09-21-2009 20:27
SK Telecom App Store Looks Disappointing

Models show an image of the SK Telecom-owned content downloading store T-Store. The initial response from mobile phone users and bloggers toward the content center has been meager, raising worries over marketability.
/ Korea Times

By Kim Tong-hyung
Staff Reporter

The massive success of Apple's ``App Store'' for its iPhone and iPod Touch devices has gadget makers and wireless operators around the world flooding the scene with ``me-too'' products.

However, as with real-life shopping outlets, not all online software stores are as good as each other, and in revealing its own version of App Store, SK Telecom only showed that it is no Apple.

Following months of massive anticipation, SK Telecom unveiled its ``T-Store'' online store last week. Unfortunately, the initial response from mobile users and bloggers was downright harsh, with the potential buzz project turning into a public relations disaster.

The biggest complaint is that the applications listed on T-Store could not be downloaded through computers or Wi-Fi connections, but only through SK Telecom's third-generation (3G) mobile data network, which has been ignored by a larger part of users because of expensive rates.

Users who are not subscribed to SK Telecom's fixed-rate data plans will have to pay for 3G network usage on a per-packet basis, not a great option as the company charges 3.5 won per kilobyte.

So downloading the 1,349-kilobyte ``2009 Pro Baseball'' mobile game, one of the most popular programs made available on T-Store, will cost users nearly 5,000 won for network usage, in addition to paying 3,000 won for the game itself.

The mobile version of ``Blue Marble,'' a ``Monopoly'' imitation, will cost users about 4,000 won to download, although the game itself is provided for free.

Downloading software bigger than 2 or 3 megabytes may easily cost the user around 10,000 won.

Also there is not much content to spend money on either. The company claims that T-Store has more than 6,500 programs to buy, but aside from the 130 games and some 100 other information-related programs, most of the applications are music, video files or cartoons.

``SK Telecom letting mobile users browse T-Store content on their computers or through Wi-Fi connections, but not download them, shows the company's lack of understanding and commitment in creating new user experiences. The company managed to kill all the excitement over T-Store in a single day,'' said a blogger on Naver (www.naver.com), the country's most visited Web site.

``SK Telecom is clearly showing that it will use T-Store merely as a tool for gathering more subscribers for their fixed-rate data services, rather than improving the smart phone experience of their users,'' read another online post.

``This is a company that has no knowledge about creating new value and experiences, as it fails to plan for the future beyond the next quarter and is obsessed with counting each and every penny that comes their way.''

Bombarded with criticism, SK Telecom said that it would eventually allow users to download the T-Store programs through Wi-Fi, after completing its security measures to reduce the risks of identity theft. The company also claims that WIPI, the homegrown mobile application standard for data-enabled phones that had been mandated by the government until April this year, is designed to prevent handsets from downloading content through computers.

SK Telecom, although Korea's biggest mobile-phone carrier with a 50-percent-plus market share, has been struggling to keep growth alive in a country with more handsets than heads.

With the voice market saturated, getting more data revenue is critical for SK Telecom, which is also facing increasing government pressure to lower the consumer prices for its voice services.

Mobile carriers like SK Telecom and its bitter industry rival, KT, would love to get more return on their massive 3G investment, but their expensive data rates have so far prevented the mobile Internet explosion from happening.

Despite increasing complaints, the carriers have not shown seriousness in diversifying their monthly data offerings and making them more affordable to the average consumer.

And in unveiling T-Store, SK Telecom is showing that it is more interested in stiff-arming its users into using its 3G network rather than expanding their options.

SK Telecom has also been notorious for forcing handset makers to exclude Wi-Fi capabilities in the devices provided to carriers, alarmed by the idea of users opting for cheaper Internet services rather than relying on its 3G network.

Although the expanding use of ``smart'' phones, which provide Web browsing and multimedia features atop of voice, would perhaps make it inevitable for the carriers to allow Wi-Fi on their handsets, the companies are concerned that the free Internet capabilities would eventually result in voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) calls on the handsets, compromising their voice revenue.