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The three type of mobile users you meet in Seoul

August 4, 2010

Recently I was in Korea for a vacation. While there I had an interesting experience in the course of  a single day. I met three friends and they showed me how different companies in Korea are approaching mobile data.

The first one I met was a friend who worked at a major semiconductor company in the memory design division. A very smart guy with a PhD from a major program in the USA he was and is a very hard worker staying late (which in Korea means upto 11pm) many nights in the labs.  I asked him why he didn’t go home earlier and work from home. He said that he couldn’t as he didn’t have access to either his email or data. Nor was he allowed to have a laptop to carry between his company and his home.

So here we are in a country with the best broadband infrastructure in the world and he couldn’t use it to work from home. (This was also  true when I worked in Korea 10yrs ago but I had thought things would change – obviously they had not.)

This was the non-mobile user.

I met another friend who worked at one of the major wireline / wireless telecommunications operators in Korea. As I visited  his offices I noticed that the company was putting in a major effort to get everyone in the organization to embrace cloud computing a more “mobile” lifestyle. People were told to move all of their data to the cloud servers and use the iPhone, laptops, and other devices to connect to email from everywhere.  My friend told me they were making a major push to get people to a more mobile work / lifestyle.

My guess is that this would then be the basis for them to push it to their customers. An “eat your own dogfood first” approach which I think is great.

This was the hope-to-be-mobile user.

Finally at the end of the day I met a lawyer friend who works for one of the major law firms in Korea. Even as were drinking late into the night (and in Korea you frequently end up drinking a lot), he would be taking out his iPhone and answering email. After awhile, I asked him why he was answering client email at 10pm in the night. He said that he had to. Ever since the iPhone had come out and his clients realized he was reachable, they demanded immediate response. Not only his clients but his bosses as well. He could not only respond to email but also it seemed look at contracts etc.  He said that he wasn’t sure getting the iPhone was such a good idea for him – as now he felt he was on a 24×7 leash.

This was the 24×7-mobile user.

So there you have it. The three types of mobile users I met in Seoul this year. The irony was that while the first two are working for companies that are on the forefront of enabling mobile broadband, it was the third who was really living the a mobile work lifestyle and showing where it leads for good and bad.

Maybe that is how it should be, after all in Korea there is a saying that “a Buddhist monk can not cut his own hair”. In the same manner, maybe the mobile telephony folks could not figure out how to really use the technology they are developing ?

In summary, the smartphone revolution is bringing about a new revolution in the Korean workplace itself. One that I figured would have happened sooner but is only now manifesting itself. Whether it is good or not can be argued of course – I’m sure some will argue that leaving work at work was a good thing.

But anyway, as things change so fast in Korea, next year it’ll be different again.

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