Apps are a global market so you should aim high with mobile app. Ensuring you have a presence in high-growth markets including China, Japan and Korea is becoming as important as having a footprint in established Western markets like North America and Europe.
Home to smartphone makers Samsung and LG and more fans of the Phablet (Samsung Galaxy Note) device than anywhere on the planet, Korea is at the forefront of app adoption and innovation. Little wonder that app analytics company Flurry has declared the Korea the “first connected device market in the world to approach saturation.”
As such Korea provides a good early indicator of what other markets can expect as they race toward ever increasing levels of smartphone penetration. In this episode I refer to Korea as the ‘New York, New York’ of the app world — because if you can make it there (and please an audience of sophisticated and discriminating app users) then you can indeed make it anywhere (!).
Connect the dots, and Korea is a sophisticated mobile market brimming over with opportunity provided app developers understand local preferences (such as a strong focus on gaming and social apps) and adapt quickly to the somewhat complicated app store ecosystem where Android is king, but Google Play isn’t.
App store ecosystem:
While being on Android is essential for any developer or startup (Korea has a higher share of Android device ownership than most other countries in Asia including Japan), one of the biggest challenges in the Korean market is that the official Android app store, Google Play, is not all that popular.
The main attraction is T Store, the home-grown Android app store run by local mobile operator SK Telecom. It counted 19 million registered users as of January 2013. Platform owners are also getting in on the action. Notably the social gaming platform belonging to KakaoTalk is building its own app ecosystem/emporium. These distribution channels bypass the operator-run app stores and take on the role of a ‘gateway’ for apps popular in their communities.
What can a developer do? Recognize that the Android ecosystem is fragmented and difficult to crack — on your own. Partner with company (ad network, for example) that has local knowledge and make sure your app is listed on the right app stores. Having an audience on these regional app stores and social platforms is critical to your app business.
Koreans have been referred to as “game-obsessed” — and for good reason. In fact, App Annie recently reported that the U.S., Japan and South Korea are the top three in the percentage of app money spent on games.
Clearly, Korea is a hot market for gaming apps, but also look for gaps in the market that you can target with more niche apps. Platform players like KakaoTalk have primed the market for social and gaming apps, spurring the growth of casual gaming titles such as Anipang (similar to Bejeweled). If you are a games developer, then you should be aware that the casual games space is crowding and consider looking at opportunities in the ‘mid core’ and ‘hard core’ games space.
In Apponomics Jayesh Easwaramony, InMobi VP & GM, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa, observes that apps aligned with popular activities among Korean consumers such as entertainment (K-pop, movies, live TV), communication (chat), shopping, news and education are making notable inroads.
What can a developer do? Be sure your know — and target — your audience. Korea is a mature market with a wide variety of user segments. How do you hook this complex community with your app? Pay attention to the details. Elegant design is a must and so is usability. A complex cluttered screen, which might have won you fans in China, will get you minus points in Korea.
Finally, believe in your app.
Sure, Koreans are gaming and social networking addicts. Don’t think you can only make in big in Korea if you publish a gaming app. App trends reports from the likes of App Annie reveal Korean users are also heavy users of utility apps. So, take a chance. It may be that a localized, customized version of your camera app would also be a crowd-pleaser. But you can’t know that until you try.
No matter your app focus or app category, Korea — a market that already has a healthy appetite for apps — deserves a top-notch spot on your expansion agenda.