Is iPhone losing out in India's smartphone war?

by CXOtoday News Desk    Jul 19, 2013


A country with 1.27 billion people, is lucrative business for most electronic manufacturers. But when faced with demands of a billion people, what market strategies do these manufacturers take? A recent IDC report, stated that Samsung is the top smartphone manufacturer in India, followed by Micromax, Karbonn, Nokia and Sony. But Apple, one of the leading smartphone manufacturers in the world has fallen off the wagon and failed to be even in the top five in India.

According to the IDC report, the Indian mobile phone market grew by 24 percent year over year in 2013 Q1 and estimates that India’s share of the global smartphone market will grow from 3 percent today to 10 percent in 2017. Almost 1.5 billion units are expected to ship around the world. This would catapult India from sixth to third position behind behind China and the U.S.

So why has Apple not been able to break into the top five in India?

There are several reasons as to why Apple is not considered one of the most sought out after brands in India. Firstly, the pricing policy. Apple has always focused on the high end market. Apple follows a very different marketing strategy in India than its rivals. They release one new model of the iPhone a year, and the latest is always top-of-the-line. Stores in the country are still offering older versions of the iPhone for cheaper, but most middle class Indians are unable to afford even the previous models of iPhones being sold at cheaper rates, such as iPhone 4 is available at Rs 26,500. Apple also lacks support from some mobile carriers in India.

However, Samsung follows a different tack which contributes to its large scale success in India. They release a wide range of Android-based models catering to low-end and high-end customers along with this main product Samsung Galaxy. Lesser known companies like Micromax and Karbonn have managed to break into the market following a similar strategy: providing low cost phones. The Canvas range of smartphones by Micromax has been well received in the market owing to the value for money proposition it offers with the huge display and impressive imaging capabilities. Nokia’s Lumia phones have also gained a loyal fan following with youth-oriented advertising and TV commercials. These phones are doing especially well in tier 2 and tier 3 cities due to lack of brand loyalty present in these cities.

Ravi Venkatesan, the former chairman of Microsoft India, said in an interview on Bloomberg Radio, “It is important to understand the Indian economic pyramid,the big economic opportunity is in the middle, but it is a very, very hard market to crack.”He went on to further explain that companies need to undertake a very different marketing strategy in India.”So what you need to do is come up with stuff that is dramatically more affordable, think smartphones at $50, cell phone calls at 1 cent a minute, and that takes innovation,” Venkatesan said.

Another reason could be the tough competition among smartphone manufacturers today. An IHS iSuppli report claims that globally, the iPhone supply globally has decreased. According to IHS analyst Wayne Lam, there have been a massive load of new new flagship smartphones from top manufacturers this year such as BlackBerry Z10, HTC One, and updated Samsung Galaxy S4.

The slowing growth of the iPhone around the world could be due to the easy availability of various other smartphones available at cheaper rates. With the market changing from being dominated by feature phones to being more smartphone centric, Apple needs to figure out a way to connect with the Indian market. Rumors imply that Apple is already working on a cheaper iPhone to cater to the low-end segment. If that is true, then the dynamics of the smart-phone market in India will change.

According to Venkatesan, the author of “Conquering the Chaos: Win in India, Win Everywhere.” “Companies that decide to pass on India, are making a big mistake.”