By ignoring India, Apple is making a big mistake

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India has never been an important market for Apple. During the early ’90s when I was fresh in the advertising business, Macs ruled the Creative & Studio Departments of advertising agencies. Even then, the onus of marketing and servicing Macs was on the local re-seller. There wasn’t much of a concerted effort from Apple. Later, PC’s became pretty much the norm for graphics, Office Suites and everything else.  Today, it’s common to find seasoned Art Directors being comfortable only on a Windows PC. Yes, there are Macs in Studios and Art Departments but it’s more an exception than the norm – chief culprit being the high price of the Mac.

Then came the iPod which introduced Apple and it’s ecosystem to a whole new generation. And with much friendlier pricing, Macbook’s have an appeal to a potentially large audience. Apple re-sellers have mushroomed in major cities. So in terms of a product portfolio, at the high end they have iMacs, Macbook Pros and iPhone. At the popular pricing level, they have a few iPods and the Macbook. Add to it, a fantastic OS in Snow Leopard and accessories like Magic Mouse, the Apple portfolio is extremely appealing. And there is a retail network of sorts in place. Yet we all know that Apple is virtually a non-player in India –  be it in mobile phones, desktops or laptops. The reason is not hard to seek: Apple is simply not interested in India.

It’s a litany of woes for the Apple fan in India:

– iPhone: a right royal pricing mess. It was DOA as far as India was concerned with that kind of pricing

– no signs of iPhone 3Gs: this despite the promise made by Phil Schiller in Jan ’09 that the iPhone 3Gs will be launched in Aug 09 here. The Apple re-sellers haven’t a clue and they keep giving fresh dates of launch every time you ask them.

– no music on the iTunes India store: it’s moronic, to say the least, that in one of the world’s most music-rich countries, iTunes doesn’t offer music

– every major Apple product released in the US doesn’t find it’s way here:  the Magic Mouse being a case in point. It is still available on a ‘pre-order basis’ at the re-sellers.

Apple India’s Customer Support sucks

Apple may not have huge market share or value ambitions from the Desktop/laptop market in India. They will never be able to compete with local manufacturers, assemblers on price. Plus, category dynamics are so stacked up against Apple. A market ruled by Microsoft, ubiquity of pirated software, ignorance of what Apple’s integrated approach really is, apathy towards Apple – there are enough reasons for Apple’s poor chances of success in India.

With iPhone, I think they have a chance of generating huge volumes and value in India, if – and it’s a big if – Apple chooses to do so. India is far ahead of the US in many ways when it comes to the telecom market – we are a lot more demanding from our handset and service provider -the dynamics of the category are different here. Despite iPhone’s flaws – perceived or otherwise, I feel it was the best bet Apple had to broad-base their appeal. One of the big reasons for it’s success in the West – the App Store would have been a great advantage here. Even abroad, that advantage can dwindle any time. If Apple has 100,000 apps today, it’s a matter of time before the Android, Blackberry and Ovi stores populate their stores with large numbers. The fortress Apple built around the iPhone is not impregnable.

Taking a cue from Apple’s App Store all the big boys have launched India-specific app stores. Nokia, Aircel (Pocketapps), Airtel (App Central), Blackerry – they all have their app stores. It’s a matter of time before India/city-specific apps come into the picture, with an ability to pay through local currency… maybe even through iTunes-like accounts. When that happens, any potential advantage the iPhone had would disappear.

With a mobile population of 500mn and counting, India is a mouth watering prospect for telecom marketers. And the potential of VAS and ARPU is yet to be realized fully. But the bigger opportunity lies elsewhere. It is well documented that the classic pyramidal structure of Indian consumer markets will change to accommodate the bulging middle class (the Aspirers) in the near future.

The estimated size of the Aspirer’s market is 124mn households. Agreed, not all of them may be potential customers for the iPhone. But with the right kind of pricing, a chunk of the Aspirers could be. This group, while being price sensitive is characterized by seeing premium experiences at popular prices. For them, the likeliest port of call when it comes to smartphones is unlikely to be an iPhone, given the marketing (or the lack of it) here in India.

It is unlikely that Apple isn’t aware of the attraction of India, as a market. But they deliberately seem to be ignoring it. If and when they plan to make a fist of it here (with the iPhone perhaps, given the mobile population here), it may be too late.  The competition seems to have the ‘will to win’ and is backing it up with action. They are smarter, agile and getting ahead of Apple. Does Apple care?

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  1. Apple makes great products and gives a wonderful user experience but if it is not interested in India, so should we as Indians care about Apple? I went to Apple store couple of times and the salespersons were just short of being arrogant. You want it you take it, there is nothing much to sell was the attitude. I was totally disappointed.

  2. Apple answers: A mistake? Call me after you have a toilet, ok?

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