It’s been about six months since the Apple’s iPhone first went on sale in Korea and the iPhone has definitely impacted the Korean market greatly. On May 24 of 2010 Korea Telecom (KT) announced over 700,000 iPhones had been sold, averaging 4,000 per day since its debut. Smartphones went from virtually non-existant to the new standard as the iPhone continues to build on its popularity and a number of Android phones enter the market. I wanted to detail my personal observations on how the iPhone has had an impact in Korea as several of my close friends are now avid iPhone users.

Wow Factor + Buzz Factor

The iPhone has a large wow factor in Korea. I was the first amongst my friends to purchase the iPhone but would constantly receive questions as to what I thought about the phone. Every few weeks, another one of my friends would show up with their newly purchased iPhone. Now, it seems the majority of people I know are iPhone users. The remaining few who don’t have iPhones are mostly trying to finish the remaining portion of their 2 year contracts but ask about the iPhone regularly. As an Apple fanboy, it’s a given that I would recommend the iPhone to others but what I find surprising is my friends now resoundingly endorse the iPhone as well.

Most Popular Applications

I’ve noticed there are several applications (aside from the default apps like Mail, Safari, Photos) all of my friends use regularly. These include Facebook, WhatsApp, Kakao Talk and WhosHere.


Cyworld is the King of social networking in Korea while Facebook is the King of social network virtually everywhere else. Facebook still remains a relative unknown in Korea but it’s currently gaining traction amongst the 18-34 demographic. Before the iPhone, virtually none of my Korean friends were on Facebook. Since its release, almost all of my friends who have iPhones have become active Facebook users.

WhatsApp and Kakao Talk

Most of the iPhone plans offered by KT include 300 SMS messages per month. At first, I went over my allotted quota but now, I don’t come even close. The main reason for this are apps like WhatsApp and Kakao Talk. These apps take the place of SMS and MMS messages and allow iPhone users to send messages and photos to each other for free (data charges do apply). WhatsApp is popular both in Korea and abroad but Kakao Talk is a homegrown solution specifically tailored to Korean users.


Last but not least, is the social networking app WhosHere. This is an app that was introduced to me by my friends. WhosHere tracks your GPS location and shows other users of the app who are nearby. You can then see their profile and even send them a message. One of my friends managed to snag a date out of the app (it didn’t turn out well) but mostly, it’s used for killing the time and wondering, “what if?” when viewing photos of women in the vicinity.

Up and Comers

While Facebook, WhatsApp and Kakao Talk are in my opinion, the three most popular apps, there are a few fringe apps that have surprised me in their use. These are Twitter, Foursquare and Bump. The iPhone has resulted in a surge of new Twitter users in Korea. I introduced a couple of friends to Foursquare and now, it’s common to see them check in to various establishments around Seoul. If I want to exchange contact information with another iPhone user, the first question I ask is if they have Bump.

The iPhone has had a huge impact in Korea and with Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola and others beginning their Android push, smartphones will only get more and more popular.


  1. Dreamingmk
    June 11, 2010 at 3:48 pm — Reply

    victor! 글 정말 잘쓰는군요 > _< 아이폰으로 한국의 스마트폰 시장이 활성화 된 것 같아요.! 어쨌든 좋은 글 잘 읽구가요~ 다음번엔 페이스북에 대한 본격적인 의견이 듣고 싶어요. 사실 한국사람들은 페이스북 처음하면 어려워하는데 외국사람들은 그렇지 않잖아요.

  2. Victor
    June 15, 2010 at 7:58 am — Reply

    앗! 날 여기서 찾았네요. 그래요. 한번 페이스북에 대해서 글 올릴깨요. 내가 볼때 제일 큰 문제는 한국사람들 페이스북 가입할때 친구 별로 없어서 한 문제고요. 그리고 페이스북의 privacy setting도 다른 문제일수 있어요.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Richard Min, said: iPhone Effect in Korea […]

