Thursday, November 19, 2009

Apple iPhone Release Set for November 28th: Some Predictions for Korea's Mobile Broadband Market

Finally, after two and a half years of waiting for many people, Korea Telecom has announced release of the Apple iPhone in Korea.  On November 28, KT is planning to invite 1,000 customers who made online reservations to the Jamsil Basketball stadium for a launch event.  I've been posting on the topic of Korea's mobile communication market for some time now (just use the search feature in the right-hand column to search for "mobile")  Just for fun, I'll go out on a limb and make the following predictions about the forthcoming launch of the iPhone in Korea.

  • It will be immediately and immensely popular here, selling millions, rather than tens or hundreds of thousands of sets with service contracts in the first year.  This is based on the established popularity of the iPod touch, which many bought as the best possible substitute for the non-existent iPhone.
  • It will spark a mad rush by other mobile service providers and handset manufacturers to produce Android phones for the local Korean market.  The delay in getting Android handsets here is almost as embarrassing as the long delay in the arrival of the iPhone!
  • The market for the iPhone, Android phones and competitors from Symbian will be heavily skewed toward younger people because they are (1)more broadband internet literate and (2) more fluent in English and other foreign langauges.  The market will, of course, most definitely include those of us in older demographics who use and appreciate the value of mobile broadband.
  • The entry of iPhone, Android and others may help to shed light on the inherent weakness of South Korea's Microsoft monoculture, the subject of earlier posts.
  • Finally, assuming that mobile broadband finally takes off here in Korea, as it has throughout North America, Europe and other parts of the world, this may wake people up to the extreme Korean-language dependence of the domestic Korean market.  Of course, Korean is the native language of residents here and will always be dominant.  However, if South Korea truly aspires to become a hub of any sort, it will need to adopt multiple languages, much in the way that Singapore or Hong Kong have, for different historical reasons.  The introduction of more foreign language broadband content and options here, starting with English, is not a threat but an opportunity for building a strong 21st Century information society in Korea.

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