challenges for the iPhone in Korea

Bear with me here as this is more of an Open Web issue and less a Firefox issue.

iPhone in Korea
iphone on sale in korea!

As many of you know if you had read my 2007 post on the cost of monoculture, (Slashdotted and Digged to the front page) or the update on the cost of monoculture, you know that South Korea is alone in the world as a nation that does not use TLS/SSL for online transaction encryption. What that means in practice is that 99% of South Koreans use IE because they cannot do any secure transaction online (i.e. Internet banking, stock trading, ecommerce, e-government, etc.) without a Microsoft Windows operating system and the Internet Explorer web browser.

So I read with some interest recently when I saw that KT (Korea Telcom) and maybe SK Telecom (?) is probably going to launch the iPhone 3GS in Korea soon: IPhone Has Mobile Operators Punching Calculators. The question that immediately came to mind is this:

if South Korean websites cannot do any secure transaction without ActiveX, which is not supported on the iPhone’s Mobile Safari browser, what use is the iPhone in Korea? What good is a mobile browser on the iPhone in Korea if you cannot do any secure transaction with it?

This detail has not been covered by any of the media that has been covering the potential for the iPhone in Korea.  I would very much appreciate any comments from South Koreans on how the iPhone can be successful in Korea if it cannot be used for any secure transactions.  Or does this mean that Korean web services will start implementing support for SSL?  Will the iPhone break open the IE-dominated web of Korea?

My friend Changwon Kim thinks that it may have to do with the fact that the Korean carriers will get little-to-no benefit from users who buy iPhones because all of the purchases on the iPhone will be at iTunes or the Apple App Store.

Out of fear to become “dumb bit pipes”, Korean wireless carriers have been working so hard to transform themselves into digital content empires by acquiring content companies and building a tight control over the content value chain. But iPhone is all about getting out of carrier value chain: web browsing on WiFi networks or App Store downloads have nothing to do with carriers. So the fact that the carriers haven’t yet fully recouped their massive content investment might be the true reason, or at least part of the reason, why Korea still doesn’t have an iPhone yet.

I’m very curious to see what the reaction will be to the iPhone in Korea when it launches. Especially the part where Korean users won’t be able to do any of the things they normally do with their laptops or desktop PCs such as buy stocks, online banking, – anything that requires a secure transaction.

5 Responses to challenges for the iPhone in Korea

  1. I can’t see that it makes much difference, i’d say 90% of iphone browsing is googling something or looking up a restaurant or wikipedia

    i do use banking on mine and have very rarely bought something – but it wouldn’t stop me buying a iphone if i couldn’t – it’s way too useful to not buy just because it can’t do ssl

  2. Interesting post, Gen.

    If I were one for wild speculation, I would say that if the iPhone did indeed become popular in South Korea, banks and other secure transaction services may then build native iPhone apps which underlyingly used TLS/SSL or some other secure protocol without having to rewrite their PC-facing sites at all.

    A consequence of this would indeed be that some services would then be writing/using SSL-secure backends for these iPhone apps, affecting developer mindshare, but it still wouldn’t affect the ActiveX-dominated PC space at all.

    </wild speculation>

  3. krea_frobro747

    Interesting post! Here are some observations:

    1. The ipod touch has done really well here in Korea. It was quite a surprise because the ipod video and ipod photo only did “pretty good” sales. But the ipod touch (I believe because of the wifi capability) has taken off…. and Korean app developers are popping up all over the place. There have even been a couple of iPhone/ipod touch developer conferences. So, the active-x and purchasing issue hasn’t stopped it…

    2. Active-x is on the way out in Korea. It will be a long, slow process, but it is happening. Sites like G-market at working on re-designs that will allow multiple browsers. I do not know what solution they will use for purchases, but I do know (have been told by companies directly) that it is on the way.

    3. I know that Shinhan bank (in Korea) is developing an app for the ipod touch (and iphone when it arrives)… I do not know what transaction capability it will have, but they are developing it now.

    Koreans want wifi options on their smart phones… and it hasn’t been an option on their very expensive phones. Just several weeks ago the Blackberry was released here for general users (with wifi)…. it is only available in about 10 stores, but I have heard it is slowly building a following.

    I expect the iPhone to do quite well…. even though the issue you raise concerning purchases/transactions will have to be resolved…. but that transition is already in process because of the death of active-x.

    Any other thoughts?

  4. They–Koreans–will adapt.

    Unlike the United States, where laws and regulations keep from advance technologies to spread widely, Korea does not dispute, if not rarely, over who gets the fame and glory. They are all about the latest and greatest. Although this has double edge sword effect, embracing future technology if it means bringing convenience seem to be the major drive for them.

    And it seems to me that smaller countries, such as Korean and Japan, have easier time assimilating the latest compare to the United States or China. And yes you may feel that it’s not a fair comparison. But the length of time which takes “a fad” to spread, or educate, to the rest of the public has a major relation to the size of the country.

    If iphone refuses to release patches to accommodate Active X environment, Korean developers will release iphone apps to compensate, as it was mentioned by mitcho. And the people will simply accept this.

  5. I have to agree. Even KEBank has made their online banking site MAC capable. Trust me, even as we speak, Korea is already widening it’s horizons for the next generation of users. And by generation, I don’t mean as we do in the states, as in, my children. I mean, as in next months release of fancy new gadgets. Korea, and asia in general moves on a much faster schedule than we do. New phones and new trends take hold immediately as the want and need for them is unquenchable. As someone mentioned on another site, “korean children walk the streets with phones that cost almost $1000. That’s not even something we as adults do in the states. A different world my friends, it’s a different world.