Tech: Apple's iPhone 7 Causes Frenzy In South Korea -- Is Samsung's Hold Over Its Home Turf In Jeopardy?
Telecom stores and boutique electronics retailers across South Korea flooded with Apple fanatics all day Friday in hot pursuit of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, with lines of 200 at some of the biggest stores before opening hours.
At a telecom megastore in Seoul’s downtown Gwanghwamun, 25-year-old Yoo Byung-moon camped out for four days to be the first in the country to collect the most popular Apple phone in Korea yet, priced between 869,000 won and 1.28 million won (about $764-$1,125). Some reports estimated total sales at 300,000 units on opening day, whereas 10,000 units is considered a success in Korea.
Other loyal fans who were quick enough to preorder early picked up their phones in a calm, orderly manner. James Oh, who has a Galaxy S series for work and iPhone for personal use, was one of the thousands to book an iPhone when preorders opened last Friday. The three major telecoms reported record preorders, double the demand for the iPhone 6 and selling out as quickly as 15 minutes for 50,000 units.
“For many years I’ve been buying the newest iPhone,” says Oh, who waited seven hours for his iPhone 6 in 2014. This time he got lucky, strolling in and out of the Apple premium retailer Willy’s in minutes amid a steady stream of customers. “Today, I’m celebrating.”
After the iPhone 6 smashed records in South Korea as the best-selling foreign smartphone to peak at 33% market share, Apple’s latest launch is being closely watched on Samsung’s home turf for whether it can deliver a lasting blow when its global rival is down. Plagued with the unprecedented withdrawal of its faulty flagship Note 7 phablet, the world’s biggest smartphone-maker is struggling to get users to switch to its alternatives like the S7 and S7 Edge.
With plans to launch an Apple Storein the capital Seoul next year and a growing popularity among younger users, conditions are brewing for a perfect storm for the U.S. company to rip through Samsung’s die-hard loyal user base. Four in 10 twenty-somethings prefer its smartphone to Samsung’s lineup–even if they own a Galaxy, according to pollster Gallup Korea. Willy’s, the Apple retailer, told me that Galaxy Note 7 defectors made up 20% of its iPhone 7 preorders.
Apple held 17% of the market this summer, trailing Korea’s LG with 19%. And industry observers predict cheaper Chinese-made smartphones like Huawei’s H will soon start filling the crack in the market.
Nonetheless, the Note 7 fiasco will not loosen the hold of the country’s biggest conglomerate overnight in the Nation of Samsung. Despite the company’s flagship electronics unit cancelling the production of its once-glorified Note 7 on widespread faulty battery issues, fans enamored with the digital stylus, waterproofing and high-performance camera just don’t care about the possibility of the phone exploding.
“I looked at a lot of other phones before getting this one, and none of the others compared. The whole thing is super powerful,” says Matthew Parker, who owns a replacement Note 7 and says it heats up much less than the original. He would hang on until the Note 8 if it weren’t for the travel restrictions banning air passengers from carrying them onto U.S. flights.
“When I look at other big phones out there today, apart from the camera, my old Note 3 still beats them, so I’d be better off getting something like that and a credit for a new phone next year when there might be other stuff that competes with this,” continues Parker.
The smartphone-savvy older generation seems especially steadfast, with nearly six in 10 of those in their 50s preferring the Galaxy brand. Seoulite Oh Ye-won says her 62-year-old dad loves the phone’s stylus and big size, on top of Samsung’s unparalleled after-sales service. Now that the phablet’s software has been safeguarded to cap charging at 60%, he refuses to let go of the phone, betting against the minuscule odds that it will explode.
“I told my dad to go return it a few times, but he is always like, ‘Why? It is not a bomb,’” she says.