Hangul and How It Affects App Search in Korea


The app market in South Korea has been growing fastly, and now it is the third largest app market in East Asia, following China and Japan. Statista has projected that the number of app downloads in Korea will reach 1.796 billion in 2022. It is a large number for the population of South Korea is only about 52 million. Thus, it is almost obvious for app developers to give attention to countries like Japan and Korea when they attempt to launch their apps globally.

As it has been discussed in the previous article(The Uniqueness of Japanese Language), however, it takes many steps to succeed in app marketing in another country. This article will introduce some characteristics of the Korean language and how apps can be searched within those linguistic features. Lastly, it will attempt to suggest some tips worth considering upon your challenge to step into Korea’s app market.

Hangul: the Innovational Writing System of Korea

Unlike many other writing systems in the world, the Korean writing system has no direct basis in other languages; it is invented by one manーKing Sejongーand his team in the early 15th century. Its innovational features, uniqueness, and simplicity have been acknowledged and highly praised internationally, so it was registered as a UNESCO heritage in 1989.

You may ask questions about the Korean writing system being simple, especially if you are looking at it from an English speaker’s perspective. Korean words are often misunderstood as they are like Chinese characters where a character represents a word. The Korean language is a phonogram, meaning it is the same type of language as English, so the Korean words are built by using Korean alphabets, just as the English language is so.

Hangul is constituted of 14 consonants and 10 vowels. The forms of consonants represent the shape of the tongue when making that sound, while the vowels embrace the theme of Yin and Yang of Confucianism and attempt to grasp the idea of harmony between Sky, Earth, and Human. Aside from these characteristics, Hangul has things like double consonants and blend vowels, which may be new to speakers of other languages.

This image classifies Korean consonants and vowels by single key and double key on the keyboard. The second column shows the double consonants where one consonant is doubled to demonstrate the tense sound of consonants, and the last column and the last two vowels from the third column represent the blend vowels where the multiple vowels are combined to manifest more various vowel sounds.

What gets more interesting is when these alphabets get together and form an actual letter. It starts with a consonant or a placeholder “ㅇ” and a vowel comes next to or at the bottom of the consonant. Then, if necessary, another consonant props up the consonant and the vowel. So it almost feels like playing Tetris, except that it builds from top to bottom or top to right and bottom.

“공” means “ball”

“앱” means “app”

While English just spreads alphabets from left to right, Korean squishes alphabets in a block and makes a letter as if constructing a building. Since the Korean writing system builds alphabets instead of spreading them out, the Korean letters may not look like they are organized by alphabets. Yet they are phonetic languages just like English; thus, searching apps in Korea may not be so different from what you may experience in English-speaking countries. Let’s find out if it is as expected.

How to Type Words on Korean Keyboard

Take a look at the image of a Korean keyboard on a smartphone. The position of the buttons is the same as the English Keyboard; only the alphabet is changed from English to Korean.

Korean Keyboard on an iphone

All you need to type in Korean on this keyboard is to put the right consonant and vowel in order. If you look at the image closely, however, you may notice that there are no double consonants and blend vowels. You can find them either click the shift button (the upper arrow in the image) and the right consonant or vowel. For some blend vowels, you just have to compose them with their vowel parts as if finding puzzle pieces. Below is a video that shows how Korean alphabets are typed.

“웹툰” stands for “webtoon” which is a compound word of “web” and “cartoon.”

The English speakers may ask, “If the shift button is used for double consonants, which button should I use when I need to capitalize?” Fair question. Capitalizing in English as it is an important part of grammar. However, there is no need to worry about it in Korean, because there are no capital letters in this language. A fun fact is that the Japanese and Chinese languages also do not have capital letters. Another note before moving on to the next point: Korean uses space between words, yet Japanese does not. This may make Korean a little bit more familiar to English speakers than Japanese.

