Is Korea second-tier market for Apple?

People stand in a long queue to buy the new iPad in front of an Apple outlet in Myeong-dong, central Seoul, Friday.

Apple’s new iPad was finally released in Korea on Friday. But the much-awaited item seems to be generating as much resentment as excitement due to its late arrival.

The device made its debut last month in 10 countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

Included in the 12 nations for the latest round of launches are Brunei, Croatia, Cyprus, Guatemala, Malaysia, Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela on top of Korea.

“Yes, I have looked forward to having the new iPad. But I am offended that Korea was included in the second group. After learning that, my first response was that Korea is a second-tier market for Apple,’’ said an office worker in Seoul, who asked not to be named.

“I don’t intend to disparage any countries. But I don’t think that Korea is on a par with Brunei, Cyprus and Panama in terms of technology while lagging behind Hong Kong and Singapore.’’

When contacted, Apple Korea refused to comment on the issue, claiming it has no idea what criteria its head office used in deciding to release the new iPad here this month, not last month.

Experts guess that Korea may be one of Apple’s top 10 markets but the company’s affiliate here did not release the specific figures, citing the company’s inside policies.

Without regard to Apple’s stance, the country’s top two mobile operators of KT and SK Telecom are competing to sell as many new iPads as possible now that they are available.

The two companies are trying to topple the other in sales by offering different services, prices and marketing for customers who stood in long queues in front of retail stores from Thursday night.

KT’s head of customer services, Pyo Hyun-myung, personally greeted the first customer with a bouquet and 500,000 won worth of accessories at Olleh Square in Gwanghwamun, downtown Seoul, at 8 a.m., where a promotional event was held.

“I am happy to greet the first subscriber of the new iPad provided by KT,” said Pyo. “KT, as a leading enterprise for the iPhone and iPad, will provide the greatest satisfaction for customers of the new iPad based on our service experience, efficient network and affordable fees.”

Pyo doled out various prizes for 30 new customers while stressing the company’s “best network infrastructure” encompassing 82 cities, and highlighted its “superior” apps service, a possible jibe against its rival.

SK Telecom also held a launch event moments after KT, unrelenting in the promotions battle, greeting its first customer as well as its ”second customer.”

“Demand for wireless data transfer is rising with the spread of tablet PCs and smartphones,” said senior Vice President Cho Woo-hyun of SK Telecom’s customer marketing office, who attended the launch in Gangnam, southern Seoul. “As the No. 1 mobile carrier in the country, we provide the fastest network and the best service for our customers.”

The two customers each received 300,000 won worth of keyboards, earphones and various computer accessories, and SK boasted its high quality 3G services as “best of the mobile carriers.” The new iPad will be available in all the 900-plus retail stores owned by SK.

KT released two versions of the iPad: a WiFi exclusive model and another that runs on mobile networks as well. SK Telecom plans to release only the model that works on wireless networks.

Since long-term evolution (LTE) technology will be unavailable in models offered both by KT and SK because of the difference in radio spectrums between here and overseas, the two companies’ main slogan in their promotional campaigns are centering on fast 3G networks. Both are to provide quick Web browsing using their high speed packet access.

LG Uplus, the third mobile carrier in Korea, has no plans to sell the new iPad as of yet. <Korea Times/Cho Mu-hyun>

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