Public anticipation for version 5 and complaints about some functions are key reasons
Phil Schiller, senior vice president of Apple, discusses the new iPhone 4S at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., in this file photo. / Korea Times
By Kim Yoo-chul
The iPhone frenzy in Korea may be fading as consumers reject Apple’s iPhone 4S for hardware-related problems and opting for handsets that support Long Term Evolution (LTE).
SK Telecom and KT, the local authorized sellers of the Apple phones have received order cancellations and actual sales of the Apple devices remain low, according to officials familiar with the matter.
This is in contrast to the United States, which marked over 4 million sales within three days of the phone’s release.
SK Telecom and KT have reportedly reached 300,000 in combined sales of the new Apple handset after pre-orders opened weeks ago with unexpectedly high traffic temporarily causing the companies’ websites to crash at one point.
``That’s not true. The actual sales were below 150,000. As people made pre-orders with both SK Telecom and KT, as well as a certain local carrier’s policy to allow one customer to order a maximum three of the iPhone 4S, the numbers were out of control,’’ said one SK official requesting anonymity.
Kim Ji-won, a spokeswoman for SK Telecom, declined to unveil the actual sales figures for iPhone 4Ss, while KT spokeswoman Kim Yoon-jeong also wouldn’t comment.
SK Telecom and KT will begin retail sales of the device this week ahead of schedule in an attempt to clear inventories and achieve the promised sales target agreed with Apple, officials said.
``I dropped my plan to buy the iPhone 4S. It’s not wholly-new and also there are big problems relating to hardware-related issues. I am a big Apple fan. But I’m very disappointed by the uncompetitive iPhone 4S,’’ said Park Yeon-gee, a 31-year-old office worker in Seoul, who’s been using the iPhone 4.
Apple is grappling with severe criticism from South Korean consumers over a lack of software updates.
Apple is neglecting to respond to user complaints for updates.
Its latest iPhone operating system iOS wasn’t successful in completely crushing the ``bug,’’ which quickly drains the battery of the iPhone 4S.
``Apple knows the problem however it has still not taken any action or even issued an official statement over the numerous battery-related complaints. It doesn’t make any sense,’’ said Cho Yong-hee, a 34-year-old employee at a local Internet firm, by telephone, separately.
The so-called ``battery-gate’’ is not the sole reason for Apple to see less enamored iPhone 4S feedback because users complain that the device makes noises during 3G-based calls and while operating video functions.
An Internet cafe called ``iPhone and iPad user community’’ has conducted a poll concerning ``noise-gate’’ since November 12.
Eight out of 10 respondents said that they experienced noise-related problems on their iPhone 4S.
An official from one of the local Apple partners said he can’t officially respond to the issue and added he was being told by Apple that it will offer a software update, ``soon.’’
``As far as I know, Apple has admitted that the iPhone 4S is troubled with hardware-related problems and ``noise-gate’ is one aspect. Yet Apple still believes that this is not critical enough to directly deteriorate call qualities,’’ added the official.
The official also declined to be identified as he wasn’t given the right to officially speak to the media.
Apple officials at the firm’s after-sales centers have been looking into the latest problem.
``For me, Apple is a bully. It’s losing entrepreneurship. It seems quite evident that Apple is regarding Korean consumers as a `testing-tool’ for its devices, which is ridiculous,’’ said Ham So-young, a 27-year-old graduate student in Seoul.
Apple fixed the so-called ``death-grip’’ problem with the release of the iPhone 4S after Consumer Reports, one of the top publications for product and service reviews, gave unfavorable reviews of the iPhone 4 due to internal antenna issues affecting the smartphone’s call quality.
The rising appetite for LTE smartphones in South Korea replaces any desire for the Apple iPhone 4S, officials and experts said.
SK Telecom and the smallest local carrier LG Uplus are aggressively selling LTE smartphones which are much faster in data-processing than the 3G-based iPhone 4S.
Despite higher billing plans, the number of LTE subscribers exceeded 500,000 in the 90 days since the introduction of new plans in late September, according to data from SK Telecom and LG Uplus.
The Korea Communications Commission (KCC), the nation’s top telecom regulator, expects the number of LTE phone users to reach over 1.5 million by the end of this year as KT plans to offer an LTE service this year after ending outdated 2G-based services.
LG Uplus is set to join SK Telecom to expand the new market by unveiling detailed business strategies for LTE services this week in the southern island resort of Jeju with its chief executive Lee Sang-chul attending the press conference.
``Except for the `Siri’ function, I didn’t find any wow factors about the iPhone 4S and that’s why I decided to buy Samsung’s LTE smartphone,’’ said Kim Ki-hong, a banker from Kookmin Bank.
``Also Siri doesn’t support Korean language and that means the iPhone 4S is technically the same as the iPhone 4. Why should I pay more to buy the same thing? It’s nonsense to purchase the 4S just to show my personal tribute to the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs,’’ he said.
Siri is the only exclusive addition to the iPhone 4S. It is Apple’s new voice-controlled personal assistant software, however, it could be adapted to run on Android handsets after developers find a new way around restrictions designed to limit it to iPhone 4S users, according to reports.
SK Telecom and KT officials said some iPhone 4 customers are still waiting for the arrival of the iPhone 5 which is anticipated to make its debut sometime within the first half of next year.
``The key point is how Korean carriers effectively manage LTE networks to attract more clients. Since LTE is new, there are also complaints about its quality. If LTE services do well, then more people will switch as carriers give more subsidies to customers who buy LTE smartphones,’’ said Ha Min-woo, who runs a phone store in downtown Seoul.
Steve Park, a local representative of Apple’s Korean branch, true to form declined to comment.