‘Devil’s App’ Makers Return With Daily Deals for Dates

The makers of the infamous Oppa Midji app — whose stalker-esque USP briefly landed its key developer in custodyare back. And this time, they offering the chance of dream dates — to the preferred bidder.

Having changed their name to 플라스크모바일 (Flask Mobile, presumably), the developers released their latest creation, called That Boy, That Girl, onto the Android Market on the 26th. Subscribers to the app are introduced to one new boy or girl every day, and if he/she takes their fancy, users can select them and then submit their “bids” for the chance to meet up. The app, the developers say, is intended as a parody of the blizzard of daily deals sites available in Korea.

ZDNet says the app is aimed at giving regular mortals the chance of a date with a true hunk/babe. One Piece’s boss, Kim Jeong-tae, said the idea came to him through his own misadventures in online dating.

I was single for a while, so I joined up with all the social dating services. But it almost never matched me up with beautiful women, and even if it did, they’d ignore me. That’s how this app came to be created.

The article says that the people on offer every day are carefully selected by Flask Mobile to try and minimise any potential problems. People wishing to put themselves forward as the “daily meat” can do so by submitting their profile and picture via the app itself.

Once all the bids are in, the daily selection takes his/her pick of what’s on offer and contacts them by email. Because of privacy concerns — on which Kim and his team have some form — the email address is not shown on the person’s profile, and is only revealed to the daily selection after he or she has selected who their lucky partner will be.

According to the article, this unorthodox approach is already proving popular with many users. One said:

In contrast with other dating sites, it’s all very above board and reveals only the minimum of my personal information. I like it!

While another chimed in:

Though you can get a bit of a feeling of rejection when you are turned down during the auction,  it’s easy to use and you can see the people other users choose, so it’s a lot of fun.

Distimo: Korea Ranks No. 3 Worldwide for Free iPhone App Downloads

New figures from analytics firm Distimo have revealed the rather astonishing fact that Korea ranks No. 3 in the world for daily downloads of free apps from Apple’s App Store.

According to Distimo’s analysis, Korean iPhone users downloaded an average total of 1 million free apps per day in August. This placed it third behind the United States, at 4 million daily downloads, and China, at 1.5 million. It scarcely needs to be pointed out that in terms of population, Korea is a shrimp beneath those two whales.

This dizzying growth is indicative of just how fast Koreans have taken to iPhones, which, lest we forget, only arrived in the country in late 2009.

Making this achievement more remarkable still is that, rather than submit all its games to  being classified by Korea’s Game Rating Board, Apple earlier this year stopped selling games in the country. (However, with the government recently scrapping those requirements, that could be set to change soon.)

But before app developers get too excited, Borbala Bakonyi, writing on the Distimo blog, sounded a note of caution:

Although the overall number of downloads has been steadily increasing in Korea, this is mainly due to the free applications: the proportion of paid downloads is still much smaller than in Europe or the United States. This tendency seems to be true for all of Asia.

In good news for local developers, Bakonyi added that “local publishers reign in the Top 300, which leads us again to the conclusion that localization might be the key for becoming popular in this area.”

New LBS App Lets Users Dig Up Details on Potential New Friends

Local company 4:33 Creative Lab has introduced yet another entrant into Korea’s booming location-based service sector. Called Secret Box, the app has users unearth imaginary boxes buried around the city, open up the pictures and messages (left by fellow members) lying within, and then submit replies or start chatting straight away.

Secret Box’s unique selling point is that users can start up new friendships or groups with people who are visiting, or have visited, the place where the user now is. This could lead to casual chats, new friendships or even, the Prime Kyongje article says, romance.

4:33 Creative Lab developed this app as part of the “Open API Cooperation Project” at SK Telecom’s Sangsaeng Innovation Centre. The app makes use of SK’s T-map function, and is now available for free from SK’s T-Store.

Users of Secret Box are supposed to leave a message and picture of themselves in locations they go to frequently, such as workplaces or apartment complexes. Then, fellow members can check out, via the app, what’s in the “boxes” when they pass through the area. To check out what’s on offer in the vicinity, users can conduct an “area exploration,” which even goes to the trouble of showing the quickest route to a secret box that takes their fancy.

