Silicon Valley losing app ground to Korea – an open door to rural areas to compete?

Over the weekend the NY Times ran an article on app development and use in Korea. The super quick take –

  • Korea creates better apps
  • the Korean market is a few years ahead of the US market for app use
  • Korea dumbs down apps to send to America because the US doesn’t have sufficient wireless broadband to use the apps
  • Americans don’t use phones to pay for things; Koreans do

There are two reasons I think the article is worth reading. The article explains why Americans like sinlge-purpose apps and Koreans use multipurpose apps. In part because the US lacks bandwidth to support multipupose apps…

Even when Korean firms don’t encounter technological issues, the design gulch can confound their attempts to lure American customers. In 2014, Doyon Kim was tasked with taking Band, a South Korean mobile-messaging app, to Silicon Valley. Band lets friends chat, plan outings, share video files, split bills and even conduct informal polls about where to go to dinner. Doyon Kim says that the sheer number of Band’s functions confused users who were not accustomed to performing all of those tasks within a single app.

So, our lack of broadband is dumbing us down and holding us back. It’s having an impact on how we interact with the world – not just making us slower but causing us to do things differently. And this is from the NY Times – imagine what the difference is in a rural community where just getting a signal can be a challenge!

The article also outlines what the US should consider to improve mobile app development, which would be a good market…

One thing Silicon Valley hopes to learn is how to get Americans to actually pay for things on their phones. …

Silicon Valley might also learn how to cater to more customers in more countries around the world. Most Korean companies have been internationally minded since their inception, aware of their own limitations: South Korea is such a small market that entrepreneurs are forced to consider how they might adapt to business abroad.

But without a more affordable, better mobile web, even the best new offerings from American entrepreneurs will be stuck in the past. Perhaps one of the biggest lessons Silicon Valley’s innovators should learn from South Korea is that to radically change how everyday people live their lives, they’ll need to convince their nation to invest in infrastructure, so that we can actually use the services they want to sell us.

One silver lining is the open field. Investors are looking outside of Silicon Valley. That could be good news for innovators in other areas – including communities in rural Minnesota. BUT we need the bandwidth to mimic the test case that the market experiences in Korea and other parts of the world. We can’t continue to aim at yesterday’s market and solve yesterday’s problems.

I am reminded of the Red Hot Hack in Red Wing in 2014. The winning app was one that previewed a PDF file in a matter of seconds (as opposed to the minute it takes to open a PDF reader). It’s simple but I’m sure many of us have rolled our eyes having to open several PDFs to find the right file. The judges asked the developer how hard it was (easy, he said) and why he hadn’t done it before. The answer? Because the bigger bottleneck is usually bandwidth, not computer speed. They have fiber in Red Wing, bandwidth isn’t a bottleneck, subsequently they are poised to solve current and future issues with current tools.

Maybe that’s the open door – to communities with fiber.

This entry was posted in economic development, New Media, Wireless by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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