Apple finally wakes up to the India promise: Too little, too late?

Summary:Opening up stores and bringing in a three-year-old phone may not be enough to make the company's prospects come alive in the country.

It's almost amazing that Apple hasn't taken its role in the fastest-growing smartphone market in the world seriously. Watching its efforts here is somewhat like watching the mayor of Amity in Steven Spielberg's Jaws dither over the decision to close the beaches despite all evidence of a rampaging shark around gobbling people up.

Apple is bringing a smaller version of its stores to India.

In this case, the rampaging shark is the Indian consumer who bought upwards of 44 million smartphones last year, which was at least three times the growth rate over the previous year. Apple should have been waving big hunks of bloody meat at these fish instead of making half-hearted token moves.

It's not that Apple can't make money here — it does quite well, at $500 million per year in revenues — but it pales in comparison to what it could actually bring in, considering it's such a well-respected brand in India. Instead, it is Samsung that is the heavy hitter here; the Korean behemoth ringed in $4.5 billion in the last year in India, and apparently at least half of it came from its phones.

iphone vs s4
Apple is far behind global rival Samsung in India.

Now, it seems as if the sleeping giant has woken up. According to this article, Apple has decided to open up close to 200 shops sized 400x600 square feet — by its distributors Redington and Ingram Micro — in popular locations in both the big cities as well as tier 2 towns such as Pune and Chandigarh, which are often chockfull of students and also house newly rich big spenders.

This is a big move, since the company basically had no presence in India, especially compared to Samsung's 1,000 smartphone cafes, not to mention the thousands of dealers that sell its products exclusively and plaster its brand over their shops.

As we speak, Apple ads are all over the radio and in newspapers, advertising a $92 buyback scheme for your existing smartphone, which will be adjusted towards a $280 iPad Mini. As I had written here , the company has also resurrected the iPhone 4 for Indians, a strategy that it pioneered in Indonesia.

Will this work? My gut instinct is no, at least not for now. For the hipsters, the iPhone 4 could be an option, where scoring style points is a priority. However, for the large majority of the population, including its youth, who are discerning consumers and will not pick up a product that is distinctly behind the times and woefully inadequate to compete with the dazzling Android line-ups that range from Nokia's latest inexpensive, rabbit-out-of-the-hat X series to the flying-off-shelves Moto G.

Perhaps product development for different markets is not so easy for Apple. It is either simply unable or unwilling to develop and market a cheaper phone with good enough specs to compete with its more nimble brethren.

So, no matter how many stores it ultimately opens up, unless it gives people something comparable to the best Androids being trotted out (in terms of style, functionality, and price — warning: Xiaomi hasn't even arrived here yet), it will find out that its brand isn't good enough to reel the big or small fish in.

Topics: Apple, India, Smartphones

About

Rajiv is a journalist and filmmaker based out of New Delhi who is interested in how new technologies, innovation, and disruptive business forces are shaking things up in India. He was most recently a features editor at Business Standard newspaper, and started his career as a reporter with Fortune Magazine in New York in the '90s. He a... Full Bio

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