the graphic)  I'm a great fan of the various graphics being produced by the Oxford Internet Institute, and indeed the problem with this map lies in part with its data source (Alexa) rather than the Oxford researchers.  I'm referring, of course, to the grey shading for Korea, which  indicates "no information" and which also covers the whole Korean peninsula, merging North with South Korea.
The first part of the problem, that of "no information" about Korea may be because the Oxford team did not trust the 2013 Alexa data.  I just checked Alexa and found that Google.com is listed as the top site in Korea, followed by Naver.com.  However, these Alexa data are highly questionable and should not be used for South Korea.  Alexa's data are gathered from a panel of users that install an English language toolbar in Microsoft's Internet Explorer.  Although IE is widely used here, the fact that the Alexa toolbar is only available in English, immediately makes it almost useless in Korea, where the vast majority of users prefer web browsing in Korean.  For a good critique of Alexa versus other companies that provide web statistics, see this article, "Web statistics for internet market research: pick a number, any number".
In fact, Naver.com is the most widely used web site in South Korea, with about 31 million unique visitors or almost 95% of internet users (reach) during the most recent measurement period by Nielsen Korea.  It was followed by daum.net with an 82% reach and google.com ranked eight with about 12 million unique visitors and a reach of 37%.
As to the second part of the problem, that of shading the entire Korean peninsula grey, it obscures the digital divide between North and South Korea, the most dramatic and poignant such divide in the entire world and a tragic vestige of the Cold War era.  South Korea has the highest rate of internet penetration in the world, while North Korea ranks near the bottom among all nations of the world.
So the second problem with Korea's representation on the "Most visited website per Country" map is shared with another, otherwise very informative map based on internet population and penetration. (click for full size version)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

SK Telecom launches traveling ICT Museum

The news that SK Telecom has launched a year-long tour of its traveling ICT museum caught my eye today.  As reported by Korea Bizwire, the exhibit is a traveling version of T.um, SK Telecom's current ICT museum located at the company's headquarters in Euljiro, Seoul. (click on the accompanying graphic to see a full size version )  It has a goal of narrowing the educational opportunity gap between urban and rural regions, and rural stops will focus on schools and student groups.  As noted in the Korea Bizwire article, "T.um Mobile’s content was developed to allow young people to easily grasp concepts by illustrating the past, present and future of Korea’s information and communications technologies in four different experiential sections. - “Past” Section: Features an orchestra of mobile devices released over the last 30 years that plays a symphonic musical piece using only the devices’ ring tones - “Present” Section: ICT in health care, smart robots, augmented reality shopping, and smart farm technology - “Future” Section: Using a 360 degree view Head Mount Display, visitors can experience a “future home” containing technologies such as 3D printers, holograms and ICT devices. Also features a 4D simulator of “life 10 years from now” - “Academic” Section: Features a software learning course, a program for healthier and more balanced use of smartphones, and afterschool courses such as basic principles of communications.
During its year-long tour of the country, the traveling exhibit will visit 20 locations, including the 17th Asian Games in Incheon (Sept. 19-Oct. 4) and the 2014 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan (Oct. 20-23).