Why one South Korean Buddhist monk uses an iPhone over a Samsung: Peter Nowak

The Venerable Nohyu says smart smartphone use is about apps, not models.

The Venerable Nohyu says smart smartphone use is about apps, not models.

Apple has taken its share of grief for supposedly being slow to release new models of the iPhone. Some industry analysts have suggested that by sticking to its one-a-year release schedule, the company is falling behind faster-iterating competitors and therefore possibly leaving money on the table.

Yet, those competitors – Samsung especially – are now encountering their own problems. Both Samsung and HTC are seeing slower-than-expected sales of their latest devices, while perennial laggards Nokia and BlackBerry aren’t doing any better. What’s going on looks pretty clear: the most advanced smartphone markets are approaching saturation points, meaning that people are quite happy with their existing devices. They don’t necessarily want or need new ones, or at least not every couple of months.

I had this pointed out to me from a completely non-business perspective on my recent trip to South Korea, by a Buddhist monk, no less.

I sat down with the Venerable Nohyu, mission director of the Jogye Order in Seoul, to talk about the intersection of religion and technology. Toward the end of the conversation, I had to ask about his iPhone, which I was more than a little surprised to see. South Korea is, of course, home to Samsung and it’s no exaggeration to say that just about the entire population uses the company’s phones. Seeing Apple’s device is almost like spotting the Loch Ness monster or an albino crocodile – rare, if not impossible.

It’s not just patriotism. Samsung builds something called Digital Multimedia Broadcasting into its Korean phones, which enables satellite TV viewing on them, no data usage required. The company’s devices thus have a big advantage in their home market.

Nohyu explained that he loves Samsung and is indeed very patriotic, but when it comes to his phone, the iPhone serves his needs better.

“Apple is a company where the focus is on apps. Samsung is a company where the focus is on the model. It’s a difference of emphasis between the two companies. Samsung has a series of models that comes out very frequently and the focus is on getting people to upgrade to the next model each time,” he said through a translator. “But a smartphone is a device where you don’t have to upgrade to the next model, you can just upgrade to the next app. The point is upgrading your app, not upgrading your phone.”

That’s not, however, the standard view of people in South Korea, he added.

“Koreans see it differently. They think, in general, that to be a smart user of smartphones, you have to get the new model. But that’s not the point at all. The point is having a model and being a smart user of the apps on the model. It’s not about changing the phone.”

Wise words from a wise man. Then again, none of this should be a surprise. Steve Jobs was a Buddhist, after all.