Lack of Games May Hurt iPhone Popularity
After enduring two years of industry bickering and circular policy debate, South Korean tech geeks can finally start their countdown for the local release of the iPhone, the planet's hottest electronic gadget.
However, it remains to be seen whether Apple's iconic handset will be able to deliver on the enormous expectations when local regulations could prevent users from downloading mobile games content from Apple's online software store.
Games account for more than 50 percent of Apple's revenue from its App Store, which enables users to download applications such as games, multimedia files and office software for their iPhone and iPod Touch devices for free or at a small cost.
However, Korean iPhone users will be blocked from accessing App Store's games category, at least at first, as local law requires all game content to be reviewed and approved by the state before being made commercially available.
App Store allows developers from all over the world to upload and sell their software products through its Web site, and waves of new programs, many of them games, are pushed through the gate each day.
Apparently, there is no possible way for Korea's Games Rating Board to screen and stamp every game at the App Store.
The absence of Apple's game services thus far hasn't kept iPod Touch from becoming the country's most popular portable multimedia player.
However, some industry watchers predict that the trouble over securing game content could compromise the relevance of Apple products in the future, when users expect their devices to be more than just fashion items.
``App Store is clearly the most distinctive competitive edge iPhone and iPod Touch have over other devices. It is expected that more phones will be released with Wi-Fi here and Korean Apple users have been complaining about having to reformat video files for use on iPod,'' said an official from Daum (www.daum.net), one of the many Internet companies currently devoted to converting their desktop offerings for use on iPhones.
``But, especially for non-English speakers who find little use of media applications, it remains to be seen how much App Store could matter when the availability of games is to be limited.''
Industry watchers worry that the country's restrictions on games would only encourage illegal activities by local developers looking to offer their products to iPhone users.
Not many individual developers or small companies could manage to spend the time and money required for the review process, and some developers are already beating the system by listing their games under App Store's entertainment category.
``All games that are commercially provided without consent from the Games Ratings Board are illegal. We know there are games provided from App Store's entertainment category and we are discussing how to approach them,'' said an official from the Games Ratings Board, although admitting the possibility of controversy over drawing a clear line between games and entertainment.
The Games Rating Board has been promising to improve its process, considering scrapping its current rules that allow only companies, not individual developers, to submit their products for review, and also shortening the reviewing process.
However, critics argue that the review-before-release concept could never be a good fit for Apple's App Store. At a time when Korean users can easily download games from foreign sites that the Games Ratings Board never managed to touch, some question whether the country's games review system is still relevant.
The success of Apple's App Store has other tech companies racing to produce me-too products.
Samsung Electronics, the world's biggest electronics maker, recently unveiled its online content market, while wireless carriers SK Telecom and KT, which will provide the iPhone locally by the end of the year, are also pushing their own versions of App Store.