updated 07:25 pm EST, Wed November 23, 2011
iPhone 4S may face technical, cultural
A rumor alleges that claims of a banner Korean iPhone 4S launch were far from true. An SK Telecom official supposedly talking to the Korea Times said that, instead of the 300,000 combined sales between pre-order and launch, real sales were supposedly below 150,000. The unnamed source implied that SKT's rival, KT, had artificially inflated the initial numbers by letting customers order as many as three phones at once.
Other possible insiders claimed that the two carriers would cut sales to spur demand and meet targets they had promised for Apple. The American company is known regularly negotiates deals in terms of guaranteed minimum sales numbers over a certain period. Sprint has a four-year iPhone deal that's believed to include a set quota, although that hasn't been confirmed.
The most commonly cited factor has been the lack of LTE. Unlike in the US, where many still can't get the 4G speeds, Korea has the advantage of a very high population concentration, with much of it in or near Seoul, and lets carriers like LG Uplus and SKT reach most Koreans with 4G with little expansion. LG and Samsung also have the advantage of catering to their home territory with LTE phones like the Optimus LTE and Galaxy S II LTE. Over 500,000 subscribers across carriers signed on for LTE in the first 90 days.
Neither KT nor SKT would comment on the claims, and Apple almost never breaks out sales by country outside of US carriers' statements.
Apple has deliberately avoided LTE for the current generation out of a refusal to compromise on design for the sake of 4G. Current LTE hardware needs a separate 4G chipset that takes up space and consumes more power, leaving even phones like the Droid RAZR to last just several hours in moderate use where an iPhone can last all day. It won't be until 2012 and unified 3G/4G chips that smartphones, tablets, and other devices can get LTE without taking a significant hit in size or battery drain.
The rumor itself is questionable, since it relies primarily on individual anecdotes criticizing Apple for battery and echo bugs also supposedly discouraging users. It's also not apparent how an SK Telecom official would know KT's numbers. The tip, if real, could still reflect expected barriers to adoption in Korea.