In addition, by collecting “뿅” (bbyong, roughly translatable as “surprise!”), you can increase your ranking among the co-inhabitants of areas where you have secret boxes. One bbyong is awarded daily to the secret box inhabitant of each area who receives the most “likes” from people who check out their message and photo. Rankings are listed in the app.

Until the 5th of September, Secret Box is looking to drum up business with its “find the Secret Box, receive a giveaway” promotion.  In keeping with the secret shtick, the exact nature of the prizes won’t be disclosed. Instead, hints for that day’s prize will be revealed via the app. However,  4:33 Creative Lab says the prizes will include luxury handbags and tablet PCs.

So, what do we make of this one? Novel and innovative attempt to tap into the social networking and dating businesses? Or a tad icky?

Problems Pile Up for Gaming Shutdown Law

It’s now less than two months until Korea begins to enforce the highly contentious “shutdown law” (also known as the “Cinderella law”), which will bar kids aged 16 and under from playing online games between the hours of midnight and 6am.  But now, adding to doubts about whether it will actually achieve anything, the law is facing another thorny question: given Nate/Cyworld’s recent security breach, is it right to compel youngsters to register their personal information with gaming companies?

On the 16th of this month, at a forum titled “Information Rights Through Revisions to the Game Law,” Jang Yeo-gyeong of the Progressive Network Centre said, “If the shutdown law is enforced, we’ll have the real-name system being applied to games too, so once again, criticism will arise about the gathering of personal data.”

ZDNet says that concerns such as this are becoming ever more pronounced as the campaign to repeal the real-name system heats up. Games companies themselves are expressing concern that with the shutdown law depending on registering real names online, there’s a real possibility that leaks of personal information could occur again. Making things more complicated still, the original bill was amended in June to include a “selective shutdown clause,” which extends the ban to those aged 19 and under if the person’s legal guardian gives consent.

The rarefied surrounds of a PC bang (room).

Jang said:

The stated goal of this legislation is preventing young people from getting too immersed in games. Even if you accept that we need to verify their identities by insisting on checking their real names, at the very least it’s a violation of their rights. The shutdown law may not insist that people actually use their real names when playing games or chatting, but it does push gaming companies to retain information with which the companies can track down users’ real names.

Jang also rejected the possible alternative of using an i-PIN, or Internet Personal Identification Number, saying:

If you look at the process of issuing i-PINs, personal verification information including social security numbers is delivered to five private credit agencies, so there’s a high risk that these companies could be targeted for theft. Also, in carrying out the public task of gathering personal data to help prevent identity theft, these companies are actually using this private information to turn a profit.

The shutdown law, which always smacked of political populism rather than informed policy, seems to be facing increasingly steep hurdles as its implementation date draws closer. Besides swimming against the trickle of greater liberalisation of Korea’s internet, the law is facing challenges on human rights grounds, and has major practical issues, too. For one thing, many PC bangs already bar minors from entering after 10pm; for another, determined (and devious) gamers will apparently be able to circumvent the law by using an adult’s ID.

With all this grief, lawmakers (or at least law enforcers) must be wondering whether it’s worth all the bother.

Thanks again to @sunlars for her help in untangling some of the knottier parts of this story.

Korean Drama Checks In With Location-Based Service

The Kyunghyang Shinmun reports that following forays into other types of social media marketing, the Korean entertainment business has now launched a successful hook-up with a domestic location-based service (LBS).

Following the generally successful recruitment of entertainers to NHN’s Twitter clone me2DAY and a joint promotion between I’m In and Korean TV series Dream High, the latest social media tie-in sees local LBS SeeOn promoting hit comedy-thriller Myung Wol the Spy.

SeeOn offers fairly standard LBS-type services, including location check-ins, info about nearby places and special offers, and chatting with other users. However, since launching the tie-in with Myung Wol the Spy, and plastering the faces of Mun Jung-hyuk (of Shinhwa fame) and Han Ye-seul on its homepage, SeeOn downloads have supposedly surged by 650,000.

