Apple's iPhone arrives in tech-savvy South Korea

AP News
Posted: Nov 28, 2009 4:50 AM

Tech-savvy South Koreans began getting their coveted iPhones on Saturday amid fanfare and expectations the communication and entertainment device will shake up a local mobile market dominated by domestic giants Samsung and LG.

Hundreds of customers lined up to get their pre-ordered iPhones at an official launch event in Seoul, some waiting overnight. A 25-year-old university student was the first to get one, as music blared and strobe lights flashed.

"I'm so happy," said Huh Jin-seok, the first recipient, who waited in line more than 26 hours and admitted to being "a little bit tired."

A band played loud rockabilly music outside the venue near a clock that counted down the time until the launch. Those receiving their phones were among about 65,000 people who placed orders since Nov. 22.

South Korean mobile carrier KT Corp., Apple Inc.'s local partner, said about 850 people picked up iPhones at the event. Others were receiving them via delivery at their homes or offices.

"We're hoping that this iPhone will be a trigger point for the smartphone market in Korea," said Yang Hyun-mi, KT's chief strategy officer, who said smartphones make up just 1 percent of all cell phones in the country. Smartphones are advanced cell phones with computer-like capabilities.

She declined to offer a sales forecast, but said the company was optimistic given higher-than-expected advance orders.

"We just think it will be really huge," she said.

Lee Bo-ra, who designs beauty tools such as nail clippers and trimmers, said she plans to use her iPhone mostly to access maps and play "Guitar Hero," the popular game in which users simulate playing rock and roll hits.

"Very," she said when asked if she was satisfied with her iPhone so far.

The iPhone's arrival after a long delay has generated excitement among South Korean consumers and industry analysts, who say it is likely to expand the domestic smartphone market and pose a challenge to local manufacturers Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Inc.

The sleek smartphone, which has grabbed headlines around the world and solidified Apple's status as a purveyor of cutting-edge consumer electronics, was already available in many other Asian countries including Japan, where it launched last year. It made its official debut in China last month.

Regulatory hurdles had delayed its arrival in South Korea. Final approval by the Korea Communications Commission came earlier this month with the granting of a license to Apple to offer so-called location-based services, which include functions such as maps and direction finders that are available on the iPhone. South Korean law requires companies that provide such applications to obtain government permission.

The commission earlier this year also 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.

KT's Yang said another factor contributing to the delay was a complicated negotiating process with Apple over what she described as the Cupertino, California-based company's strict standards and policies. "There was a lot of negotiations back and forth," she said.

Samsung and LG dominate the local market for cell phones. They are also major players globally, ranking No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, behind Finland's Nokia Corp.

KT also offers service plans for smartphones made by Samsung, LG, Nokia and a Taiwanese manufacturer, said KT spokeswoman Alice Park.

Moon Chang-soo, a computer programmer, said he plans to mostly use the iPhone to keep his life organized.

"It's amazing," he said after finally getting one. But despite its fame as a smartphone, Moon used it for the time in a more basic way.

"I just made a call to my wife," he said with a laugh.