One year on: How iPhone has influenced SKorea

It may just be a phone to some but the one-year anniversary of the Apple iPhone’s introduction to the South Korea market has prompted a number of the country’s media to reflect on how the device has changed society for the better.

Says Joongang Daily:

Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of Apple’s iPhone debut in Korea. Prolonged regulatory bickering had been long delayed its release, coming more than a year after its release in the U.S. and other countries.

But late as it was, the iPhone’s impact was bigger than most market observers ever expected. The iPhone has influenced how people live, work, as well as socialize and entertain, as it did to Chang [a citizen whose usage of the iPhone is profile at the beginning of the article].

In fact, Chang’s profile offers a snapshot of the iPhone’s user demographics, according to KT, Korea’s No. 2 mobile service provider and the iPhone’s exclusive seller. Seventy-seven percent of iPhone users are in their 20s and 30s, while 16 percent are in their 40s and 4 percent are teenagers, KT says. Sixty-one percent of iPhone users are men, and 69 percent live in a metropolitan area.

KT says high data usage is one of the most notable changes brought about by the iPhone to the telecommunications industry. An average smartphone owner uses 507 megabytes of data per month – 40 times the data used by owners of nonsmartphones.

The article also credits the iPhone with igniting the country’s smartphone industry:

But the iPhone boom is not just a story of a single well-selling handset. The iPhone triggered the releases of many other smartphones in the market.

“Changes in the market and society can either occur from within or outside,” said Kang Jeong-su, a researcher at Yonsei University’s communications lab. “The iPhone is a humongous shock that came externally.” 

The iPhone is also credited with helping grow the country’s app industry, helping business learn how to monetise mobile and increase mobile banking usage.

The Korea Herald is similarly full of praise for the effects the iPhone has had on the country’s smartphone industry, including social networking:

Smartphones have also made it easy for people to engage in online social networking ― such as on Twitter, Facebook and Cyworld ― mainly using mobile applications. The number of Korean-language mobile apps at Apple’s App Store also saw a huge jump ― up to 316 percent in the past year ― to 7,475 this month, from 2,367 in December last year.

While operator KT is perhaps the most obvious beneficiary as the country’s iPhone carrier:

The introduction of the iPhone has also improved the reputation of its exclusive carrier KT by transforming its company image from a slowly-changing public corporation to an innovative firm unafraid of the “mobile big bang” in Korea.

“KT has been in the lead of the so-called ‘smart innovation’ through establishment of its networks and the introduction of the iPhone,” said Pyo Hyun-myung, president of the company’s mobile business group. “We’re further planning to go beyond telecommunications and take the frontrunner position in open eco-innovation and cloud computing for a new revolutionary era of information and communication technology.”

To give some background the below infographic from KT shows ownership numbers illustrating just how prolific the popularity of the iPhone has been since its launch late last year. Particularly strong growth has occurred in the latter stages of 2010.

More than just a phone, perhaps, but there is no doubt that the iPhone launch in South Korea came at just the right time and in conjunction with the (initially) small growth in interest in western social media, which continue to see greater attention in the country although none have yet to challenge the ruling domestic social networks. Perhaps the continued growth of the iPhone, and the likely introduction of the iPad, will help the likes of Twitter and Facebook grow their userbase in the country?

While KT will be keen to remain the device’s sole vendor in the country, it seems likely that might change given iPhone has expanded from exclusive agreements in many other Asia markets.

Finally, on the topic of iPhone and its potential impact, there is some closely related (and excellent) futuregazing over at Motley Fool who asks ‘Is China the iPhone’s Next Growth Engine?‘:

With some analysts going so far as predicting that China has a market for 100 million high-end smartphone buyers (a target that’s probably a bit too high right now), there’s no denying the vast potential in the country. U.S. smartphone penetration rates are still around 30%, and growth rates will begin slowing in the next few years, as a saturation point hits and those still without smartphones are unwilling to pay the extra monthly data fees that are required with advanced phones.

That leaves areas such as China, India, and Latin America as key growth engines to replace a developing-country slowdown.

A million contract users [which iPhone currently has in China, with arguably inferior operator Unicom] pales in comparison with other countries, but it also illustrates the potential that can be unlocked if or when the iPhone bolts to China Mobile.

That said Gang Lu over at Mobinode has a  post revealing that China Mobile is advertising the iPhone despite the fact it is not an official partner – read more here.