Nokia N97 and iPhone 3GS: similar India pricing, different reactions

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Nokia’s N97 is set to be priced at around Rs.36k in India (approx. $750). The reaction, until now, is almost muted and nowhere near the strident notes regarding the iPhone 3G pricing of 31k-35k. And it is going to get worse with the impending iPhone 3GS launch.


Why is this so? Herewith some plausible reasons:

1. Apple’s poor marketing communication in India: prior to the iPhone launch, Apple India did not make an effort to educate the consumers about the difference between the contract-based, subsidized US-pricing and the Indian pricing. Consumers were left to figure out the pricing themselves based on what they saw on the net. And when the unsubsidized pricing hit them, it led to an avalanche of negative feedback. It was also perhaps the first phone (?) to be priced over the 30K mark in India.

Up until now, Apple has not given any importance to India as a market. Given that telecom is booming in India, one would have thought that Apple would like a significant share of it. But that doesn’t seem to be so. Apple is almost indifferent to India – either arising from a deep understanding of the Indian consumer or not having a clue at all. I think the latter.

2. There’s a Nokia for everyone: while the N97 may be priced at stratospheric levels, everyone knows that there is a Nokia to suit their needs starting from a sub-5k pricing point. So, one can get a feel-good Nokia brand even if a particular model is out of reach.

3. Apple is seen as an ‘over-priced, poor-value’ brand in India: When I call BSNL’s tech support, I am usually asked: ‘Sir, which OS do you use? Vista or XP?’ suggesting that there can’t be any other. When I reply, ‘Mac OSX’ or ‘Apple’, sometimes I am asked again (as if speaking to a slow, 5-year old): ‘Sir, which operating system do you use?’. That pretty much sums up the awareness of Apple. Things changed with the iPod but the majority of the tech savvy people in India think Apple is just about good looks. Many years ago, I remember seeing a Tech Review show hosted by Abhimanyu Radhakrishnan when he was part of CNBC . He was reviewing the Macbook (1st gen) and I was shocked to see him trash the machine as totally useless and over-priced (because it couldn’t take in one of those datacards or some such) and all he found useful in it was the play-value of fiddling with the Expose keys. Jesus. And this from a ‘tech guru’. I have also noticed that most of the ‘tech gurus’ (like Rajeev on NDTV) have an inherent bias against Apple. No wonder people see Macs as all-show, no value. Sure, in India, Apple is disadvantaged by the exchange rates, duties…whatever. So when an Apple product lands here it costs considerably more than the equivalent US pricing. But not enough has been done to showcase the benefits of Apple products be it the Macbook or iPhone.

4. Apple and Mac Fan Boys make great punching bags: Apple has a perceived smug attitude. It’s product claims have some hyperbole, it hardly speaks to media, does not take part in community platforms like Twitter and so on. And everyone loves to poke holes at something that gets fulsome praise. Mac fan boys sometimes carry a superior attitude, being dismissive about Windows & PCs. That naturally gets a ‘let me show you’ reaction from the rest of the world, which happens to be overwhelmingly PC-driven.

5. We are like this only: Apple is so US-focused that some of the stuff that is relevant or new there could be irrelevant and hackneyed here. In telecom, especially, India has a far more savvier and ‘value-seeking’ consumer. The lack of SMS forward in the 1st generation iPhone was a big gap in our SMS-crazed country. Most Indian consumers do tolerate a ‘chalta hai‘ attitude when it comes to phone features. Having a little bit of everything is more important than doing a few things well. For example, a camera is a common feature in most mobile phones. But the quality of pictures or the recording in the low & middle end phones is quite sad. But a ‘3-megapixel only’ camera in the iPhone would be seen as a drawback. Never mind the picture quality and the ease of sharing. The most popular camera phone on Flickr is still the iPhone, beating the N95 by far. And this attitude of ‘I want all the features at a throwaway price’ is seen in other categories in India.


