[FORUM]The mobile phone revolutionThis year’s college entrance exam was marred by a wave of cheating with test takers using mobile phones to exchange text messages. The incident serves to show how advanced our country is in our use of telecommunication. It has become news abroad as well that more than 200 million text messages were sent in Korea during the college exam. Foreigners might ask if all we do is send text messages.
Behind the message phenomenon are people of amazing dexterity and a capacity to absorb information technology at record speed. A recent study showed that Korean middle and high school students send an average of 53 text messages every day.
Some of the students involved in the cheating reportedly had even developed a kind of Morse code using the dial tone of the mobile phones. From purely the point of information technology, this is state of the art.
Koreans are some of the world’s most sophisticated and savvy consumers of 21st century digital ware such as mobile phones, digital cameras and MP3 players. Web sites related to these products are constantly bombarded with product reviews and consumer demands. The demand for new functions is so strong that Korea is the only country in the world where a new mobile phone model is born almost every day.
Such an environment is propelling information technology industries from the United States and Europe to set up research centers in Korea. If your telecommunication gadgets are viewed favorably by Korean consumers, you can sell them anywhere in the world.
The reason Samsung, LG and Pantech, along with its affiliate Curitel Communications, the three major Korean mobile phone makers, are taking on the world today with such force is because of enthusiastic domestic consumers. Because these companies had to work so hard to meet the demands of the world’s savviest consumers, the level of their technology and product design is among the highest in the world.
This year’s records show that mobile phones have overtaken semiconductors last month to become Korea’s number one export product in the information technology field.
In the third quarter this year, Samsung Electronics became the world’s number two mobile phone maker, following Nokia. LG Electronics is the world’s biggest exporter of videophones and the fifth overall largest phone maker. Pantech is expected to become the sixth largest phone maker in the world next year and one out of two mobile phones that will be sold in the United States next year is expected to be Korean.
The first five-megapixel camera phone was developed by Samsung. Samsung and LG produced the first digital multi-broadcasting phones in the world this year and are expected to lead this market. The three major Korean phone makers are expected to sell over 200 million phones and take 30 percent of the global market next year. The sophisticated design of Korean mobile phones make them welcome even in Italy, a country known for fashion and design.
There is even more good news. While Korea leads the mobile phone market, mobile phones are no longer merely phones. Following an all-in-one trend, phones now integrate other functions and act not only as cameras, MP3 players, television, a wireless Internet and game players but also as Internet search engines, electronic dictionaries, a geographical information providers, financial service providers, credit cards, shopping and reservation services, health and personal information maintenance services, certificate issuers, job search engines and even karaoke machines.
Mobile phones will continue to evolve. Pantech has recently developed a mobile phone model that acts as a remote control for a comprehensive household network. Soon, we will be seeing mobile phones that have virtual screens and keyboards as big as conventional monitor screens and keyboards. By that time, personal computers could be replaced by mobile phones that allow us to watch television and read the newspaper and surf the Internet. Voice recognition technology in mobile phones is developing by the day, and one day we might not even need keyboards anymore. Research is already taking place with mobile phones so that they can serve as interpretation machines for foreign languages.
The country that leads the mobile phone technology will lead in improving human lives and at the same time acquire great national wealth. The mobile phone is the biggest present that the year 2004 has given to Korea.
In order to take advantage of this gift, Koreans must continue “badgering” our mobile phone makers to become even better. Pour out your suggestions and complaints, if you have any. Let us consumers raise up several world-class mobile phone makers with our own hands. Let not the buyer beware but the mobile phone companies be aware of the buyer.
* The writer is a deputy managing editor in charge of digital news of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Il