2013 might be remembered as the year Asian companies started making an undeniable impact on consumer Internet habits around the world. For example, just back in January, MG Siegler warned TechCrunch readers that “trying to suggest that Samsung is not one of the most important companies in technology is increasingly folly.” Now it’s the world’s leading mobile maker (though its rapid growth may have finally plateaued). On the software side, elements from Asian messaging apps like Line began making their way onto social media platforms like Facebook and Path, Tencent was cited as a major role model by Snapchat’s founder and China’s Xiaomi hired former Android lead Hugo Barra away from Google.
Tracking tech trends in Asia is a good way of gleaning insight into what might make it big in other markets. Google’s 2013 list of top search results for Asia show what consumers were the most interested in–and is a clue to the types of games, apps and viral weirdness you might see in 2014.
One standout in Google’s list is hit Japanese anime TV series Attack of Titans. In addition to Japan, it was also a top 10 search term in Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Combined, the results meant that searches for the show trended higher globally than Mad Men or Homeland combined. A campy take on disaster films with giant skinless humanoid villains, Attack On Titan might appeal to the same people who made “Sharknado” and “Pacific Rim” hits in the U.S.
One of the most popular games in Asia was Puzzle and Dragons, one of Google’s top search terms in Japan, where it was produced, as well as Hong Kong. Puzzle And Dragons’ English version is still relatively under the radar, but its popularity in Asia helped the valuation of its maker, GungHo Online Entertainment, which TechCrunch’s Kim-Mai Cutler profiled in June, soar to as much as 1.546 trillion yen, briefly overtaking Nintendo’s market cap. In Taiwan, MMORPG Fantasy Frontier was a major hit. An English-language version called Aura Kingdom will be launched soon.
Gangnam Style, the record-breaking viral hit, started going viral almost 18 months ago, but demand for music from the weirder branch of the Korean pop industry–which is usually known for its manufactured singing groups and cosmetically enhanced performers–continued throughout Asia. Psy’s followup to Gangnam Style, Gentleman, got 600 million views, just a fraction of the 1.9 billion racked up by its predecessor, but still enough to make it YouTube’s most viewed video of 2013.
Intrigued by K-pop but feeling fie on Psy? Singer Hari’s oddly mesmerizing music video Gwiyomi, in which she accompanied her lyrics with a series of cutesy hand gestures, went viral through Asia and inspired a wave of parodies and tributes. Crayon Pop, an all-female quintet that is known for its offbeat image and music, was also one of Korea’s top search terms.
Google’s top search results also give some interesting nuggets of information into smartphone preferences among Asian users. For example, many people speculated before its release that the iPhone 5c was a cheaper model that Apple would use as a weapon to challenge Android’s dominance in emerging markets, despite denials by the company. As it turns out, the iPhone 5c isn’t much cheaper than Apple’s “premium” model, the iPhone 5s. And, either way, consumers in growth markets still prefer the 5s to its more colorful sibling. In the Philippines, the iPhone 5s made it into Google’s top search results, but the 5c didn’t even break the top 10.
On a more serious note, Google’s data showed that people are now more reliant than ever on the Internet for information when natural disasters strike. For example, Typhoon Haiyan resulted in five times the search traffic than Typhoon Bopha did a year earlier. This means it’s imperative that governments and rescue organizations ensure people have access to emergency broadband access networks.
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