Korea Telecom announced Google's Nexus One (HTC on Android FroYo) for June 2010.
Since Samsung preempted the green android territory and even protected the brand for handsets*, KT will have to find a different angle.
June, World Cup, Frozen Yoghurt... expect something fresher for this smartphone / app phone. Patbingsu style.
KT claimed its 700,000th iPhone sold in May, and boosted wireless data traffic by 17.5 in Q1 2010 vs Q1 2009. Q2 should be much more impressive as smartphones rise on track with 5M units sold by EOY 2010.
And 3D TV is becoming a reality (also on time for the FIFA World Cup), 3D is bound to pop up on Korean mobile phones as soon as possible. It's a matter of pride for Samsung and LG, it's also a priority for local authorities who are planning the country for very very high speed broadband.
That's for 2013. But mobile network capacity will become critical much earlier, even with LTE, and Korea's dominant operators (SKT and KT) are intensifying their aggressive race for WiFi hotspots.
* see "KT claims 500,000 iPhones"
Korea Telecom announced Google's Nexus One (HTC on Android FroYo) for June 2010.
At Google I/O 2010, developpers were offered Frozen Yoghurt and a nice cartoon. FroYo is Android 2.2's nickname, the cartoon an introduction of Google TV* :
Nothing disruptive here. The message to developpers ? Come join our ecosystem, dig this Sony screen, check that Logitech box and wireless keyboard (and you haven't seen our Google Tablet yet), hear that Intel inside jingle from our teevee, enjoy these Android apps, enhance your tube with YouTube, watch those flicks on Jinni.com, see how this Flash animation rocks... We don't do Jobs, we do our job, folks.
As Andy Rubin, VP, Engineering, put it in Google's most elaborate backpedaling announcement ever, "innovation requires constant iteration".
I can't wait to see the next iteration of such innovative PR.
A few months ago, when Google was trumpeting online distribution for its Nexus One, I pointed out that "Google are not into distribution, IRL.*" This operation was bound to fail : not only because this is not Big G's trade, but also because Big G cannot grow bigger in every single dimension without endangering its own stability, including from a regulator's point of view. Furthermore, yes, "it's clear that many customers like a hands-on experience before buying a phone, and they also want a wide range of service plans to chose from".
So the only questions were "when" and "how". When would Google stop this joke ? The answer is today. For the "where", the official Google Blog was the natural channel. Now I really loved the "how" they did it :
- Google is not stopping online sales : "Nexus One changes in availability"
- Google is not abandonning independence : it offers "more retail availability" and is going to be "working with partners"
- Google is not closing its online store : "we'll stop selling handsets via the web store, and will instead use it as an online store window", and we even call this innovation "from retail to viewing".
Now it takes guts to deliver such a pitch without guffawing. Google probably learned that skill from Chinese authorities.
* "Google Phone At Hand. No Kindling."
SK Telecom and The Walt Disney Company announced during the Seoul Digital Forum a 51/49 JV meant "to Launch Korean-Language Disney Channels in South Korea"*.
Already available in Korea, Disney Channel and Playhouse Disney Channel will develop local content and diversify to new platforms (HD multiplex, SD over cable, IPTV...). Once okayed by the Korea Communications Commission, this partnership shall bear fruits next year.
Disney picked a strong partner : more than a leading operator, SKT is a multimedia and technology powerhouse, a local major with a tradition for exclusive, premium, and even in-house contents. The main question is : will actual innovations come out of this partnership and be rolled out internationally ?
In the common press release, SK Telecom's President and CEO Man-won Jung seems in the mood for this kind of love : "The joint venture with Disney carries significant meaning, especially considering the business environment of nowadays where customers consume content not only through television, but through an array of devices including mobile handsets, laptop computers, and tablet PCs. In the future, by forging a close strategic alliance with Disney, we hope to create more opportunities between the two parties."
But Andy Bird, Chairman, Walt Disney International centers the scope around the consumer and Korean local market : "South Korea is one of the most exciting digital media markets in the world. Disney's creativity and innovative content, combined with SK Telecom's leading global expertise in digital media and telecommunications, present a unique offering that meets the growing consumer appetite for quality family entertainment where and when they want it".
Disney has always been a follower in new technologies, embracing them once they've been proven robust, absorbing an expert if necessary. Even if SKT were to fail in altering this tradition, this majority stake definitely confirms its expertise and success as a media, far from its original trade.
* "SK Telecom and The Walt Disney Company Announce Intent to Form a joint Venture to Launch Korean-Language Disney Channels in South Korea" (SK Telecom Press Release - 20100512)
In interviews to the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg*, two Verizon Wireless execs confirmed the carrier's discussions with Google to launch a tablet running on Android OS.
The absence of such discussions would have been surprising.
Verizon and Google will probably accelerate TTM for one manufacturer, very much the way they did with Motorola for Android handsets, and together they have enough power and motivation to close the gap.
