The app was quickly adopted by Korean users as a free alternative to text messaging. Part of its success is due to the fact that KakaoTalk functions like its own version of the Internet within a smartphone: Users don’t have to close the app, ever, to check the news, talk to friends, order dinner or play games. To an American, the app’s design is insane, like stepping into a demented fun house. Pages are drenched in neon and populated with googly-eyed cartoon animals.
By contrast, American mobile design is fetishistically minimalist. Silicon Valley applauds itself for good taste in this regard, but this aesthetic has sprung up partly in response to a deficiency: Americans have learned to strip out bandwidth-guzzling elements because they slow down loading times. Korean designers, lacking such bandwidth restraints, can stuff their apps full of all the information and widgets they like. On-screen real estate isn’t an issue, either, because Koreans prefer massive phones. While the “phablet” — the missing link between a phone and a tablet — is popular as a punch line in the United States, it’s been in high demand in South Korea for years.
This trans-Pacific gap in bandwidth is so pronounced that Korean developers often have to strip down their software if they want to take it stateside.