Loanwords Become New Korean Words

As the Japanese language has accepted many foreign words as loanwords, the Korean language also has many active and widely used loanwords. Thus, many app titles are or include foreign words or loanwords. On July 15th, 2022, at least 80% of the apps that were ranked in Apple App Store’s Top Chartsー”Top Free Games,” “Top Free Apps,” and “Top Arcade Apps.” 13 out of 15 Top Free Games used either foreign words or loanwords; 12 out of 15 for Top Free Apps; 12 out of 12 for Top Arcade Apps.

More interestingly, however, the Korean language accepted loanwords deep enough to create new words by compounding or shortening one or more loanwords. These new words also have been popularly used in actual daily life contexts, so they can work as effective keywords if an app has enough relevance to them. Below is the list of such words:

  1. 홈트 (derived from “Home Training”)
  2. 웹툰 (derived from “Web Cartoon”)
  3. 아싸/인싸 (derived from “outsider” and “insider”)

“홈트” from “Home Training”

Diet is a keyword that many modern people value and strive to achieve in everyday life. Korean people also try to stay in shape, so it is not so surprising to find a gym as often as a Starbucks cafe in Korea. Yet COVID-19 has prohibited crowds to gather, so the gym members had to find another way to work out. One of the alternatives was home training. Many trainers uploaded the “home training videos” on Youtube, and people began to talk about it often. The result was to create a new word for this newly made concept: “홈트” derived from “Home Training.”

“홈트” then induced to app market for the demand for working out at home rapidly increased. As the image below shows, the suggested searches for “홈트” has earned variations, meaning lots of people have been searching with this keyword. So if you developed a workout app and tried to step into Korea’s app market, you could use this as a keyword on top of “home” and “training.”

“홈트” on Apple App Store search

“웹툰” from “Web Cartoon”

Another interesting Korean output from loanwords is “웹툰.” This is the combination of “web” and “cartoon.” As the original words indicate, it means cartoon you can read online. Just like “홈트,” “웹툰” is a word that is invented in Korea. These cartoons on the web existed even before the smartphone was widely used in public, yet webtoon gained much more attention and demand along with the rise of the smartphone. Now the webtoon market is expanding, and Statista shows that 8,154 webtoons were published in Korea in 2020. Interestingly, thus, the concept of webtoon and its market have grown bigger than in English-speaking countries though webtoon originated from English words.

“아싸” & “인싸” from “Outsider” & “Insider”

The last example of newly invented loanwords is “아싸” and “인싸.” Unlike “홈트”(home training) and “웹툰”(webtoon), these two words are an abbreviation of each corresponding word. “아싸” comes from “outsider” and means about the same as its original word. On the other hand, “인싸” is derived from “Insider.” “인싸” also has almost the same meaning as its original English word, but both of these Korean adaptations of “Outsider” and “Insider” have a bit more sensitive connotation. Being an “Insider” in Korea means you become a leading figure in a group and always be the center of attention while being an “Outsider” means you are out of the group and your attempt to join the group is almost prohibited. In addition, the Korean culture values collectivism, and one’s position in a group is significant. Thus, calling someone “인싸”(Insider) becomes a compliment, but “아싸”(outsider) is an insult and can discourse a person very much. For those who voluntarily stay outside of a group, Koreans put “voluntary” before “outsider” and created another compound word (the “voluntary outsider” in Korean is “자발적 아싸.”)

As the idea of “insider” and “outsider” is deeply related to the collectivistic culture of Korea, “인싸” and “아싸” were quickly adopted by the Korean people. As a result, multiple apps use the word “인싸” in their titles. For “아싸” has a negative connotation, it does not show notable influence on the app market, but “인싸,” as the word indicates, seems to blend in the world of the app market.

Suggested Searches for keyword “인싸”


As globalization is now almost obvious due to technological innovation, knowing multiple languages has become more significant than ever. Yet every language has its distinct characteristics, and machine translators are not completely reliable yet. Moreover, the languages started to blend and create new words from a foreign language. So it is indeed a hard task to catch the haste pace of globalization and the trend of the global market. However, the globe is too good a market to give up just because it is hard to catch up. So let’s tackle this giant. He may drop some treasures from his pocket as he falls.

ASO Index is an ASO tool developed by aix Inc., and it serves your app to grow by providing in-depth data and concise analysis and research.

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