SK Planet’s TicToc Plus faces huge challenge in global expansion, but Korean Wave could be an answer
October 22, 2012 by Terence LEE
The stakes are high in the mobile messaging arena in Asia, with the traditional SMS industry on the wane and apps like Whatsapp and Skype becoming default chatting tools among smartphone users. Now, TicToc has tossed its hat into the ring. It recently begun expanding regionally, launching TicToc Plus, its internationalized version, in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia in October. It is now available in 133 countries.
The app is relatively well-known in South Korea, but a virtual unknown everywhere else. Made by MADsmart, the company was acquired by SK Planet, a subsidiary of SK Telecom, South Korea’s most dominant telco. While it has gotten 17 million downloads, TicToc is facing intense competition from KakaoTalk, now possibly the second most dominant Asia-made instant messenger after WeChat.
“TicToc has more than 2 million active users and it used to be bigger than that though but as the dominance of Kakao Talk gets stronger, they are expelling other competitors in the local market,” said Choi Ji-Hyun, senior manager of global business development at SK Planet.
The company faces an uphill battle in its bid to make Tic Toc Plus a popular app in the region. Dominant chat apps like Whatsapp can take advantage of network effects to retain its dominance. This means competitors will have to find ways to differentiate itself and target niche groups.
Tencent’s WeChat has excelled in that regard, introducing push-to-talk and Chatroulette-style features to entice users. Cubie Messenger is proving to be a huge draw among those who want a more whimsical and artistic sort of chat app. Meanwhile, US-based Cooliris, which has an eye on Asia, has LiveShare, which is biased towards photo-sharing.
And what about KakaoTalk? It fronts itself as a fun messenger with voice filters, a huge variety of emoticons that can be purchased bought in-app, and the ability to connect with K-Pop stars.
TicToc Plus will need to bring its A-game if it wants to get traction throughout Asia.
Its most unique feature at this point is its convenient swipe-UI for sharing photo and video content, which essentially turns sharing a photo in-app into a two-touch process. This swipe interface would be familiar to those who have played around with the Windows 8.
But that alone won’t be enough. The clock is ticking for SK Planet, and just having an iPhone version (set to launch in November) will not do. It has no excuses. As Ji-Hyun related to me, revenue is not exactly a raison d’être of Tic Toc Plus, which relieves it of the bottom-line pressures faced by Kakao Talk and Cubie.
So how SK Planet plan to position Tic Toc? I’d guess that it plays another important role in the company’s strategic plans, serving as a marketing and content delivery channel for SK Planet and SK Communications’ other money-making content services. These include mobile app store T-Store, online music service MelOn, and video streaming service Hoppin. However, to be successful in fulfilling this purpose, it will still need to accumulate a large user base.
So, as far as geographical markets go, its best bet right now is perhaps emerging economies like Indonesia and Philippines where smartphone adoption is still nascent but growing. Korean entertainment, by the way, is an obsession in those countries (just count the number of Korean-style beauty salons in Jakarta’s shopping malls).
If it can tackle those markets shrewdly, and actually work on giving happy Whatsapp and WeChat users more compelling reasons to switch over, then it might stand a chance.
As Psy has demonstrated with his highly successful (and by now irritating) Oppa Gangnum Style song, Korean culture is on the up and up. Korean startups are in a unique position to leverage on that.
Find out more about SGE’s research arm: SGE Insights, providing customized in-depth research reports to help you navigate the business of technology in Asia.
About The Author
Terence LEE - Editor
Terence writes mainly about technology trends and startups in Asia. He believes in crafting smart content: Not just a regurgitation of text, but well thought-out pieces that serve the reader using a combination of data, design, narratives, analysis, and visual impact. His articles have been published on Venturebeat, Yahoo!, Straits Times, Today, and The Online Citizen. He also co-founded NewNation.sg, a satirical news site covering Singapore affairs. Engage him on LinkedIn and Twitter.Read other posts by Terence LEE