How to make the iPhone 3GS (and Apple itself) successful in India

Apple in India

Hello, Apple. How have you been? I hear the iPhone 3G was a complete bust in India, one of the largest (and still growing) telecom markets in the world. There’ve been rumours (which may have been exaggerated or even completely fabricated) that you didn’t even manage to sell fifty thousand units in a country that boasts of over a billion people.

Tell me, Apple, were you surprised? Because I sure as hell wasn’t. Are you scratching your heads, wondering what the hell went wrong? Well, let me help you with your quandary. Here’s a bunch of things that you’re doing wrong (not listed in order of importance) and should seriously reconsider if you ever want to make the iPhone more than just a footnote in the Indian telecom market.

Visual Voicemail

Why, pray tell, doesn’t Visual Voicemail work in India, even though you’re following the same carrier lock-in model as in the USA? If the grossly incompetent AT&T can pull off the feature, I’m sure Airtel and Vodafone can do it as well. If you ask them to. And you haven’t.

Indian Languages

Do you know what percentage of the entire world’s population speaks Hindi? 5.3%, as of 2001. That’s 487 million people, which is only 21 million short of the total number of English speakers in the world. And yet it is not included among the iPhone’s list of supported languages. Nor are any of the other myriad Indian languages, a few of which boast of staggeringly huge numbers of speakers as well.


Kudos to you for finally fixing SMS on the iPhone with firmware v3.0! The iPhone’s inability to forward text messages was a major crutch and was impeding its success in the Indian market. But you know what other addition would really make a lot of Indians give a second thought to the iPhone? Bluetooth that actually works. Sure, you can use it to hook up a Bluetooth headset, but what Indians really use Bluetooth for it sending pirated songs, lurid videos, and crappy pictures to each other. And the iPhone doesn’t allow them to do that. Ergo, no one purchases the damn thing!

Carrier Lock-In

I’ll be blunt about this one—cut out the bullshit, Apple. We Indians have been fortunate enough to not have had any carrier subsidy and lock-in business in this country so far and the fact that you’re trying to change that pisses me off no end. Make the iPhone a standalone product like most other phones in India and all your other products and allow us to purchase it from any retail store in India and pop any SIM card in. That’s the way it has always worked in India and you better not mess with it.

Service and Support

Here’s another question (or two). Why do the service reps at Apple Authorised Service Centres shuffle sideways and try to avoid eye contact whenever you mention the iPhone in front of them? Why do they tell you to take your iPhone to the carrier it‘s running on to get it serviced? It’s an Apple product, isn’t it? Why won’t Apple provide the after sales service? Why do we have to deal with clueless tech support executives at Airtel and Vodafone’s service centres who’ve never even seen a Mac, let alone service an iPhone?

Retail Presence

You know what I would love to see a little more of in India? Apple Stores. Because currently there are none. And no amount of Imagine Stores and Reliance iStores are going to be able to fill the shoes of an actual honest-to-God Apple Store. The Apple Authorised Premium Resellers (boy, that’s a mouthful!) in India are worse than the store-within-store thingies you have in places like Best Buy in the USA.

Online Presence

While we’re on the subject of selling to consumers, what’s up with the “catalogue only” nature of the Indian Apple Online “Store”? Why can’t we have a full-blown Apple Online Store with its own yellow stickies and the ability to actually purchase stuff off it and have it delivered to our doorsteps with free shipping? Is it really that hard to do? Even if it is, wouldn’t it be worth it?

iTunes Store

You know this better than I do—the iPod took off in the USA due to the advent of the iTunes Store. Once people had a way to legally and easily purchase digital music at competitive prices, everyone wanted those little sexy devices that they could easily load those songs onto and listen to. Here we are today, six years later, and we still do not have an iTunes Store in India. Bring it here, price Indian songs at Rs. 10 or Rs. 15 per track and the foreign ones slightly higher, do something similar with applications, audiobooks, movies, and television shows, launch a huge advertising campaign for it, strike promotional deals with food chains, and get this thing going. Which brings me to…


Do you know when was the last time I saw an Apple commercial on Indian television? Let me think…oh yeah, that’s right, never. For a company that is known for its creativity and sheer marketing genius, you’ve been surprisingly lax when it comes to the Indian market. The closest thing I’ve seen to a marketing campaign is Imagine employees setting up a little booth in a film school and trying to lure students to the new MacBook Pros. If that’s the best you can do then it’s hardly surprising that the only apples people in India are aware of are the ones they can bite into.

What You Don’t Need to Do

I know that most people will disagree with me on this one but I honestly think that it is unnecessary to lower the price of the iPhone if you can fix all (or even most of) the things I’ve mentioned above. Quality comes at a price and I know that a lot of Indians are capable of and willing to pay Rs. 30,000 (but not any more) for a phone if it’s worth the price. The problem with the iPhone is simply that, in its current state, it just isn’t worth the asking price. That said, however, please try to keep the price of the most expensive model within Rs. 30,000. You can’t really blame people for being outraged when they walk into an Apple Authorised Reseller and find that the price tag of Apple’s phone is higher than its cheapest Mac!

This was supposed to be a post just about the iPhone’s state in India but turned into a full blown critical look at Apple’s Indian presence. Pardon me for that. But I do honestly thing that Apple needs to take some radical steps to improve its presence in India and try to establish a firmer footing. I’ve been seeing a lot of enthusiasm among my college-going friends about Macs recently and I can’t help but notice that, if only they take it a little more seriously, Apple can use the opportunity the iPhone has given them to make a mark in this part of the world.

If only they were willing to give it a shot…


Monday, August 24, 2009 — 9 notes
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