This is probably part of Google's plan to get a bigger chunk of the Korean internet search market, as it is currently dominated by the domestic search giant, Naver, which since its inception in 1999, has remained very popular. Naver also has its own email, blog, and desktop search just to name a few services. Another popular search engine portal is Daum, which has risen in popularity since it merged with Hanmail.net, one of the most popular email services.
Although I am a big fan of Google's products and services (Gmail rocks my socks), I believe Google will fail to dominate the South Korean online search market. Why you ask? Things work differently here, as Koreans have an immense amount of pride towards their homegrown products and services, as opposed to foreign companies. Prime examples of these failures? Think Walmart (now E-Mart), French retail giant Carrefour (now owned by E.Land Corp), and recent B&Q's failure to penetrate the Korean retail markets. These large multinationals have suffered greatly and have been forced to sell off their remaining stores in the country to local Korean companies (B&Q is still up in the air). Even automobile manufactures have a tough time in the Korean market. The majority of the cars you see here are either badged Hyundai, Kia, or Samsung.
Considering that South Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world, the people here definitely are web-saavy. If their preference of internet portals is along the lines of their retail choices, then Google might have a higher mountain to climb than expected. Google Korea might take a large number of users away from Naver and Daum (although Google is now working with Daum), but it will never be viewed as the number one search engine in Korea--the people here won't let it happen.
Here is a screenshot of the new Google Korea homepage; notice the icons along the bottom:
Compare this to the "busier" web portals Naver:
...and Daum. Can you spot the odd one out?
What do you think? Will Google be able to penetrate this tough market?