6. Mobile phone prices go southwards anyway: In India, mobile phone prices are known to head southwards pretty fast. There is no such evidence yet of Apple products, specially the iPhone.

So does the iPhone pricing and Apple in general get the wrong end of the stick in India? Are Indians mean to Apple products & pricing without knowing the true picture? Do tell.

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  1. Now that’s what I’m talking about—an intelligent, well thought out article on Apple’s presence (or its lack thereof) in India. I agree with every single point you made and can’t think of anything off the top of my head to add to the list either.

    Thank you for a great read. 🙂

  2. It was also perhaps the first phone (?) to be priced over the 30K mark in India.

    The iPhone is certainly not the first phone ever to be priced over thirty thousand bucks in India though. I can think of any number of Blackberrys and Nokia Communicators and other phones of that category that have been priced above 30K in the past.

    If you’re only take into account only the current prices though, then the iPhone may be the most expensive—I wouldn’t know because ever since the release of the iPhone in 2007, the only phone I’ve had eyes or ears for has been, no prizes for guessing, the iPhone.

  3. > Apple is disadvantaged by the exchange rates, duties…whatever.

    Most of the Nokias, Sony Ericssons, Motorolas, Blackberries are not manufactured in India. They are also imported by their Indian importers. Same applies to PC components.

    So, I don’t think Apple is disadvantaged.

  4. Thanks Aayush:) Rajbir, I admit that I am not fully familiar with Apple’s pricing strategies in India. But the price tags of Macbook’s magically increase while landing in India and off-hand that doesn’t seem to be the case with other laptops.

  5. Loved the post. Although I can see some sense in Apple not paying attention to India as a possible booming market for its products! Indians in my opinion are more pragmatic about their technology requirements. Granted that the Mac is a fabulous machine (I use one!), but it definitely isn’t the kind that the average Indian tech consumer would go after. The premium pricing of Apple products is pronounced equally abroad as in India, however consumers abroad have the mindset to go for it – this is not the case in a culture like ours that stresses on savings and value for money. I guess its going to be pretty tough for Apple to convince the Indian consumer to part with his money than the western counterparts 😉 So why try hard ?

    • Thanks Bala. Agree with you totally. I remember someone saying that even with a lowly biscuit, the Indian consumer wants milk, wheat, sugar, cashew and ‘mom’s blessing’ in it, at perhaps 3 bucks!

  6. Kishor Gurtu Reply

    The problem with the iPhone in India is that it is tied to operators who don’t subsidize it (unlike in the West) and are also clueless about it – so the after-sales service is crap. Also, after paying such a huge amount, the iPhone 3G/S has no 3G here. Unfotunately, HTC is following the same path with Android (Magic).

    Luckily for the rest of us, there is always a Nokia or a WinMo phone which come without any ridiculous restrictions.

    Even for developers, the iPhone is a pain – no SOAP support, no Calendar API, no background tasks (Push Notifications are NOT a replacement as some apologists would have you believe). To top it all, the insanely great appstore approval process.

  7. Spent a reasonably long time surfing on an iPhone yesterday for the first time and concluded I may have a problem with the touch screen interface. I quite like buttons; and as a result the N97 has crept back into the consideration set.

  8. Most people nowadays refer to the spec sheet when they are comparing products and on paper at least the N97 is better than the iPhone 3G. Things like the iPhone’s design and the interface do not appear on spec sheets so for a common man the N97’s price is better justified than that of the iPhone.

  9. Part of the value of an iPhone is in the vibrant ecosystem (apps that complement the life/lifestyle of users) which is missing in India. Therefore, an user in India doesn’t get as much out of his iPhone as he would in in the US (for e.g.). Word-of-mouth is a great way to understand your new gizmo, which could also be missing in India. A chicken-n-egg problem, if you will.

