Eric Schmidt’s visit to Korea was significant for more than just his gallop dance with Psy, eye-catching though it may have been. I can’t remember the last time an overseas product with worldwide profile was launched here by a Chairman/CEO (actually I do: it was Satoru Iwata with the Nintendo Wii), but the announcement of Nexus 7’s release, unexpected and unanticipated, has taken people by genuine surprise.
One snippet of news that seems surprising but isn’t however is that Korea is the second biggest downloader of Android apps. It’s the land where the twin dragons of Samsung and LG roam, and such is the hold they have on the media and the public in general that Android has established the kind of dominance that isn’t found anywhere else. Even accounting for the rampant piracy of apps on Google’s platform, Korea is a significant market.
The timing of the announcement, and the rapidity with which Nexus 7 is actually landing in stores, has caught many unawares. Even when Schmidt was in Japan a few days ago going through the same process, there was no inkling, no leaks, no speculation about the launch here. This was very stealthy, although I’m not sure whether that wasn’t because the Korean tech media are a slothful bunch who just parrot out what the big companies feed them.
In any case, this is a pleasant contrast to Apple’s approach in the country regarding content. More than anything else, the Nexus 7 release is a clear sign that Google is serious about selling content in Korea. Already the Google Play Store is localized and servicing movies, books as well as apps. The Android apps market has for years seen increasing fragmentation, with the telecoms – SK and KT – offering their own app markets and working to obviate Google Play. Nexus 7 is a nice way of reminding consumers that Google is the gatekeeper in Korea’s favourite mobile ecosystem, as well as a compelling tablet solution in a rare market where iPad is not a foregone conclusion. Samsung’s far-reaching influence means that Korea is one of the only countries where the Galaxy Tabs can compete with Apple’s offering, and Nexus 7, with its 7-inch profile, superior specs and cheaper price will cause a big wave whichever way you look at it.
Going back to the point about content, Apple has still not opened its iTunes Store in Korea, so no music, no movies/dramas for millions of iPhone/iPad/iPod users. It’s understandable: you can buy 40 individual music tracks for less than 5 bucks, drama episodes are free to watch on TV channels’ websites after a short while, and of course there’s the rampant piracy. Google has adjusted, though, with the local conditions, because if you look on the Korean Google Play website movies are rentable for about a dollar. Another nice touch is that Google is making a grab for local e-book market, by pricing various books very reasonably, and also making comics available as well. No one has yet established a leading position on e-books in Korea – Interpark is offering app solutions, Kyobo Books came out with an e-book reader that was laughably overpriced, iriver characteristically released a reader without (at first) viable content solution – so Google can score a real win in this regard.
So the Nexus 7 release is a very welcome news, for many reasons. Consumer response has so far been very decent, with the first round of pre-orders already sold out (admittedly it was a batch of 2,000 units). Again, Korea is a tablet market that is much more open-minded than others, and without a Kindle Fire-esque rival, Nexus 7 is the cheapest big-name product in the field. The media and many prosumers love to champion Android for whatever reason, so it will be interesting to see whether Nexus 7 is a success – if it is, it will bear their claims out; if not, then there may be other reasons why Android is popular in Korea.