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The continuing mystery of Apple's India myopia

August 12, 2013: Analysts agree that India is now the world's fastest growing market for smartphones  with  shipments there growing by 129% to hit 9.0 million, making  it the world’s third largest smart phone market after China and the US.

"Samsung took over a third of the Indian market this quarter, followed by local vendor Micromax at 22%. Karbonn, Sony and Nokia made up the top five," says Jessica Kwee,  of the independent analyst firm Canalys. "India is a market in transition, moving from feature phones to smart phones, and is a market that offers huge potential as hundreds of millions of users have yet to upgrade their feature phones."

Last week Canalys  published its final Q2 2013 smart phone shipment estimates by vendor for the 50-plus countries that it tracks. It says some 238.1 million units shipped in Q2, an impressive 50% year-on-year increase.

Kwee adds: "Domestic vendors, such as Micromax and Karbonn, are capitalizing on the popularity of their feature phones and are quicker to respond to local market demands, hence their current success." 

Unstated in all this is the  rather surprising fact that Apple is almost absent from this India smartphone story, though globally it  grew shipments 20% -- second only to Samsung's 55%.

When Steeve Jobs passed away in October 2011, we wrote:

For reasons that many India, have never been able to fathom, Jobs virtually ignored this country as either a market or as a source of innovation throughout his professional life. He visited India once – in the 1970s – as a college dropout in pursuit of spiritual peace; he lunched at the local Hare Krishna temple back in the US when he was tight on cash – but never once as head of Apple did he visit India: In this, he was odd man out: every major American technology company has found it both necessary and fruitful to make India a key element of its techno-commercial strategy. 
Possibly as a result, Apple was never as big a brand in India as it should have been. The iPhone and the iPad have seemingly missed the huge opportunity provided by the mobile boom in this country. But maybe that is too narrow an interpretation


India, it would seem continues to be Apple's blind spot. 

On August 6, GigaOm the authoritative  newsletter from US-based Indian IT watcher Om Malik headlined a blog comment by Kevin Tofel: Smartphone shipments in India more than double, but iPhone misses out. "The second most populous nation on earth is making the move towards smartphones at a faster pace: Apple was nowhere to be seen.


In February this year Om Malik tried to understand the mystery of Apple's  neglect of India, in a blog titled:  Apple in India - a lost opportunity   

"Apple is enamored with China — and rightfully so. However, in not paying attention to India, it has allowed world’s second-largest mobile market to become a mostly Android phenomenon, leaving upper end of the market to Samsung. Wrong strategy, if you ask me.

.... Yes, compared to China, India’s smartphone market is puny... But it will grow bigger, and it will grow fast. IDC says the market will be 108 million units in 2016 versus total smartphone sales of 19 million in 2012. In other words, it is a big enough opportunity for Cupertino to wake up and smell the curry.

I am frankly amazed that Apple has left the second-largest mobile market — India, that is — to its own devices. I don’t understand why. It is not that there is a lack of people with money. There are probably more potential customers of iPhones and iPads in India than in say Germany, the U.K. or in the Netherlands. They all have multiple Apple stores, so why not India? When someone asked him last year about company’s strategy in BRIC countries, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that of all the countries, it is likely to go after Brazil after China instead of India and Russia.

And maybe it is time for Apple to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan. One that involves opening a handful of Apple’s own stores in India — say in Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore.