iPhone struggles in India

04 October 2011

NEW DELHI: Apple's iPhone is struggling to gain ground in India, having been held back by a mixture of high prices, a lack of appropriate infrastructure and stiff competition.

There are 602m active mobile subscriptions in India, but Apple's shipments to the Asian economy currently fall behind those for smaller nations such as Belgium, Israel and Norway.

IDC, the insights provider, stated 62,043 iPhones were shipped to India in Q2 2011, giving it a smartphone market share of 2.6%, versus the 15% logged by Research in Motion's BlackBerry, the 21% posted by Samsung, and the 46% yielded by Nokia.

"Apple continues to invest in India as a growing market for the company," Alan Hely, from Apple's communications team in Europe, told Bloomberg.

At present, Apple's goods are only sold in India via licensed firms like Reliance Retail's iStores and Croma, part of Tata Group. "I don't think Apple is a brand for the masses," Ajit Joshi, managing director of Croma, said. "It's a brand for the classes."

Harish Bijoor, CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults, also argued Apple had largely relied on word of mouth among affluent shoppers, rather than stimulating demand through advertising.

"They don't see a big enough market for their products to make it worthwhile," he said. "They've barely done any advertising. It's pathetic, really."

Price is another issue in a country where 900m people live on less than $2 a day. An iPhone on sale at the iStore commands $705, whereas this gadget is available online from Apple at $199 in the US.

BlackBerry handsets costing under $200 contributed around 40% of RiM shipments to India in Q2, per IDC, and the company has extended its reach from 15 to 80 cities in the last year.

"We want to ride this wave," said Krishnadeep Baruah, RiM's director of marketing in India. "This is really the time to expand into the emerging towns and cities."

IDC has also predicted Indian smartphone shipments will rise by 68% a year, to 81.5m units, by 2015, but Gus Papageorgiou, an analyst at Scotia Capital, warned further infrastructure development would be vital for Apple.

"Networks in India are just not conducive for Apple -- 3G networks aren't quite where they are in Western Europe and North America," he said. "RiM got the right product, the right timing, the right app."

Viren Razdan, managing director of Interbrand, the consultancy, in Mumbai, suggested Apple's time may still come. "It's a brand-in-waiting," he said "Apple is waiting for infrastructure and consumer maturity."

Data sourced from Bloomberg; additional content by Warc staff