Gigantic flat screens plastered across buildings along the major thoroughfares hide the fact that shoe shops are still set up on the subway stairs. Construction is everywhere. Subways are clean, efficient, and timed to the minute. Traffic is a nightmare. Women are more fashionably dressed than perhaps any other city. The culture of service is excellent and people will go far out of their way to assist you. The kimchi is incredible and comes in more varieties than I ever would have guessed. Tent bars sit side-by-side with elegant western restaurants. Korea is one of the most modern cities and yet still shows signs of a traditional and less prosperous past.
And the most modern cell phones in the world are in everyone’s hands…
The mobile phone industry is where Korea shines. The SK Telecom Tower with its elegant glass cubism facade dominates the skyline of one of the most trendy districts. You can pick up a $650 handset and watch satellite TV with a crystal sharp screen. LBS services have been in Korea since the 90’s and are far advanced….navigation, local search, traffic, people finding, all with beautiful interactive maps. Get into a taxi (one of the black ones, which cost twice as much as the silver) and you can follow your progress from the backseat on a bright LCD GPS display. However, despite the fact that Korea has some of the most advanced mobile services in the world, it’s interesting that the mass market audience consumes mostly the same stuff as elsewhere in the world: SMS, ringtones, ringback tones, wallpaper, games, and more recently television. The teens and young adults have yet to adopt the truly innovated services on a mass scale. Talk to someone in their early twenties, and these are the services they are using, with perhaps the addition of Cyworld.
The government is more heavily involved in regulating the mobile phone industry than the US. For example, phone subsides are closely regulated and kept to a minimum, due to anti-trust concerns.
Most significantly, my Motorola Q roamed in Korea, contradicting the unhelpful customer service person at Verizon who I had asked about this. Not only voice, but data roaming so I could synch with Exchange and surf the net. Interestingly, when I pulled up Google on my phone, it correctly detected I was in Korea and displayed a Korean language version.
Driving through the suburbs of Seoul, you can see why Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world. Apartment blocks are lined up one by one in close proximity. Apparently after the late 1990s economic crisis, Korea focused on IT as the industry to pull them out. If so, the strategy appears to be working.