- Korean app Snow has quickly risen to popularity in Asia since last September
- The app's edge lies in their accommodation of cultural preferences, such as images of soju or fried chicken that can be inserted into selfies
- Snow's initial domination of the Asian market could spell a new future for both Eastern and Western app makers
Short messages with time limits? Opportunities for video-sharing called 'stories'? Cute and crazy camera filters that can transform a person into a koala, a dog, or any number of figures, food, and animals?
Sounds very much like a certain popular app, but it may soon have to step aside with its imitation on the market. Snow, a South Korean Snapchat clone that has skyrocketed to popularity in the past few months, showed how even the hottest American smartphone apps are going to have to work double-time in order to gain traction in fast-growing Asian countries.
(photo credit: aminoapps.com)
Snow's main target audience is Asian consumers. It does, like Snapchat, offer a wide variety of filters that give you dog ears, huge eyes and an exaggerated blush to your selfies, but its edge is that it also lets users add bottles of soju (a Korean liquor), or even Korean pop stars. A certain filter lets down an outpour of fried chicken, a well-loved South Korean snack. For the Japanese, Snow also has sushi filters and sumo wrestlers.
Han Dong-keun, a spokesman for its parent company Naver, said that the special attention they gave to different cultural preferences has garnered them roughly 30 million downloads from Asia ever since their launch in September. It has also edged its way into China, which with its 700 million users, is the world's largest Internet market. Snow has a huge advantage as Snapchat is blocked in the country.
Snow's boom in Asia highlights a new reality for American app makers: if before they could gauge their growth overseas by their popularity within their borders, now they will have to watch out for well-established Internet firms in Japan, South Korea and China, all of whom can quickly fill in these niches.
(photo credit: nytimes.com)
Snapchat is the biggest social network success that has spread out of America in recent years, and Snow's success shows that any advantage it may have had in East Asia's vast and lucrative markets is fading at a speedy rate.
Han acknowledged that Snow was certainly similar to Snapchat, but added that it had unique features such as video chat. Both apps target teenagers and young adults.
East Asian countries have provided an open and ready market for new social networks revolving around videos, animations, selfies and entertainment. These new social networks are largely accessed through smartphones - a transition that older social networks like Facebook are struggling to make. The Line app is widely popular in Japan, and like Snow, it is owned by Naver. China uses WeChat, a social media and messaging app that has almost become a mainstay of Chinese smartphones.
(photo credit: masterherald.com)
Ivy Zhou, a Chinese Snow user, goes to university in Hong Kong. The country does not have China's strict internet censorship and she is free to use Snapchat. She said that Snapchat's social network is much livelier than Snow's, but Snow could definitely fill in the niche in China. WeChat, she explained, is more of a communication tool, and more young people will definitely choose to use the Snow app.
Snow's success is a road map for other Asian social media networks, most of which struggle to spill out of their home markets. Even though South Korea boasts a mobile and tech-savvy market, its Internet companies suffer greatly from doing business because of the market's small size.
Even Line, which is Naver's biggest international success and has a considerable presence in Thailand and Japan, has also seen itself fall short of other chat apps like WeChat or Snapchat, part of which stems from the fact that it does not have a large home market.
The company said it still plans to bring Line to the United States, but Mr. Chae - the venture capital investor - prefers to invest in Korean companies that are eyeing China instead. He explained that most Korean founders aimed to get a US market share but constantly failed because of the disparity in working culture, networks, and language.
China's rise, paired with its infatuation with Korean culture, has 'breathed new life into Korean start-ups and founders.' Mr. Chae believes that their market, which is not only bigger than that of the US, will be much more welcoming and conducive for Korean technology and culture than the Western world ever was.-MB, Kami Media