iPhone launch in India: Has Apple Dialed the Wrong Number?India is now the third-largest Smartphone market in the Asia-Pacificregion, after Japan and China. Quarterly shipments are more than 1 millionunits and the estimated total for the next three years is 19 million. But this isa small fraction of total handset sales. India is the worlds fastest-growingmobile services market: In July, according to TRAI (Telecom RegulatoryAuthority of India) figures, it added a record 9.22 million subscribers in Julyto reach 296.08 million.These large numbers of users are increasingly moving beyond basics and itcan be said that "As the need of Indian mobile phone consumers is evolving,they are demanding feature-rich devices, which can cater to their business communicationrequirements as well as their personal needs.”It is believed that Apple could gradually broaden the Indian market for the iPhone bystarting out with "leading-edge users who love to take on the challenge of a radicallydifferent device and can figure it out on their own." In the process, these leading-edge users"can not only help educate others (in how to use the phone), but also help Apple learn how toeducate the others."Taking such factors into consideration, at midnight on August 22, Apple Inc., an Americanmultinational corporation, rolled out its iPhone in India and some 20 new countries. But itdidnt roll too far. Few basic reasons for the same can be summarized as follows:- • Some retail outlets of the two service providers that Apple has linked up with -- Vodafone and Bharti Airtel -- discovered that they did not have the necessary permissions to stay open at that late hour. Others attracted a small number of curious consumers. But missing were the lines and fanfare that accompanied the iPhones launch in the U.S. and some other parts of the world. • Only a few buyers turned up at midnight launches done by both Airtel and Vodafone across eight cities in India. Rival phone makers in India were eager to claim victory in the first round and say they were planning to build on that. • One reason for the lack of excitement could be the almost total absence of any marketing. Newspapers reported the coming launch based on statements from Vodafone and Airtel: Apple was nowhere to be seen. The local Apple office in Bangalore -- merely a sales and distribution set up -- was "not authorized" to make any statements. And Apples Singapore operation, where press inquiries were directed, was not particularly forthcoming. • Also, Vodafone and Airtel themselves are rivals. According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), in June 2008, Airtel was number one in the wireless
telephone market with 69.38 million subscribers and a market share of 24.50%. Vodafone was number three with 49.19 million and 17.2%. (In the number-two spot was Reliance Communications with 50.78 million and 17.7 %.) Cooperation between the two companies to promote the iPhone was not a likely scenario, and the advertising campaign announcing its arrival had been bland and basic. • Another albatross around the iPhones neck is its Price. The 8GB version costs Rs. 31,000 ($710) while the 16GB iPhone is priced at Rs. 36,100 ($825). The corresponding prices in the U.S. are $199 and $299. India being a price-sensitive market, these levels were ridiculous. The reason for such high price of iphone is that, unlike in the U.S. and other countries, the service providers are not subsidizing the handset in India. U.S. carriers are able to subsidize the cost of a mobile phone device not just because of contractual lock in periods but also because the phone [itself] is locked so you can only use it with a specific carrier. These practices allow U.S. carriers to recover their relatively high subscriber acquisition costs over the period of the contract. But in India, the majority of consumers use prepaid cards and can easily switch carriers. The economics are not conducive to subsidizing the phone. • Additionally, Bharti is asking for a deposit of 5,000 rupees, while Vodafone is reportedly seeking twice as much. • Making things worse, India has yet to auction the frequency spectrum required by mobile operators to start offering 3G, and a formal 3G launch is estimated to take up to a year. So even the rich, cool dudes who manage to get themselves an iPhone will only be able to enjoy the low-speed applications that they had access to anyway on their phones earlier.However, despite the lack of buzz surrounding the iPhone and other potential hang-ups, someWharton faculty saw a clever strategy at work where Apple was "testing the waters" andgetting prospective customers acquainted with its device before a full-scale marketingassault.Skimming the MarketApple can be said to have a smarter strategy for its IndianiPhone launch than is immediately apparent. If one compares[the iPhones] U.S. launch to the India launch, it is a beautifulexample of the distinction between a penetration strategyand a skim strategy.’ In the U.S., Apple basically wanted tobust the market open all at once. So, they had all these people
lined up all around the block, and when they flipped the switch -- boom! -- the market existed. InIndia, its almost like they are doing a test market.Apples India strategy allows for much more flexibility. It lets [the company] learn aboutthe market in a much cheaper, lower-risk way. Thus, Apple could use that extra cushion tounderstand how its early users react to the product and its features, evaluate its distributionstrategy and even reassess which service providers it should work with.Also, Apple doesnt have a large installed base of Macintosh users in India, and that mayalso have persuaded it against a penetration launch for the iPhone. If one dont [have asignificantly large base], one must go with a skim strategy, because you cant create that marketovernight."Despite the skim strategy, the company was myopic regarding its competitors and faced asetback. • Big names attached to the iPhone gave it high expectations and its price made it a flop. • The plan was good to take two big players together to enter the market. They thought about strength but not about weakness. • A person in India who spends Rs. 31,000 for a product will never stand in a queue. • The iPhones price made it only for a niche class, but they can easily get it from foreign markets. • Apple didnt consider its rivals in India. Nokia, Samsung, LG, BlackBerry all launched similar products. • India is a different market, where companies need to work on strategy. The mind-set of consumers is far different from that of U.S. consumers. • Perhaps the company forgot that iPhone is not the only phone that has a touch screen, music player, 3G, e-mail and all.Needless to say, Apple (AAPL: Apple Inc) needs to rework its iPhone pricing in India if ithopes to attract a respectable number of customers in this poor but rapidly growingeconomy. Even if it doesnt, other mobile operators and other handset makers probably havemuch to gain from the iPhones launch anyway.The iPhones biggest contribution to India will likely be the power of persuasion it bringsalong. For every iPhone user flaunting the smart phones cool features, there could be at least adozen others who may want to upgrade their own phones to handsets that offer more features, butare more modestly priced. And several others may be tempted to explore the world of value-added services, in addition to voice and text messages.