What Everyone in India seems to know about the iPhone and why they aren’t excited by it

February 4, 2009

in india, iphone

While visiting India over the last two weeks I had my usual set of shocks and observations. Sometimes they get blogged and they also fit with other contextual things I’m seeing. What surprised me about these observations and comments I heard this time, was who spoke them. From kids to adults they “know” about the iPhone in India and yet not one of these people could afford one, or even had one on their wish list. What I was hearing was the “broad themes” for why it’s being rejected in India or at least a justification for retaining the lust but saying I’ll wait till these things are fixed. Quite simple… and stupid or are they?

Fixing the iPhone for India. You could start with the pricing but from the users point of view two things matter before the dollars even come up.

  • Forwarding of SMS messages. It’s simply not possible on the iPhone. By contrast you can do it on the cheapest Nokia’s. This impacts on networking with friends. People in India seem to enjoy forwarding jokes and couplets to their friends.
  • Bluetooth doesn’t enable the sharing of files. The kludge of using email to share a photo when close to another phone user is unnatural. The crappy bluetooth is leaving users exposed to ridicule, when with friends, who often with equally expensive devices, can actually wirelessly and painlessly send or exchange a file. This can be key in a culture and world where bandwidth may be hard to come by and carrying a laptop is not the norm.
  • And the usual complaints about pricing, poor camera and the absence of ‘pre-paid’ schemes in a market dominated by prepaid phone cards.

Stupid or not?
I’m not sure how much thinking Apple did or where the research came from. My guess is for the orginal iPhone, most of the research was US based and the %ages at the time would have shown that forwarding of text messages wasn’t popular here. Or was it that the choice to provide “threaded” SMS meant that forwarding had to be left out? Are there reasons why the chat SMS format works this way? If so will the same thing happen with other phone companies when they go to a threaded format? Or should a contact be “set” to be “threaded” or “forwardable”. Both systems have their benefits. If I get informational SMS’s then I may well want to forward them. It’s common practice to get jokes and other updates in India. by contrast I get few like that here (the cost is too high!).

On bluetooth similarly. I can actually use Fliq or email stuff to another iPhone user. Increasingly I can connect and share when Wifi is around. That’s neat but has some dependencies that don’t work in a place like India. And it assumes my friends all have iPhones. This just isn’t the case yet in India.

In terms of usability, the whole SMS area is more interesting to me. Yet of the 15 million users we don’t hear the complaint often. I can’t forward this SMS. (I did used to use it from time to time on my Nokia, eg for directions or a confirmation).

Apple should forge ahead with their SMS – chat revolution and at the same time, make it easier to open new chats with forward. Group chat without a service isn’t going to happen and yet Google is already experimenting with this in India. In the end it’s SMS rates that are killing SMS innovation in the US where in India the rates are down as low as 8 paise now which is about $.003 per SMS. Compare that with the 50cents I had to pay on sending international SMS’s.

Observations like these make me wonder about product innovation – it’s not only about pricing and marketing, reasons attributed by some for it’s failure so far in India. Or is Apple’s a ‘skim strategy’ for India? Regardless of which, there is no excuse for not understanding cultures of use and expecting people to buy into image without offering core functionality. This is where usability research would have helped.

Bonus Links:

10 reasons why NOT TO BUY Apple iPhone in India

Apple’s iPhone will fail in India – Bruce Nussbaum, Businessweek

iPhone – not India Phone

Why the iPhone has stumbled in India

How hot is the iPhone globally?

  • Hey Stuart,
    yes Iphone is amazing. Yes its 1 of the most desired phones worldwide but the biggest reason for its failure in India is the price. And we cannot have a debate here.

    Because the other shortcomings can be still ignored and everything can be overlooked if people in India got the Iphone under 20K. Less than 20000 Rs. At 31000 Rs for a 8GB version and 36000 Rs. for the 16 GB, its crap. People would prefer Nokia phones who do a lot more than what Iphone does in the Indian Context. Iphone is great as an internet device and with all those amazing apps, but we don’t have 3G yet in India and nobody knows when it will go main stream. Also no public Wifi points and thus Iphone may not be a killer cell phone here

    Plus, nobody uses the amazing services like Brightkite, Google latitude or facebook on their cellphones. people dont activate data plans on their cell phones here. SO Iphone might just not be great for India. People who bought it are the 1s who want to show off and can afford it.

    I can bet half of them dont know the full features of Iphone, but they still carry it just to show off.

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