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Secrets behind Korea’s global app dominance: Local developers work hard to create products that are easy to use and don’t take up much space

Oct 02,2019
Face Gill, a 20-year-old Australian currently residing in Seoul, is fully immersed in the culture of Korea. Most of all, she loves to cook Korean food for her acquaintances. She actively chooses to surround herself with Korean culture and products, but she just learned that she’s been using a smartphone app developed by a Korean company.

“Is this app really made in Korea?” She asked while pointing to ColorNote, an app that is installed on her smartphone, produced by developer Social and Mobile.

Gill has been using the notepad app for two years simply because it is easy to use and doesn’t take up much space.

While the average notepad app is usually over 20 megabytes in size, ColorNote is merely 3.26 megabytes.

ColorNote is offered in 31 languages, including Arabic and Hebrew, and it is available in 230 countries.

However, ColorNote is not the only Korean app taking the globe by storm.

Smart Study’s Pinkfong Shark Family app is also extremely popular. About 99 percent of its users reside outside of Korea thanks to the immense popularity of the Baby Shark song on YouTube.

The clip, in which a baby shark and its entire family is introduced one after another, has earned more than 3.4 billion views as of this month.

The app offers nursery rhymes, songs, simple games and coloring activities for preschoolers.

The Pinkfong Shark Family tops the education category in many countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain.

Left: Pinkfong characters. Right: Pinkfong Shark Family app is hugely popular outside the country. According to Smart Study, the app’s developer, about 99 percent of its users are non-Koreans. Women clad in hijab act out the lyrics of the Baby Shark song on YouTube. The Baby Shark song is the killer content created by Smart Study. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
When Pinkfong held a concert in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in June 2018, more than 100,000 people were in attendance.

Na Hye-yeon, from the public relations team at Google Korea, said, “Pinkfong enjoys tremendous popularity around the world. The company has created this killer content of a baby shark and expanded its business based on the content into the app market.”

OGQ Backgrounds is also on the list of the most downloaded apps at Google Play.

The app functions as a platform in which amateur and professional artists upload their creations and put them up for sale while users look through a list of background wallpapers under various categories and purchase the ones they wish to download.

The app had been downloaded 120 million times by 2017. It is available in 190 countries and has 100 million visitors per month on average.

The app has developed into a social app where about 2.5 million artists are connected with their consumers by sharing images, illustrations and music, according to OGQ Corporation.

Mobizen, which was developed by Korean company Rsupport, has a firm footing in the overseas market.

The app enables users to record everything that happens on their screens and 94 percent of its downloads come from overseas.

“It’s not popular in certain countries, [but where it is available,] it is especially popular among teenagers and men in their 20s regardless of nationalities. They want to record [the games they play] and show it to others around them,” said an official from Rsupport who didn’t want to be identified.

Mobizen has been downloaded 100 million times and it is often recommended as a must-have app among mobile game users.

The app is especially popular in Brazil, where 15 percent of its users are located.

Korean apps are hugely popular in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and South America, where K-pop is widely consumed.

That is where Malang Studio has found its success. It developed an alarm clock app called AlarmMon. The app has added voices of K-pop stars such as Winner, Oh My Girl and GFriend, so that its users are able to select their favorite stars’ voice as an alarm.

A strong focus on localization strategies is what many Korean apps cite as the reason for their success.

For instance, Malang Studio carried a focus group interview among foreign students to see how their apps would be used by non-Koreans prior to their launch.

The company received feedback for its alarm clock app and added prayer times for users in Muslim countries.

KineMaster, a mobile video editor, offers different editing effects depending on the market.

Kim Jong-deuk, the executive director at KineMaster Corporation, said, “In India, they love to edit their video clips [to look] like a film. We provide timely discounts and launch special editing effects during some local festival periods.”

The company’s localization strategy was a success and the app has been downloaded more than 100 million times so far, many of them in India.

JP Brothers, the company that produces the filter app Candy Camera, releases different filters depending on the country. For example, users in the Middle East and India prefer what is known as beauty filters, which makes faces appear brighter. Candy Camera takes up relatively less space on people’s phone compared to similar apps.

Polaris Office, an app made by Infraware, has also found success outside the country. The app allows any type of document to be viewed on a smartphone, from Word to Excel to PowerPoint to PDF to even Hangul Office, a word processor widely used by Korean public organizations.

Out of its 90 million subscribers worldwide, 85 percent of them are outside of Korea. Even in the United States, where Microsoft dominates the market, Polaris Office has 29 percent of the market share.

Over the course of developing the app, Infraware reportedly spent more than 50 million won ($42,000) on translation alone.

Another feature of the Polaris Office is its relatively small size, which allows it to work well on budget smartphones with low specifications.

“It’s hard to install an app that is bigger than 200 megabytes on many of the smartphones produced in [Southeast Asia], so we tried to make ours smaller than 50 megabytes. We see it as the secret to our success,” said an official working at Infraware.

BY JEONG MI-RI [estyle@joongang.co.kr]



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