It’s been about six months since the Apple’s iPhone first went on sale in Korea and the iPhone has definitely impacted the Korean market greatly. On May 24 of 2010 Korea Telecom (KT) announced over 700,000 iPhones had been sold, averaging 4,000 per day since its debut. Smartphones went from virtually non-existant to the new standard as the iPhone continues to build on its popularity and a number of Android phones enter the market. I wanted to detail my personal observations on how the iPhone has had an impact in Korea as several of my close friends are now avid iPhone users.
Wow Factor + Buzz Factor
The iPhone has a large wow factor in Korea. I was the first amongst my friends to purchase the iPhone but would constantly receive questions as to what I thought about the phone. Every few weeks, another one of my friends would show up with their newly purchased iPhone. Now, it seems the majority of people I know are iPhone users. The remaining few who don’t have iPhones are mostly trying to finish the remaining portion of their 2 year contracts but ask about the iPhone regularly. As an Apple fanboy, it’s a given that I would recommend the iPhone to others but what I find surprising is my friends now resoundingly endorse the iPhone as well.
Most Popular Applications
I’ve noticed there are several applications (aside from the default apps like Mail, Safari, Photos) all of my friends use regularly. These include Facebook, WhatsApp, Kakao Talk and WhosHere.
Cyworld is the King of social networking in Korea while Facebook is the King of social network virtually everywhere else. Facebook still remains a relative unknown in Korea but it’s currently gaining traction amongst the 18-34 demographic. Before the iPhone, virtually none of my Korean friends were on Facebook. Since its release, almost all of my friends who have iPhones have become active Facebook users.
WhatsApp and Kakao Talk
Most of the iPhone plans offered by KT include 300 SMS messages per month. At first, I went over my allotted quota but now, I don’t come even close. The main reason for this are apps like WhatsApp and Kakao Talk. These apps take the place of SMS and MMS messages and allow iPhone users to send messages and photos to each other for free (data charges do apply). WhatsApp is popular both in Korea and abroad but Kakao Talk is a homegrown solution specifically tailored to Korean users.
Last but not least, is the social networking app WhosHere. This is an app that was introduced to me by my friends. WhosHere tracks your GPS location and shows other users of the app who are nearby. You can then see their profile and even send them a message. One of my friends managed to snag a date out of the app (it didn’t turn out well) but mostly, it’s used for killing the time and wondering, “what if?” when viewing photos of women in the vicinity.
Up and Comers
While Facebook, WhatsApp and Kakao Talk are in my opinion, the three most popular apps, there are a few fringe apps that have surprised me in their use. These are Twitter, Foursquare and Bump. The iPhone has resulted in a surge of new Twitter users in Korea. I introduced a couple of friends to Foursquare and now, it’s common to see them check in to various establishments around Seoul. If I want to exchange contact information with another iPhone user, the first question I ask is if they have Bump.
The iPhone has had a huge impact in Korea and with Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola and others beginning their Android push, smartphones will only get more and more popular.