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

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.


Ex-ad man. Love advertising, Apple, tech, digital, design and all things creative. VP - MarCom, @Robosoft. Views personal. See disclaimer for more.