South Korea: When tech goes Gangnam Style
Welcome to Seoul, one of the world’s most technologically-advanced cities, where toilets sing to you once you’ve done your business.
“It was like a little ‘well done’,” says Mylo Kaye, CEO of Manchester-based award-winning app development agency Dreamr. “I’m not seven, but thank you anyway.”
South Korea also boasts the world’s fastest average internet speed and is consistently ranked top of the UN’s ICT Development Index.
Kaye visited the country with the Department for International Trade, experiencing the cutting-edge of virtual and augmented reality.
“Technology is so ingrained in everything,” he recalls. “Even to having a full phone signal. You can walk all the way through the subway to where you work and browse the internet, take calls and stream video.
“In the train station there are Samsung TVs everywhere. In the apartment I stayed in, everything is digital. You don’t have keys, you put in a code. Advertisers are always in your face.”
Despite the overwhelming prevalence of tech, Kaye feels the UK and South Korea have a lot to learn from each other following meetings with the likes of LG and Samsung.
“We went to a government-backed innovation centre and they have the latest in VR and AR,” he says. “The government subsidises everything. So whatever you need, the government will pay half.
“The companies create tech, the building provides the space for you to put it on display then people can come in and test it.
“There was a company experimenting with 360-degree sound which had a soundproofed room set up. They had VR simulators for training pilots. Companies there are allowed to experiment beyond what normal people would be able to think about.
“It’s easy for them to do the research and development, whereas here you’ve got to apply to Creative England if you want to do a project.”
South Korea’s government recently invested around half a billion pounds into VR and AR, which Kaye describes as “just astonishing”.
Credit Mylo Kaye
And he agrees you need to look a little further for why its tech game is so far ahead of other similarly-developed nations.
“Can you imagine the UK Government investing that amount in AR and VR? In South Korea, they’re so developed in terms of infrastructure and connectivity.
“I’m sure they have their problems, but here you can’t even get around Manchester without taking a bus as the major train stations don’t connect.”
South Korea benefits from being home to two of the world’s biggest tech companies, LG and Samsung. The latter makes up 20 per cent of the country’s GDP.
According to Kaye, their huge financial contributions facilitate innovation on a scale beyond anywhere else in the world.
Credit Mylo Kaye
He adds: “The internet speed in my hotel was far beyond anything you would get in our fibre. People feel they have a right to amazing infrastructure.”
He sums up the difference in mentality between East and West by describing how he careered into a train barrier in a busy Seoul station: “Before you go through the ticket barriers, they’re all open. When you put the ticket down, it allows the gate to stay open; if you don’t put one down, it closes.
“How much energy must you save doing that? I would love to see that here.”
Credit Mylo Kaye
Now back in his Manchester city centre office, there is one South Korean lesson Kaye intends to apply to his every day following a visit to a co-working space created by Hyundai in the Gangnam district.
The building was the epitome of what a co-working space should be – open spaces, yoga and massage chairs on every floor. Facilities available to residents at no extra charge include labs for testing apps, 3D printing and a photography studio.
“Being open to collaboration and innovation over there is a big thing,” says Kaye.
“If it comes down to us forging that one special relationship with another company, then that’s worth it.”
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