Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Chosun Ilbo: "Global Phone Makers Fail to Impress Koreans"

The headline of an article in the Chosun Ilbo English online edition tells you a great deal about how some people in Korea view the market for mobile telephone services here.  The gist of it is that makers of international phones are failing in the Korean market for lack of new models that come up to the standards set by Samsung and LG Electronics locally.  In fact, this is only a small part of the story.   The real news, as I've commented in earlier posts, is that mobile phones are rapidly being transformed into hand held computers with web browsers, as epitomized by Apple's iPhone.  I read the Chosun Ilbo article today shortly after reading a short New York Times article announcing that Nokia and Intel are partnering to work on mobile computing.  In observing Korea's mobile communications market today, several key realities should be kept in mind.

  • It is still not possible to purchase and use an iPhone in South Korea, and may not be possible until late this year or early next.  This, despite the fact that slim new Android phones are being released in the U.S., Europe and around the world.
  • Although most Koreans carry 3G cellphones capable of internet access, the two largest mobile services provide only a limited "walled garden" Korean database, rather than access to the full richness and variety of the web beyond the Korean language.
  • Despite the above two points, many consumers here in Korea are eager to see the iPhone released in this market.  As evidence, take a look at sales of the iPod Touch, which almost functions as an iPhone if you're in one of the nation's many WIFI hotspots.  Millions of overseas Koreans, who already use the iPhone or Android phones to surf the web, must be lording it over on there relatives here in South Korea.  The word of mouth promotion alone is something Apple could never afford to pay for.
The pressure to catch up with the rest of the world will continue to mount.  The Korea Communications Commission seems to be nudging the mobile industry toward full openness and competition, which should be a good thing for Korea's export-oriented, ICT-based economy.  Delaying the iPhone is, as I mentioned in an earlier post, delaying the inevitable.

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