Canadian vs Korean mobile phone apps

I grew up in Canada, but moved to Korea three years ago to pursue a job in English education. While I expected to experience culture shock in terms of social expectations, food, and infrastructure, I didn’t expect that the mobile experience between Canada and Korea to also be different.

First off, let me clarify that when I say Canadian or Korean phone apps, I am refering to popular apps used in those countries. They may not actually be made in those countries, but have a wide user base.

Korean phone apps tend to go for a all-in-one approach, while Canadian apps tend to go for a single function approach. For example, let’s take a look at the most popular search engines in these respective countries.

In Canada, Google is the dominant search engine. It’s main functionality, the search bar, is front and centre. The screen is relatively empty, but scrolling down will bring up information tailored to you, such as reminders, and the local weather.

Source: google-app.jpg

In Korea, Naver is king. Even at first glance, the Naver app is obviously much busier than Google’s. Naver has its search bar at the top of the screen. While not as prominent as Google’s placement, it is still easy to find and use. Aside from the search bar, there is a list of currently trending articles, the weather, and different categories to browse through (eg. news, entertainment, sports, shopping, music, videos, etc). Because of this, an user is likely to use the app even without having a specific search term in mind.

Source: us-iphone-1-naver.jpeg

Also, Naver, like Google, also offers a variety of different products. Many of these (email, for example) are accessible within the native app by pulling up the sidebar. A native Naver Mail app also exists, but an user using the Naver app can easily check their mail through it without having to switch to another app.

This difference of all-in-one versus single feature focus is also evident in messaging apps.

WhatsApp, the most popular messaging service in Canada, allows you can send text messages, files, share your location, and make calls.

Source: 15753–12215–160129-WhatsApp-l.jpg

Kakao Talk, the dominant messaging service in Korea, has the same features as WhatsApp, but is also an e-commerce/finance platform. On top of sending files to friends through chatrooms, users can send money directly from their bank account.

A user sending 7000 won to a friend through Kakao Talk. Source: kakaopay_11–765x492.jpg

Users can also use Kakao Talk to buy gifts for their friends through Kakao’s gift shop. A feature available within the app, users can browse through available products, pay for it, and then send a barcode for the product to a friend directly through their chatroom. The friend can then later use the barcode in store to receive the specified product.

A user sends a gift of fried chicken to a friend on Kakao Talk. Sources: 2339274654ED69E50894C3 Z0ka36gluoXpiBaTsvhJFrhrDpyf4rYdYSDcL6OQaAqDjYeny3R3n_QgXLfPYBCCTug=h900.png

When I first started using these Korean apps, I was overwhelmed by their functionality. Their screens were so cluttered, and I found all the different options available distracting. However, after prolonged usage, I grew to find these Korean apps to be much more convenient.

At first, I used Naver purely as a search engine, much like the way I use Google. However, I gradually found myself spending more and more time on the app to get updates on trending topics. As for Kakao, after getting used to all of its unqiue features (I only touched on two of them in this blog post, but there are many more), I find WhatsApp’s comparatively limited functionality frustrating.

The Korean apps’ all-in-one approach results in users spending more time within the app. The few taps it saves from not having to switch to a different app is also great. Given how quickly I adapted to these Korean apps, I think that other Canadians will also appreciate the convenience of an all-in-one approach.


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