Kakao Talk, a mobile messenger smartphone application, has enjoyed phenomenal success since it was launched 16 months ago and has spawned similar apps in the world’s most wired nation.
Many Kakao devotees say they have stopped sending Short Message Service (SMS) texts since they downloaded the app, which allows users to send messages, pictures, soundbites and even video via the Internet.
The application is free to download, and sending and receiving material in wi-fi zones is also free.
Even outside the zones it is relatively cheap because it uses a mobile data payment plan rather than phone company connections such as SMS.
The company makes part of its revenue from a commission on gifts which users can send to friends via Kakao.
“The application grew much faster than we expected because the mobile environment and paradigm is changing rapidly,” Lee Jae-Beom, CEO of Kakao Talk, told AFP in an interview.
He said the application has been downloaded 18 million times worldwide in just 16 months, with 500 million messages being exchanged daily.
Early this year Kakao also launched the application in English and Japanese.
“Mobile messengers…not only substitute for SMS, but also create a new communications culture, where users can actually chat even without a computer and have a group conversation,” said Lee.
The CEO said a new phenomenon has emerged in which people who don’t use Kakao Talk feel excluded from their peers.
With the market share which Kakao Talk has secured, Lee said the company will try to “connect to everything”, including social commerce, contents and other applications — to become the ultimate hub for smartphone users.
South Korea, a nation of 48.6 million, took to smartphones relatively late but has quickly caught up.
The number of smartphone subscribers hit 15 million last week, less than four months after the number had passed 10 million.