Daum Kakao, Google Campus... Korean platforms on steroids

Yesterday, Daum and Kakao Corp announced that they would merge on October 1st, and Google that its first Google Campus in Asia would be located in Seoul.

The Daum Kakao merger looks rather defensive: before everything, it creates a stronger competitor to NHN, the leader operating among others the main rivals to Daum and Kakao Talk: Naver and LINE.

NHN and Daum are rare exceptions as successful newcomers in a country where start-ups struggle to survive in an ecosystem dominated by chaebols: as soon as a new gem shows some potential, the big fishes try to eat it, or to destroy it with me-toos leveraging on in-house countless entry points, or to control it by becoming its sole 'partner'. 

NHN and Daum could storm the web at the turn of the millennium, when mobile operators where busy building proprietary environments, and other chaebol focusing as usual on hardware. They built competitive platforms that even resisted Google, who only managed to gain strongholds in Korea thanks to Android. Typically, even if Naver maintains its leadership in web searches, Google could 'crowd-boost' Google Maps or Google Translate, with the help of smartphone manufacturers who were too happy to have a platform rivaling Apple to care about the hidden costs.

As we've said before, Samsung and LG helped Google BtoB (OEM) succeed where Google BtoC (portal) failed, and all they can do now is send a Tizen to nibble at the heavyweight champion's ears. 

There's a finite space for major value aggregators in Korea, and as Samsung's latest attempt to build a sustainable platform beyond hardware, Tizen probably accelerated the need for rivals to stretch their reach.

Big G needed to beef up its Asian ecosystem and Korea seems the perfect choice: Android rules, start-ups need competitive platforms to survive chaebol bullies, and Mountain View has the opportunity to weaken some of its most serious competitors on their own turf. Bonus: by supporting Korea's SME and creative ecosystem, you gain the favors of local authorities and regulators.

Anyway, good news for Korea's attractiveness... but yet higher entry barriers for potential major newcomers.

ADDENDUM 20140828: let's guess which 'independent' whistleblower suggested Korean watchdog to investigate Kakao Corp in the wake of the merger ("Kakao under probe for allegedly abusing market power: sources")

mot-bile 2014


Freebies in? Mojo out!

If you're a frequent flyer on these miserable errlines (believe me, I feel your pain), you've been prepared years ahead for Apple's and Samsung's troubles.

The Apple case is very simple: Cupertino lost the leadership in smartphones the day they decided not to open their platforms to other manufacturers. You can't beat manufacturers and users demographics, and the Android community was bound to catch up very quickly.

For Samsung, the "Nokia Syndrom" hits a leader that can't cover all bases when commoditization strikes. It's not how far you stretch in today's range of products, but how deep you stretch into tomorrow's value chains. Nokia kept churning out great stuff from its research centers, yet didn't convert them into innovations because the leadership forgot to focus on innovation itself. Samsung is very much aware of the need to extend its leadership into fields more sustainable than hardware design, but that's easier said than done (Bada? Tizen?). And as smartphones become commodities, it's getting harder to differentiate from Chinese or Indian players that can themselves sell massively and invest massively in research (Xiaomi, Micromax... Motorolax?).

If plummeting market shares are only sanctions from the market, giving away freebies remains the ultimate sign that a leader is losing its mojo. Significantly, the freebies that signaled the end of the race for innovation leadership came in the form of cash for shareholders (see "Apple - the end of the affair"). Samsung chose to bribe endusers instead, by giving away gifts across Southeast Asia markets (see "" - WSJ 20140811). 

A quick fix before the next big hit. Maybe the Galaxy Note 4 next month, supposedly a LG G3 killer that could come in flat and curve versions, and preferably unbuzz the upcoming Apple iPhone 6.

But again*, we're talking Fall/Winter collections here, not game changers.

mot-bile 2014

* remember "Apple's Ready to Ware v. Fast-Fashion"?

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