Close the gap ? For Verizon Wireless, tablet TTM is definitely less important than LTE TTM, and recent LTE trials in Boston seem to confirm this sense of emergency. VZW can not only remove its CDMA-GSM handicap vs AT&T, but also enjoy a temporary competitive edge when its Texan rivals struggle with capacity issues (partly courtesy Apple). Likewise, tablets and other devices will be less critical than the ecosystems behind : AT&T may or may not keep its exclusivity with Apple for the iPhone until 2012, it still managed to open up to both the Kindle and the iPad. V wants more control on the value chain than pipe filling, and on a more sustainable basis ? Time to prove it.
Close the gap ? I never considered the key race to be between Apple and Google. Mountain View is more aiming at Redmond's throat than at Cupertino's. Yes, Apple the manufacturer is succeeding where Nokia the manufacturer failed, in trade diversification**, but Apple will never enjoy Nokia's record market shares. Yes, Apple played the role of an accelerator for existing usages and business models (ie didn't invent smartphones nor app stores), but Google can go much further and not just because, as expected, it's pushing Android ahead on handsets : Google can literally become a category killer for the wealthiest players around in the telecom and software industries. Operators know it, Microsoft knows it. A success of Google's instant cloud scratchers on bigger screens represent a much bigger disruption than the iPad itself (not really a game changer in the global ecosystem).
* "Verizon, Google Developing iPad Rival" (WSJ) / "Google, Verizon in Talks About a Rival to Apple's iPad" (Bloomberg)
** OK, Nokia has gone a long way from timber
I've been expecting a lot from Korea's leading portals Naver and Daum*, but so far, they've not exactly revolutionized mobile internet. For instance, they've only recently set a timid foot into mobile advertising**.
To their credit, it's hard to get a slice of the wireless pie consistent with their impressive web portal market share, even after the implementation of USIM cards, which undermined Korean MNO's lock on handsets, and even after the rise of smartphone apps, which also weakened their positions on the value chain.
According to KoreanClick, #1 NHN / Naver controls 63% of the portal market (31 M Unique Visitors for Naver.com in April 2010) and #2 Daum 21% (28.9 M UV), but #3 Nate (10% MS, 24.7 M UV) can leverage on key enablers provided by owner SK Telecom : the leading cellco, already a quadplay giant, has always put a lot of importance on Location Based Services and financial enablers.
That focus has become even more evident with the creation of the Hana Bank - SKT JV (see "SK Telecom's Wild Hana Card"), confirmed by the first services earlier this year***. The recently rebranded Hana SK Card targets 400 to 500,000 cardholders by EOY 2010.
SKT has also been redefining the "mobile wallet" concept over the past few weeks : leveraging on Visa PayWave radio frequency technology, the "T Smart Pay" (always that "T" umbrella brand of SKT's) concept allows the consumer to monitor up to 8 credit cards, 30 mileage / point cards, and 50 coupons with the same '13.56MHz RF SIM' card (always that "technerdy" trend of SKT's), to the risk of storing all your most critical information on one single device. Each time you present it for a contactless payment, you're proposed the choice between all registered cards.
Of course, Hana SK Card holders can also enjoy a simplified UI :
Here, SKT almost acts like a Mobile Virtual Banking Operator roaming on tens of rival networks and helping the consumer make the most of each buck, picking the best provider depending on the store, account status, promotion... Needless to say that this entry point will be massively exploited for contextual offers : ever since NATE Coupons, SK Telecom has been a major innovator in couponing and in July, SKT will launch 'L-commerce', a new set of Location Based Services bound to confirm the return of its mojo.
About ten years ago, I was impressed by how deep this player ventured into new trades like media or banking. Since then, SK Telecom didn't fully succeed overseas as a classic mobile operator, and at one moment lost some appeal as the marketing king at home, but lately, it seems to be experiencing a revival. Even telematics are back in fashion (SKT MIV / Mobile in Vehicle).
Note that on the more traditional battlefield, SK confirmed 8 more Android handsets by EOY (see "SK Telecom pushes Android"), and KT remains the most likely guess for the iPad exclusivity : Apple's latest gizmo is being approved for import, and TriGem, Samsung, and LG will suffer from a minimized delay before their own tablets****.
* see "KT claims 500,000 iPhones"
** "Daum rolls out mobile advertising network" (JoongAng Daily 20100511)
*** see "Wal-Mart's Vudu Trance - home entertainment and apps"
**** see "Samsung S Pad in a Flash"
LG and Samsung are rumored to launch their answers to the iPad during the second half of the year. Fellow Korean TriGem will shoot first (end of H1).
Samsung's S-Pad is expected to run on 3G (SK Telecom) and Wi-Fi, and on an Android OS, providing a bigger playground for Flash, which remains banned on Apple's iPad (to cheer them up, Google offered Adobe execs a couple of Android phones).
Repositioned as an editor, Apple has a right to decide what it considers entertainment or education, what fits its editorial line. But it should be careful not to position itself as AOL did against the world wide web. Apple wouldn't want to suffer from an AOL syndrome.