Suck on that Lenin!
After waiting for 26 hours to get his phone Hun Jin-suck was the first to get the iPhone in South Korea. They had a giant celebration to release the phone and Hun was greeted by crowds, a light show and booming music as he got his. He was the first among 850 to get the phone at the giant celebration thrown by Apple and KT corp., Apple's local telecom partner.
KT and Apple reported that there have been more than 50,000 preorders for the phone, which is far more than any estimate experts originally had. Many experts were thrown off by a lack luster Chinese launch that saw only 5,000 phones sold the first week and assumed that the South Korean launch may be similar. South Korea is known for having tech savvy customers and very high penetrations of broadband and cell phone use. It is also home to cell phone makers Samsung and LG so the domestic competition is very tough.
Yet there are many differences in the Chinese and South Korean launches. While, yes, there many cell phone users in South Korea there is not a lot of smart phones. Samsung and LG have limited smart phone options and other companies like Black Berry have just begun to break in. Second, in China the local company, China Unicom, did not offer a straight up Apple iPhone. Due to government interference they offered a version with no broadband and at a huge cost. A mainland Chinese customer would end up paying over $1000 to get an iPhone that was not as good as one available around the world. Between gray markets and Hong Kong distributors many Chinese opted to not go through Unicom to get their phone.
The South Korean iPhone comes in at a variety of prices but tops off at $350 depending on the phone you get and the plan you sign up with at KT corp. Originally it was thought that both major telecom companies in the country would carry the iPhone but then only KT, the second largest, got them. Apple had to jump through a series of regulatory nightmares to be allowed to sell their devices in the country because they have the ability to located you and pass that location on to the network. That required a special license from the government and KT helped Apple get it.
So now that KT has the iPhone its larger rival, SK Telecom, is partnering with Samsung to offer some sort of smart phone alternative and stem the tide of an "iPhone invasion". SK and Samsung have kicked up subsidies for new and renewing users on the Samsung T-Omnia II, which is stacked with options but at nearly $800 was too expensive for many users.
It looks like Samsung and SK aren't going to cede dominance in the market easily but it's hard for many people to resist the lure of the almighty iPhone. Only time will tell how it all shakes out, but with so many people looking to upgrade to smart phones the fight is far from over in South Korea.
Photo Credits: William Hook
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