  10. Gopikrishnan Reply


    Nice article. Mostly in India I hear Mac as a snob value asset. I had been keenly following the product and after quite a bit of debate, finally got a macbookpro. And I am enjoying every moment of it. The wireless freedom, the easiness in networking so on and so forth. (I can’t even dream of attempting a network to be setup between my Ubuntu Desktop and my laptop if it was running Windows) People call me a Apple Fan Boy. But I am going to get a iPhone 3GS when it hits Indian market. You know why? The product delivers its value in use. Most of the time people don’t realize the features and capabilities. If you want your computer or Mobile to be just a phone, please don’t go for the iPhone. If you want your phone to listen to radio when you are out and not enough to listen to the many songs from the ipod functionality, please don’t go for the iPhone. If you are a power user, if you want to use business applications, if you want to use different tools on travel, if you want to use google map etc effectively, evaluate iPhone.
    I totally agree, Apple and the carriers in India seems to be least bothered to sell the product here. May be as someone at an apple store told me, as such hand sets are short supply, well, may be, Apple should plan to expand their facility in that case and promote the Applications which are more India specific.
    But as a Apple fan boy I am, I will be getting mine. When it finally comes…:-)

    • Thanks, Gopi. I guess a Mac is not for everyone. On the iPhone the conversation in India has centred around ‘what it can’t do’ (real or otherwise) rather than ‘what it can do’. And Apple hasn’t done anything to change it.

  11. What I can’t understand is, if Apple is selling an unsubsidized phone in India, why lock it to only two carriers?

  12. Totally agree with you there Kunal….would have bought the iphone a long time back if it was’nt tied to Airtel/ Vodafone…..there are still some places in India where only BSNL gives you connectivity.

  13. Nice points man. The pricing is obviously too great. If i buy it in US then I will have to pay mere INR 10000, but if i buy it here then i’ll have to waste of INR 32000.

    Not pretty, huh? but i guess we will not be able to bear international roaming charges of AT&T. So let’s stick with Airtel.

    I hope they launch 3gs with a significant price. I may want to get one then.

  14. Hmm , i do absolutely agree wit evry single word u have written . see it is not that people are not aware of mac products , there are many people who are crazy about MAC products but our government is not encouraging to bring the most technicallly , advanced technology to india of 3G network or of MAC products . these products & technology really are very very interesting to learn or to work on it . i really search a lot in internet about MAC , 3G network & various products these well advanced technically , but not only MAC products , there are many other products which our government is not encouraging to coming to INDIA .
    So we can hope that we can see INDIA getting 3G network , MAC products & other products to india & hope we can learn & enjoy with those products in India.

  15. Great Article!, i happy to see the like minded people here…

    i have seen most of the people have bought their iPhones from US and other places and got it unlocked here… seems like it’s working for them, i am thinking on the same lines.

    Just had one question, if we do buy it from other place than india, can we get the Tech Support on it here in India? don’t want to end up hearing question like Which Operating system does it use VISTA or XP? 🙂

  16. Actually the grapevine pricing of Iphone 32K-36K for 16 & 32GB is a hell a lot cheaper than 575 & 675 euros in Belgium where it is sold without a sim lock. Belgium does not allow phones to be locked, so they are sold separately from the monthly plan.

    Just that apple needs to do efficient marketing…

  17. Rupneet Singh Reply

    i think apple is 1 among the top class brands in the world n thus 2 keep up it’s standard Apple has kept iphone’s rates quite high .

    thanks 4 the gud read ..

  18. I totally agree with the points mentioned in the post, I dont understand how the prices seem to be so high for us when we are a developing country.

    40k for a phone, ie. the Iphone 3GS is just crazy ….

    On one side we see large multinationals pricing products as per there own whims and fancies cuz we Indians still buy at those prices.

    On the othe hand, I saw this website recently , crazy concept, they have deals on every electronic item possible, and they claim to have taken the lowest of more than 10 quotations across the city.

    I hope we decide to take a stand on buying such stuff too and holding on to our purchases until mnc firms decide they cant take us for granted.

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