Why the iPhone remains a non-starter in India.

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January 11, 2010

in india, iphone, Mobility

A few weeks ago this Shanzai article caught my attention. It asks why the Smart Phone market in India doesn’t shake out like in the US and Europe. It comes down to one thing. There is no 3G and the GPRS connections are very variable. For the hyperconnected on GPRS you don’t worry about browsing. If you really need connectivity on the move you use a laptop and a dongle. BBM or Blackberry Messenger has also become popular with some.

Thus the usage occasions that built the iPhone in the US simply don’t exist. Take it further. When launched it also didn’t have forwarding of text messages, MMS, Bluetooth for photo sharing and the iTunes store wasn’t available in India. The camera sucked and most music collections aren’t gigabytes here or they are freely available on some SD card and simple inserted in a phone that has a slot. Add to that unlocking / jailbreaking and it becomes clear that it was a status object first. Plus when launched there was no APP store, there were no games etc. These things came later. The iPhone also gets slammed with a higher cost GPRS dataplan unless you argue with your operator. Did I add that it was expensive?

In the end — these initial challenges and the lack of 3G may well mean that the iPhone is poorly positioned when “mobility 3G” really begins. Part of the iPhone’s magic has also been in its ready integration with iTunes and your laptop. That’s often less relevant or possible here and the numbers one is talking about are quite small.

Leading smartphone brands in India

Steve Jobs can boast of Apple’s dominance in the US and Europe, but he also needs to acknowledge the iPhone’s failure to woo half of the world’s population residing in the emerging economies of India and China.

Apple, RIM, Motorola and Nokia may top the list of the world’s leading smartphone manufacturers, but in India the stats vary. Nokia is a dominant name in India, followed by Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Motorola and LG. However, in a country of 452 million mobile phone subscribers, there is not a single Indian smartphone manufacturer in the top five list.

Does Apple need to do anything? There are definitely opportunities. What about an iPod touch that works like a mifi. WiFi goes MiFi aka My WiFi.  Are there other connectivity options in the future. Example like the Kindle agreements on books?

What about the market leader? Nokia N97 banners and signs are everywhere. For those status conscious upgraders who have to have the latest phone it is probably still turning tricks. Yet I suspect the top end of the market has cooled. It is increasingly less about status. If the new phone doesn’t really add anything then why change. I think there is plenty of awareness here. Apple envy remains. E-Series are beautiful phones if email and messaging is your gig. Touch like broadband remains just around the corner and yet rapidly approaching.

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