iPhone in Korea: KT and SKT dangle the smartphone in front of hungry customers

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Image Courtesy of telecomskorea

The Korean market isn’t new to corporate promises that the iPhone will appear on its shores. Since the 3G’s 2008 American introduction – a product launch which, along with the App Store, gave Apple’s phone new legs, promises of the phone’s introduction have come in well-timed spurts which are never accompanied by product. The lastest, again from Korea’s largest carrier, KT, suggests that it will supply Apple’s handset -a promise which SK (the nation’s 2nd largest carrier) are also staking. Several hardware hurdles which have held foreign manufacturers from the market have been removed, but still, successfully establishing a niche in what has until now, been a handset dictatorship, is difficult.

That may just be the problem – the dictator has become the prime minister. Samsung pretty much owns the country and is looking for a bigger piece all the time. Theme parks, grocery stores, car parks, life insurance, skyscrapers, mobile carriers, etc.; without Samsung, which accounts for 20% of Korea’s export market, the country would cease to operate.

So, in the court of the capital king, can the iPhone ever make it past a few press-mongering statements and rumours? Probably, but I think a few more pledges will be said first. Then, when the iPhone’s contract is priced ridiculously high, combined with insane bandwidth limits and finally, a forbidding purchase price, it will be deemed ready for the market – a market which simply will not be able to afford it. If Apple want to do business in this country, it will have to pay a tribute to the king which may not be worth it.

In Korea, Apple products are already marked up from 30-50% and sometimes, older products sold as current models. Despite that, among the Samsung and Cowon media players, there are iPods; the mobile phone market, which is strangled by a monopolistic corporate fraternity, is interested in the iPhone – a handset which can add some spice into a market which is comprised of hi-technology pasted onto cloned, glitzy and largely poorly designed interfaces.

It is quite certain that no matter how much consumers may want the device, its presence will be held in check. Saying that, it is refreshing. Korea is overrun by American products – at first glance, even more so than Canada. If the iPhone doesn’t successfully make it into South Korea, it will be one of a handful of American companies that haven’t met success.

For news of the latest iPhone developments in Korea, check Telecoms Korea.

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