Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Korea - the newest land of tomorrow - Consumer Power - Man's best friend

Once upon a time Japan was the land of the future; William Gibson famously crowned it so. Alas, Japan is now passe, on its way to being as dull a backwater as America. Korea (specifically, South Korea) now rules the future:
Man's best friend
Mar 31st 2005
From The Economist print edition
Not a dog, but a mobile phone

... South Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world. That is why Meg Whitman, the chief executive of eBay, the biggest online auctioneer, sees the country as a “window into the possibilities” of what might happen when high-speed broadband services are widely adopted in other places too.

In 1960, South Korea had only one telephone for every 300 people—barely one-tenth of the world average at the time. Today, more than 90% of households have a fixed-line phone, three times the world average. Moreover, three-quarters of the population carry mobile phones, which means that pretty well everyone has one, apart from tiny tots and a few elderly people. With government encouragement and the benefit of a densely populated, mainly urban environment, South Korea has been relatively easy to wire up. The country boasts one of the highest internet-penetration rates in the world, with more than 31m of the 48m population now having access to the web, most of them via high-speed services. Apartment blocks display government notices by the front door certifying the speed of their internet connection.

Those connections are about to get even faster. In January, the government licensed the country's three main telecoms firms, SK Telecom, KT and Hanaro, to offer a new high-speed wireless internet service called WiBro. From next year, this will allow mobile users to surf the internet at much higher speeds than they do now, as well as more reliably. Somewhat alarmingly, the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) says it will work even in a car travelling at 60km an hour.

For the country's consumer-electronics makers, this vibrant home market is an invaluable development laboratory. Samsung Electronics, South Korea's biggest consumer-electronics company, has already produced a mobile phone especially for watching high-quality video. Its rival, LG Electronics, has even unveiled one with a built-in personal video recorder, which automatically switches to “record” if the user needs to take a call. Lots of other new gadgets are coming, including phones that can read the radio-frequency identification tags that will eventually replace the barcodes attached to goods. These phones, says the MIC, could be used to check the expiry date of fresh produce, say, or pick up a signal from a poster advertising a new movie, which would then prompt you to download a preview. [jf: The Economist omits mention of the 8MPixel cameraphones that drive US digicam fans mad with envy.]...

... South Koreans in their teens and 20s increasingly look on e-mail as an old and formal means of communication, according to one study. “You would exchange e-mails with your bosses, but not your friends,” says a young South Korean marketing assistant. The arrival of more features could reinforce this trend further: a new Samsung phone uses voice recognition to convert speech into text.

However, some of the new features that mobile phones will offer look like being universally popular. Walk into the experimental coffee bar at the MIC's offices in Seoul, and the screen of a handset lights up with the menu. You can order two cappuccinos, pay electronically and receive a receipt, all on the handset. Mobile phones are already configured for some basic e-commerce activities such as downloading music, and in Asia a few can already be used to make some purchases in shops...
Remember the Palm Economy? Back then the PDA was going to be wallet, key, etc (using IR rather than radio). It came true in the end, but not for Palm, alas.

Koreans will be the first to give infants unique numbers based on some statistical property of their DNA, that shall be their lifelong digital signature and personal identifier ... (yes, of course, their phone number too).

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