South Korea’s two mobile operators, SK Telecom and KT, are simultaneously marketing robotic devices controlled by or connected to smartphones. SK Telecom’s robot, called Atti, reads and interprets books out loud for preschool children. KT’s Kibot projects 60-inch images onto a wall for educational purposes, and also enables parents to monitor their children through a camera embedded in its forehead. Atti will launch in South Korea in September, while Kibot launched in Saudi Arabia in April and will be sold in other regions, including South Korea, depending on demand. KT is pricing Kibot at US $600, while SKT has yet to reveal the price for Atti, although it will likely be priced in the same range as Kibot.
South Korea has long been a hotbed of innovation in electronics technology, and the present offerings from SK Telecom and KT are right in line with that history. We like these playful and useful phone-linked robots. They are a very novel way for mobile operators to break the mold and find ways to increase consumer interest that do not involve just another app or phone or data plan. Retail items such as these could end up being a nice revenue stream for MNOs, and the development could be done in partnership with other companies that have more experience with robotics. And while these two products are education-oriented and aimed at parents of young children, we can imagine other receptive markets for smartphone-powered robots. For the finance industry, for example, robots could be designed to alert traders to certain trends or developments. There could easily be applications in real estate and other sales areas, as well.
In general, we feel it is important for operators to think “outside the box” in order to find opportunities for growth in what is, frankly, a saturated market. To escape from the confines of a zero-sum game in which one operator’s gain in customers is another’s loss, all operators need to find new ways to grow their business. Apps are a popular answer, but operators inevitably find themselves competing with tens of thousands of app developers. For a truly novel revenue stream, these two South Korean providers have come up with something that goes beyond the current paradigm, effectively making the mobile phone the brains of something larger.