Saturday, November 22, 2008

Android Phones in South Korea: A Breakthrough?

The Economist has a thought-provoking article in its current edition entitled "The battle for the smart-phone's seoul."  It expresses many of the thought's I've had about the mobile phone market in Korea.  I am among the many who can't wait to get their hands on an Android variation of Apple's i-Phone, so that we can carry all of the "killer applications" of the internet around in our pocket or on a belt clip. 
Rather than opening up its mobile market to the I-Phone and other innovations, South Korea chose to maintain a special WIPI software requirement.   As far as I can determine, this software requirement serves no useful purpose other than to make it more difficult for Apple or others to enter the South Korean market.   If you read the Economist's latest analysis, it implies that this nation should completely open up its mobile communications market to encourage innovation and also to help its leading exporters of handsets.  Among the main points are the following.
  • According to Informa, a market-research firm, the market for smart-phones will grow from $39 billion in 2007 to $95 billion in 2013, by which time they will make up nearly half of the handset market by value (though only 34% by volume).
  • More importantly, as handsets get smarter the nature of the industry will change. It will be less about hardware and more about software, services and content, as illustrated by the accompanying chart. This is why, for the first time, a fierce battle between operating systems for handsets has broken out.
  • It has taken two outsiders to shake things up. One is Apple, with its iPhone. As well as being a paragon of hardware and user-interface design, it comes with a flat-rate “all you can eat” data plan.
  • The other disrupter is Google, with its Android platform. It also lets users download applications from an online store, called Android Market. But it differs from the iPhone in that Android is just software, which Google makes available to handset-makers and operators.
The Economist goes on to point out that these developments have prompted the incumbents in the mobile phone industry to look for new operating system platforms as well.  The main point of all these developments for South Korea seems abundantly clear.  Both Samsung and LG are members of the Open Handset Alliance, a group of more than 30 technology and mobile companies who came together to accelerate innovation in mobile.  Their first product was Android.  Therefore, the whole world will be watching to see just how innovative the first generation of LG and Samsung Android phones will be.  If I were in charge of long-term strategy at either of these leading mobile handset manufacturers, I'd bet the bank on this one.  Take the best in design from the I-phone and your own prior models, program Android to place the "internet in your hand" and lead the way!

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