Thanks to the joint promotion, drama fans can follow the cast’s movements around the city and go to sites where the key scenes for different characters were shot.

In a priceless bit of product placement, the show that ran on the 9th of this month had a plot point revolving around the main characters’ use of SeeOn. Also, as another carrot for drama fans, people who log-on to the SeeOn page for Mun Jung-hyuk’s character while the show is airing can enter a draw for prizes including an iPad 2.

UPDATE: Oops! It seems I’ll have to pay closer attention to my Korean dramas before posting about them. As this story explains, Myung Wol the Spy has been anything but a hit, with Han Ye-seul even threatening to walk away completely. (She has since backed down, apparently. Few things focus the mind like the threat of litigation.)

Money Today Lists Top 3 Korean Apps for July

It’s that time of the month again when Money Today puts down its smartphone, has a ponder and comes up with its three top apps for the month of July.

Name: Tap Sonic


OS: Android, iOS


Developer: Neowiz Internet


Tap Sonic is one of those massively popular rhythm games you may have seen in Korean arcades, but for your fingers rather than your feet. Simply, as the game emits notes, you have to tap along with them in time to the beat.

Unlike in most rhythm games, the notes in Tap Sonic — which include Korean characters such as ㄱ and ㄹ  — don’t just fall vertically or move horizontally. To win in this game, players can’t just touch the right notes — they actually have to touch them and drag them around the screen in the shape of the corresponding Korean character.

When playing the game, players can choose either single mode, which runs for one song, or “non-stop,” which involves three. The game has a big selection of songs to choose from, but only some are available at the outset — the others have to be bought using accumulated “music points” (presumably gained through playing the game). On the song selection screen, you can also change the speed at which the notes appear or the game’s appearance, greatly extending the app’s gameplay even with the same songs.

As with all such games, scores depend on timing, with most points being awarded if you hit the note dead in time with the beat.

Tap Sonic is free.

Name: Photo Shake


OS: Android, iOS


Developer: MotionOne


Photo Shake is one of a growing number of apps that let users edit their pics on their phone, rather than having to flick them over to a PC and photoshop them there. This twist here, though, is that users just give their phones a shake, and the app applies whatever random bit of editing it feels like.

The process starts with the user choosing from one of six categories — solo pics, on the spot pics, wide pics, and so on — for the kind of look they want to achieve. Next, they need to pull up a photo, which they can do either by taking a new one, drawing on pics stored in the phone, or uploading one from the likes of Picasa or Flickr.

With that done, the next step is to give the phone a little shake, and the app automatically formats the picture in some way — adding a speech bubble, say, or a sticker effect. If you don’t like it, another short shake will bring up another format.

With the editing done, Photo Shake makes it easy to share the finished article by email or any of the usual SNS suspects.

Photo Shake costs $1.99 from the Apple App Store and Android App Market.

Name: Mega Punch 3D


OS: Android


Developer: 아몬드게임즈


Megapunch, says Money Today, has been the perfect hit for summer, offering a way to de-stress by punching the bejesus out of opponents using nothing more dangerous than the touchscreen on your smartphone.

By touching or dragging, players can administer jabs, hooks and uppercuts. Uppercutting leaves you with your guard down, however,  so when lining up one of those screamers, players have to use the dodge button at the foot of the screen to avoid getting pummeled.

Whether on “immediate start” or “champion” mode, players begin with a fairly easy scrap, meeting tougher opponents the more fights they win. Players can face-off against opponents online, or just do a bit of practice against an automated adversary in “coach” mode.

As players pile up the victories, they gain access to a growing range of accessories that they can use to dandy-up or strengthen their character. A highly effective way of doing this is to enter one of Megapunch’s online leagues, which awards untold riches of virtual gold to the winner.

Megapunch is available from T-Store and is free in its basic version. A more advanced version retails for 3,900 won.

