Competition is heating up between Samsung, LG, Pantech and Apple as one after the other have unveiled new flagship models. Apple will launch the iPhone 5S and 5C in Korea on Oct. 25, the last of the big four to the market here.
Apple and Pantech are rank outsiders in Korea, where Samsung and LG hold an 85 percent share.
◆ New Models
The companies will be competing with two models each. For the first time, Apple is rolling out a mid-priced smartphone, the iPhone 5C, along with the premium 5S. The strategy has worked elsewhere so far, with nine million iPhone 5Cs sold in just three days since the release in September.
Korean phone makers are betting on larger phones and gimmicks to gain a competitive edge. Samsung released the Galaxy Note 3 and LG the View 3 last month. Pantech launched the Secret Note last week. All are halfway between a phone and a tablet PC in size.
Samsung, which controls 70 percent of the Korean smartphone market, is the most innovative player, releasing a curved smartphone called Galaxy Round and the Galaxy Gear “smartwatch.”
LG hopes to fight back by releasing its own curved phone next month called G Flex.
The focus is on how Apple and Pantech will fare in the Korean market, but industry watchers believe the iPhone craze of a few years ago will not repeat itself. Apple decided to keep the iPhone 5S and 5C's screens the same size as previous models at 4 inches. "Many Korean customers prefer big screens and feel the iPhone's is too small," said a telecom staffer.
Apple had around 10 percent of the Korean smartphone market until last year, but now its share has fallen to around five or six percent. The U.S. company has been slower than its rivals in rolling out new models, and hordes of customers have switched to the cheaper Galaxy S3 and S4s.
But Apple's new iOS7 operating system has received rave reviews, and mutli-colored phones could appeal to consumers. The gold iPhone 5S has been a sensation around the world, while the iPhone 5C is available in 30 different color combinations.
Pantech's attempt at a comeback is also being watched closely. The smartphone maker hopes to return to the black in the fourth quarter of this year. But although it boasts superior technology, it has the weakest brand power among the four companies and has set the price of phones around W100,000 (US$1=W1,072) lower than those of its rivals.
Despite their lower official price tag, Pantech smartphones often proved more expensive than those of Samsung or LG, which were offered at heavy discounts by mobile carriers.