Two of India’s biggest mobile service providers, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone have now officially announced the availability and pricing for the iPhone, ending over 2 months of rumors and speculations. The iPhone 3G goes on sale on August 22nd, 2008 throughout the country.
India, a country of over 350 million mobile subscribers has long waited for the launch of the iPhone in India. However, everyone who was eagerly anticipating the launch was in for a rude shock when the two operators announced the pricing of the iPhone. According to the official press-releases from both the operators, the 8GB model of the iPhone 3G has been priced at Rs. 31,00 (GBP 382) while the 16GB model (both Black and White versions) have been priced at Rs. 36,100 (GBP 445). Even though the iPhone 3G is being offered without any contract in the country, it will still be locked to the respective carrier.
However, the users do not seem to have taken the pricing announcements well. They seem to left everyone in a tussle as to why a device that was touted to be ‘half the price’ actually turned out to be four times more. People from all walks of life are voicing their opinions on Twitter and other online discussion forums. As it turns out, every one was expecting the iPhone 3G to be priced at par with the price that was announced for the US market – $199.
Now, I do not blame the carriers for the pricing. The Indian telecom market behaves very distinctively, where the subsidized system or yearly contracts do not work. A majority a subscribers in the country are prepaid subscribers. A large portion of the 350 million people use handsets from the entry-level segments. This leaves only a select few people who use smartphones. Other than the Blackberry phones in the country, almost all phones sold in the country are no-contract, unlocked phones. Thus, there was no way the Indian carriers could have chosen Apple’s preferred system of subsidizing the phone.
Mobile aficionados and the elite mobile users in the country, however, would not be as surprised or as disappointed as the general public. This is because Apple products in the country are known for their flaunt value, not use. Apple is pre-dominantly known because of the range of iPods sold in the country. So popular are the iPods, that pretty-much all music players have come to be regarded as ‘iPods’, even if they are the cheap, chinese make. With all the hype surrounding the iPhone, people had comfortably set in to the fact that it would become another gadget with very high flaunt value. Thus, users looking to buy the phone for this sole purpose would buy it, no matter what price it came for. Speaking to one of the dealers in the gray-markets, I was told that the iPhone 3G was available for Rs. 65,000 (GBP 800) and he had already sold over 10 such pieces. This could well give you an indication of the craziness for the iPhone that had dwelled upon the people.
So how would the iPhone fare in the Indian Market? Not so well, if you ask me.
1. The iPhone has been launched in a market where individuals think twice before spending anything over Rs. 15,000 (GBP 185) for their handsets. Again, he does not wish to be bound in a contract by the carrier, and is free to change carriers everyday if he wishes to. It is only the elite individuals that spend upwards of Rs. 15K on their phones, though they comprise only a small portion of the total population.
2. The market is predominantly ruled by Nokia and Sony-Ericsson phones, with Samsung or Motorola not too far behind. These companies are known to add much of the high-end features into all their phone. Hence, features such as High-Megapixeled cameras, video recordings, ability to forward text messages, memory expansion slots are seen as a necessity by everyone, something that lacks in the iPhone.
3. Absence of 3G network. It may be hard to believe, but a country of 350 million mobile subscribers does not have 3G networks. This makes one of the best feature of the iPhone to be rendered useless in the country. Not just that, the GPRS and EDGE services offered my many operators are pathetic to say the least. This again makes browsing on iPhone a not-so-enjoyable task. Finding WiFi spots in the country is as easy as finding a water fountain in the desert.
4. No iTunes Store makes a lot less enjoyable. Yes, Apple did launch the iTunes Store for India and other surrounding countries, but the only things available there are the Apps from the App Store. This, again, requires the user to have a user account by signing up with a credit card, something which is not easy to find among a majority of the mobile subscribers. And the lack of media content via the iTunes Store is not acceptable either.
The iPhone competes head on with the likes of Nokia N-series and E-series phones like the N95, N82, E71 and the K and W series phones from Sony-Ericsson. To counter-attack the iPhone launch, Nokia announced the launch of the much anticipated N96 in the Indian Market, a whole month before its launch in the US. Although it will be priced around the same price as the 16GB version of iPhone 3G, it carries a much wider feature-set and a brand name that the Indians are accustomed to. Obviously, it would be the preferred choice.
Bharti Airtel has decided to have a launch event at the stroke of midnight tonight, opening the gates to three of its many stores in the country. The phones will be provided on a first come-first serve basis. However, I fail to see people lining up outside the stores for the gadget. The only people who’d turn up for the event would be news reporters and a few fanboys.