While South Korea’s Samsung has made headlines around the world for its smartphone innovations and global market share, the content and app developers from the ‘hermit kingdom’ are yet to become as widely popular.
Startups from Korea hope to change that perception, with support from the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) and the National ICT Industry Promotion Agency (NIPA). Over a dozen startups featured in the South Korea pavilion called 'Smart Content' at the App Planet of the Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona.
According to data from Strategy Analytics, South Korea's smartphone ownership will reach 88.9 percent by 2017 – and this will transform the way Koreans work, play and live, with potential impacts in other parts of the world as well. South Korea is estimated to be the third largest app market in the world in terms of revenue, after the US and Japan.
Here is my pick of Korea’s notable startups at the Mobile World Congress, divided into three categories: learning, networking and productivity (see also my earlier article on Spain’s startup showcase).
I. Learning and Edutainment
iPorfolio’s mission is to deliver apps through fusing contents and social network into its platform. iPortfolio focuses on two vertical industries, Travel and ELT (English Language Teaching). The name Travelloon comes from ‘Travel’ + ‘Speech Balloon.’ 29 of its Travel Guide apps were selected as Best of 2012 in the App Store, and iPortfolio’s Spindle Books platform has been selected as the e-textbook platform for Oxford University Press, the largest university press in the world.
Little Detectives (Publ Studio)
Little Detectives delivers educational content in a story-based form. Users can accompany three friends on their quest to unveil a mystery by helping them solve a variety of puzzles and games. The problem-solving games cover activities such as finding hidden items, solving clues in maps and observing patterns. The startup specialises in appbook creations, mobile gaming contents, and smart platforms. The team consists of strategic artists and creative programmers. The products are mobile and social media enabled, and the company has recently tied up with Rovio (of Angry Birds fame).
Original K-Pop Dance (Wazzle Entertainment)
Gangnam style and K-Pop have been taking the world by storm. With inputs from original choreographers, mobile users can learn what it takes to dance with the K-Pop stars. Lessons
are served via IOS, Android, Smart TV and Web streaming. The company aims to become the world’s leading platform for K-Pop and street dance learning. It includes lessons, dance competitions and a training centre. The games are currently available in English, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese and Spanish.
Kids World (Bluepin)
The Kids World app portal provides qualified educational contents for children to develop well-rounded abilities, emotional intelligence, creativity and language skills. It won the ‘Apple App Store Best of 2013’ award in December 2013. Elements include a theme park that provides various types of educational contents developed with widely loved local and global characters. It has lined up a roster of partners such as McGraw-Hill, English Club TV and Smart Phonics.
Ghost World (Pinkdolphin)
Ghost World offers motion comics-based edutainment content. It features hundreds of intriguing stories of ghosts from around the world. The app allows readers to engage in virtual experiences by becoming part of the animation story as a character. The company blends apps with other offerings such as books, animations, games, toys, stationery and writing tools. Products are available in English, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.
II. Social networking
FANme is an interest-based social curation service, which helps users tag favourites, chat about them, share interests and discover new interests. Through trending functions, members can see and track other people’s latest interests and trends. The service is available in Korean English, Chinese and Japanese. At present, close to a million users have signed up, and the service claims it can weed out spam content which plagues many other social networks.
ToonTalk (I-ON Communications)
ToonTalk is a cartoon-based mobile chatting messenger app which goes beyond traditional text messages by adding visual cartoon effects and characters for communication of users’ feelings. The company has established itself in the US, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia as well. The use of cartoons helps creates storytelling experiences that are more immersive than traditional online conversations.
Visume (Easyworks universe)
Visume is a mobile social network for portfolio sharing and talent recruiting among the creative community. It allows artists and designers to show off their creative work by creating profiles and showcasing professional experience along with educational background. It won the Qualcomm Q-Prize in June 2012. Targeted fields include graphic design, photography, illustration, fashion, photography, web design, UI/UX and digital art.
Kamon TV plays high definition 360-degree images on smart devices. The playback engine allows users to watch rich video content in full interactive mode. The company has developed its own players called 360 Hybrid Player for all devices. Advanced offerings include the ability to shoot 360-degree movies on smartphones and cameras. Targeted content includes drama, sports, news, entertainment and documentaries.
Polaris Office Link (INFRAWARE)
Office Link is a cloud office service that allows users to share documents at anytime, from anywhere and continuously work on them via mobile devices. It is compatible with the Microsoft Office suite, allowing viewing and editing of Office documents on mobiles. A related offering is Polaris Meeting, which supports efficient meetings, collaboration and fast decision-making. Together, the mobile products speed up teamwork and co-creation processes.
App Generator is a conversion service which allows app developers or app providers to automatically convert their Android apps to Tizen apps without additional development or customising efforts. Related offerings include App Verifier (test functions and detect errors or malfunctions) and App Inspector (security scans for harmful code such as viruses and information disclosing code), before the app is registered with the App Store.
Golden Ears (Accudio)
Golden Ears scientifically measures sound quality of electronic devices and fixes audio problems in order to improve the listening experience. It provides reviews on its website, with more than 500,000 visitors visiting the site every month to access the audio database of more than 500 models of earphones and headphones. Its products include Accudio headphones, which claim to be as effective as other high range models but at a much lower cost.
ColorNote (Social & Mobile)
Social & Mobile is a mobile application company with focus on providing productivity apps in the global market. The startup was founded in 2008 and its apps have been downloaded over 80 million times worldwide. ColorNote, the flagship product, has been a highly popular notepad app which hit the milestone of 50 million downloads in the Google Play Store. Colour highlighting, reminders, backups, synchs and cloud services are other features of the product. Over 90% of its users are outside Korea, and come largely from the US, Canada, Spain, Germany, Norway, and Singapore.
ShareOn Video & Audio (SPIKA)
Spika is a provider of Cloud and embedded solutions for rich media content, including remote media players. Consumers on long commutes can use their mobiles to watch videos stored on their desktops, through a Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G connections with ShareOn Video. ShareOn Audio is a Wi-Fi music player for Android; transferring files to users’ Android devices for playback is no longer necessary with this player. The startup won the TechCrunch Shanghai 2013 award for Most Popular App.