Zum Brings DIY Ethic to Korean Portals

Korean has had no shortage of internet and portal controversies recently, and local portals aren’t exactly renowned for their openness. But local company ESTSoft (producer of the AlZip tools) thinks it may have an answer.

korea portal

Released in beta form last week, Zum is a new portal that, its founders say, places central emphasis on openness, convenience and keeping its own input to a minimum. In practice, this means no native email service or online “communities,” minimal content generated by Zum itself, and membership sign-ups kept as simple as possible. Intriguingly, Zum doesn’t even have its own search function, instead letting users scroll through a list of the five most popular engines in Korea to choose the one they want to use.

Unusually for Korean sites, Zum allows users to log-in using only an email address, provided they don’t want to leave comments on any sites. If they do want to comment, they need to sign up for a “regular membership,” which means submitting their real name and social security number (presumably to conform with Korea’s real-name requirements). However, Zum says that as soon as it has verified the user’s identity, it will discard his or her information. Following on the heels of Nate and Cyworld’s massive security breach recently, this is surely an idea Koreans could like very much.

As well as offering a choice of search engines, Zum has a highly customisable homepage comprising a series of “widgets” that users can download and arrange as they wish. At present, those widgets, or “Zum Apps,” include links to Naver, Daum and Facebook, along with direct links to whatever email service the user wants to use. In future, though, ESTSoft hopes to entice developers to create a series of new apps that will be available from a Zum App Store.

Another key feature on the site is “News Zum,” for which, similarly to Daum News, ESTSoft will handle the ranking and selection of news items directly. (On Naver, the news outlets dictate news rankings and headlines themselves.) Zum also plans to launch a Yahoo! Answers-type service called “Aha Zum” later in the year.

Interesting as some of the ideas in Zum undoubtedly are, they do prompt some big questions over its feasibility. Not least, what, if any, disadvantages will arise from not having a native email service? (After all, plenty of people still use Hotmail but browse via Google.) And how can a portal that directs people toward other search engines hope to compete for advertising revenue? Still, in the long, arduous stumble toward greater openness in Korea’s internet, Zum is surely a step in the right direction.

As usual, much of the information here comes courtesy of Bloter.

Naver Still No. 1 in Mobile Search, But Google Reaping Benefits of Simplicity

A newish study shows that Google search has the highest rates of satisfaction among smartphone users in Korea, but Naver is still tops for market share with 54.8 percent.

In its “Mobile Internet Index” for the second half of 2011, market research company Metrix found that compared with January of this year, satisfaction with Google’s mobile search had risen 0.4 points to 70.5. This nudged it ahead of former leader Naver, which fell to second with 67.1, followed by Daum on 66.7 and Nate on 65.9

google, naver, daum, nate

Overall satisfaction with mobile search fell over the last six months, from 69.9 points to 67.4. This change was attributed to a growing dissatisfaction with actually accessing the search engines on mobile devices. Compared with January, the study noted, respondents said they had found it harder to access all three of the Korean portals. Google was the sole exception.

The reason for this apparent drop in quality, the Korean Communications Commission said, was that the number of smartphone users had more than doubled, while wireless speeds on 3G networks had fallen. Crucially, however, the size of opening pages on Korean portals had also sprawled, while Google’s had remained steady.

Bloter quoted Metrix as saying:

In Naver’s case, their opening page ran to about twice the screen size six months ago. Today, it’s increased to around three times the size. On July 26th, Google’s homepage used about 4.34KB of data, whereas Naver’s used 51.33KB, Daum’s used 30.2KB, and Nate’s used 41.22KB.

Given Korean’s well-known fondness for ornate opening pages, it would be ironic indeed if local portals’ attempts to cater to this demand ended up pushing mobile netizens into Google’s arms. The fact that Korea is supposedly the only country in the world* where Google felt compelled to doll up its famously simple homepage to boost market share, only adds to the weirdness!

(* According to a recent podcast I heard of a talk from “Google employee No. 58” Douglas Edwards.)

For all that, when it comes to actual mobile market share, Naver remains firmly in first place with 54.8 percent, followed by Daum on 18.5 percent, Google on 14.7 percent and Nate on 8.4.

google, daum, nate, naver

A possible takeaway from this is that despite Naver’s much-touted problems, and the supposed inexorable rise of foreign upstarts such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, local social networking sites and portals remain very deeply entrenched in Korea, and will probably be so for some time yet.