  4. June 23, 2010 at 6:48 am — Reply

    Popular iPhone apps in Korea… great rundown! I know a lot of my Korean friends are pickin up local made games (like Booley) and utility type apps (like the Korea Subway map app), but its really great to see apps and programs… and subsequently, the companies behind them…. come from “abroad” and get a road into the Korean market that they would have almost zero chance to have otherwise. The effects of Apps being able to lead a internet business (opposed as to the other way around) changes the entire game here. That is, trojan horse your way into Korea… save tens of thousands in ineffectively spent budget and tons of “I don't get the Korea market” hair-pulling, frustrations trying to break into the market via “traditional” methods. So, yes, in other words, “Wanna enter the Korean market, but don't know how?”…. (wait for it)…..There's an app for that!lol(if not, just build your app and then there is. heh)

  5. Victor
    June 24, 2010 at 8:53 am — Reply

    Definitely agree that the iPhone app store is a great trojan horse into the Korean market.

  6. Guest
    July 12, 2010 at 5:30 am — Reply

    The impact on the market is an understatement. In typical Korean fashion, rampant imitation and copying has been going on since even before the iPhone was introduced (see Haptic, Omnia). The business model behind the app store itself is also another. Ultimately it does come down to the apps. Certainly Korean users don't yet have the availability or rich content that the US app store does. Largely this is because of the current outdated and time consuming process for submitting apps (especially games) as they have to go through two or more different approvals on the game rating board, and state / federal approval board. I heard they are trying to push through new legislation but who knows when this will actually be enacted.I also think that the iPhone has also contributed to the Korean economy. There are many new start ups that are centered around app development, mobile content, and mobile marketing as well as existing companies that are adding or acquiring that knowledge. This means more jobs, and expansion of the market. Foursquare will not be popular in Korea until they start linking a tangible benefit by making deals with local brands or pushing global brands such as Starbucks. I'd disagree the apps you listed aren't the most popular, maybe the most popular among the expat crowd. For Koreans apps like bus, subway, Daum maps, Naver, Gom, Wingbus, SBS, NateOn, Show, iTistory, CGV/Megabox, or the Shinhan/Hana/KB banking apps are the most popular. Most popular game app would probably be Go-Stop (Hwatu), Coast Guard, Boooly!, Seed, Alive 4-ever, and recently iFighter.

  7. Tryptobphan
    October 9, 2010 at 3:19 pm — Reply

    I am an American and I want to use Kakaotalk. Can I use Kakaotalk in the US to talk to my friends in Korea? How do I set up Kakaotalk? How do I set up my phone number (is a US phone number ok)? How do I add my friends? I have searched all over the internet but I can't find a guide on how to use it. So I thought I'd ask you since I read about Kakaotalk from your article. I hope you can help me. Thank you very much.

  8. SC
    October 10, 2010 at 9:37 pm — Reply

    Yes, Kakaotalk works in the US to talk to friends either in the US or in Korea, as long as they installed the app on their iPhone or Android smartphone. The user interface is all in Korean, though, so you'll have to be able to read Korean.Set up: Download on directly on your phone or through iTunes. When you open it for the first time it will prompt you to enter your mobile phone number beginning with area code, and a user name. The user name is what your friends will see when you chat. (This is different from the Kakao ID: see below.)Adding friends: It will automatically add friends currently in your phone book using Kakao talk. To find other friends, you will need their Kakao ID. So I guess you'd have to contact friends in Korea another way to ask for their IDs. Once you have it, you can add friends from the “Friends” page. There will be an icon of a figure with a plus next to its head. Tap on that and enter in the Kakao ID of the friend you want to add.**Kakao IDs: They're made by going to Settings(설정) -> My profile (내 프로필), and then tapping the space underneath your phone number where you can type in your choice of ID. Your ID cannot later be changed (whereas your user name can be edited just by tapping on it in your profile).

  9. SC
    October 10, 2010 at 9:41 pm — Reply

    Oh and FYI, the Kakao Talk website says that the app works on iPod touches, as well. Apparently everything is the same, but the app will send your mobile phone a confirmation code that you'll need to enter to finish set up. Then it seems you can use the app as long as you're connected to wifi.

  10. Victor
    October 11, 2010 at 1:57 am — Reply

    Yes, Kakao works in the U.S. and it works on the iPod touch. Great posts, SC! 🙂

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