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The young Steve Jobs of Macintosh days ( left) and the man who launched the iPad
 
 
As tech world hails Steve Jobs, Apple’s resigning CEO, let’s not forget: India was his blind spot

 

India fell off Apple's map during the Steve Jobs years

IndiaTechOnline comment by Anand Parthasarathy
The world of computers and mobile phones, music players and tablets, has been saying hosannas to  Steve Jobs, Apple’s charismatic head, ever since he told the world, on Wednesday, US time: "I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come."
It is believed his ongoing struggle with pancreatic cancer has forced this decision on him.
In the world of electronics and computer-based technology for mass consumers, he towered over everyone and everything else, as the presiding genius – inspiring one iconic product after another. In his first stint as boss man at Apple, he joined co-founder Steve Wozniak in dreaming up the world’s first personal computer – the mould-breaking Macintosh.
When he returned in triumph in 1997, to the company, that foolishly sacked him 12 years earlier, he inaugurated a new era at Apple, where he inspired a series of devices, beyond the desktop and laptop PC – the iPod music player, the iPhone, the iPad tablet – which redefined the way the rest of us dummies and non-IT- professionals, harnessed technology for self empowerment and sheer joy. Each of these devices remains, the best of its breed, often imitated, but rarely equaled for public loyalty. Meanwhile, the Apple computer in desktop and laptop avatars continues to provide user-friendly innovation, which set them apart from all other comers. In the process, Jobs cannily made so many of us, slaves to his mantra that it was cool to be costlier – as long your device was perceived to be best in class. With every one of Apple’s i-products – from iMac to iPad – one paid a premium over what the market offered for similar specs and functionality – and then one flaunted it.
That may explain why India is one of very few geographies where Apple never had the sort of cult following among the young and restless, the bold and the beautiful people, that was seen elsewhere. In the land where a sharp lookout for paisa vasool  or money's worth, is the only way most of us can survive, Apple’s cool tools were unaffordable for many potential customers. The tragedy is, Steve Jobs never understood this -- or possibly never cared. In speaking about him, many industry experts today used phrases like ‘mercurial’, uncompromising’, ‘takes no prisoners’, ‘task master’.  ( see Tim Reilly's comments on Jobs resignation at the Video spot on our home page for a few days) No one spoke of any special sensitivity, about how technologies like the ones his company created might – just might – serve a larger, less commercially-driven agenda, to empower millions of the world’s unconnected.  This is curious, given Jobs' early life: As a teenager, in Oregon ( US), Jobs, a college drop-out, was so hard pressed for cash, he is said to have  returned empty Coca cola bottles for a little cash and  lunched   for free in the local Hare Krishna temple. In the mid 1970s, he backpacked to India looking for spiritual salvation, shaving his head and changing, albeit briefly, to Indian clothes when he returned.

What he saw of India in the pre-liberalization days, obviously did not encourage him to think of this country as a significant market – and clearly he never updated his perceptions or modified his prejudices, in the decades since.

That is the tragedy of Steve Jobs as far as Indians are concerned. He has probably never read, the late C.K.Prahalad’s seminal work, “Fortune at The Bottom of The Pyramid” – Other, less egotistical American entrepreneurs did – and their corporations  often do more IT-related business in India than in any other geography with the possible exception of China.
As the man, who  has led Apple for 14 years at a stretch now,  Jobs  bears constructive responsibility for India virtually falling of his company’s map: The world’s second-largest corporation by market value is unique among global tech companies in not having any India-based development team worth mentioning. For most of these years, Apple has been erratically marketed in India, with an apology of a sales or support infrastructure.  Loyal users have had to pay  the price for  this.

Bizarrely, mass consumer products like the iPhone or the iPad skipped India in their  initial global marketing strategies, grudgingly launched here, a year or more after the rest of the world. This is not just my  personal take:  listen to these gripes:
Why isn’t India on Steve Jobs’ radar?” asked tech columnist Bala Murali Krishna. (http://asiancorrespondent.com/30932/why-india-is-not-on-steve-jobs%E2%80%99-radar/  ) .
(Does) Steve Jobs consider India a dumping yard? headlined Silicon India in a story. (http://www.siliconindia.com/shownews/-nid-80504.html  ). “Dear Steve Jobs, why have you forsaken India?”, asked Soumyadip Choudhury, “Is India, for Apple, only a market where you can hold your clearance sale, just before you are ready with the product's next generation? It has happened with the iPod, the iPhone and now the iPad.” ( http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/soumyadipchoudhury/2805/62258/dear-steve-jobs-why-have-you-forsaken-india.html  )

Things seem to have slightly improved this year with the new 3G iPad – but there still appears to be palpable lack of enthusiasm, in addressing the market here, with any innovative strategies, that  are sensitive to  the affordability barrier: The Apple mantra for phone or tablet seems to be an arrogant : “Take it or leave it. It’s not for every Tom, Dick or Hari!"

Today, let us salute a man who is arguably the most creative, the most market-savvy “technopreneur”, that the consumer electronics industry has ever seen. Let us wish him many more years of creativity, albeit not in the Apple hot seat, once he has won his battle with cancer.

But let us also, tell Tim Cook his successor, as Apple CEO: “Steve’s are big shoes to fill – but as you do that, please recognize that he was human. He had a blind spot -- India. His perception has shackled the company’s business in this country and frustrated his many admirers here”.

It is time move, beyond Steve Jobs, to take off the blinkers and put India back on Apple’s map.
August 25 2011