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Updated: November 27, 2009 16:45 IST

Apple’s iPhone set to make splash in South Korea

AP
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A poster advertising an Apple iPhone 3G in South Korea on Friday.
AP A poster advertising an Apple iPhone 3G in South Korea on Friday.

The iPhone’s arrival in South Korea is generating considerable buzz among consumers and industry watchers amid expectations it will shake up a market dominated by world-beating domestic manufacturers.

“I can’t wait to get my iPhone,” said Na Hae-bin, a 30-year-old market researcher at an Internet company, who reserved one as soon as he could. “My heart was beating fast.”

Judging from pre-orders that started on Nov. 22, Apple Inc.’s hit communications device appears set to make serious inroads in South Korea — home to some of the world’s most sophisticated mobile phone users.

So far, KT Corp., the local mobile carrier which has contracted with Apple to sell service plans for the phone, says it has received 53,000 advance orders ahead of Saturday’s official launch.

Such numbers have impressed analysts.

But he added it is difficult to assess how much of an inroad the iPhone will make in the growing domestic smartphone market, which he said totalled about 400,000 users at the end of the third quarter.

Launch was delayed

The iPhone’s introduction has been keenly awaited. It was delayed by regulatory hurdles, the last of which was overcome this month when the Korea Communications Commission approved the granting of a business license to Apple to offer so-called location based services.

Location-based services include functions such as maps and direction finders that are included on the iPhone. South Korean law requires companies that provide such applications to obtain government permission.

The commission also earlier this year abolished a rule that required all mobile devices to carry special software adapted to South Korea’s wireless internet platform, which was an added cost for foreign manufacturers and viewed as a trade barrier.

20 percent of market share

The device has been available in Japan {mdash} another advanced mobile market {mdash} since last year. Both Apple and Softbank Corp., which offers the phone, declined to give sales figures. Yusuke Tsunoda, a telecom analyst at Tokai Tokyo Securities Co., said the iPhone has achieved a market share of 20 percent.

The iPhone made its formal debut in China on Oct. 30, though black market models brought in from abroad have long been available and as many as 2 million are in use.

Sales through Apple’s local partner, China Unicom Ltd., have been lackluster. Unicom said 5,000 iPhones were sold in the first week. It has yet to release updated figures.

According to Apple, about 20.7 million iPhones have been sold worldwide in the year through September.

Sceptics remain

Not everybody, however, is jumping on the iPhone bandwagon.

“My friends don’t talk about it,” said college student Cho Hye-joo, who enjoys making video calls on her South Korean phone and was not aware the iPhone was debuting on Saturday.

Kim Jong-kwan, who sells mobile phones at a shop in Seoul’s Yongsan electronics market, said he thinks the iPhone is benefiting from publicity surrounding the launch and will initially have a “big impact,” though expects excitement to eventually fade.

One potential problem for the iPhone is the fondness of South Koreans for watching live local television broadcasts on their mobile phones — a capability the iPhone lacks.

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