Apple’s struggles in India have been amply documented over the past several years, as the company’s popular iPhone lineup has failed to win any significant portion of the world’s second-largest smartphone market. But having recently lost three of its top executives in the country, the company is redoubling its efforts there, Bloomberg reports, and will attempt to win over Indian customers with year-round deals, new retail initiatives, and improved apps.
There’s no question that pricing has been Apple’s single largest hurdle in winning over Indian customers. Though Apple has pushed smartphone prices higher in recent years, notably touting the international success of the $999 iPhone X, the average Indian customer’s phone budget is around $150. Entry-level Android phones are being offered at or below that price, but iPhones are not: Even the aging iPhone SE sells for around $300 in India.
According to the report, Apple executives have decided to address that challenge in part by improving the Indian retail experience: Third-party retailers will offer customers more aggressive, constant iPhone deals; improved product displays; and better training on using their devices. In exchange for the better deals, independent retailers will have to hit higher sales targets or get cut off from selling iPhones altogether. Apple also plans to open its own stores in Bengaluru, Mumbai, and New Delhi.
As contrasted with most countries, where Apple can control pricing, the Indian market has unique issues. Bloomberg notes that Indian wholesalers and retailers often change their prices daily without reasons, “leading shoppers to haggle or wait in hopes of a better deal.” Apple hopes to create greater certainty by maintaining a consistent official retail price, while letting retailers and banks offer “holiday deals all year round.”
Apple’s Indian challenge isn’t as simple as cutting prices, as it’s estimated that less than 5 percent of phones purchased in the country sell for over $450 — a price point iPhones rarely hit even without local taxes. To reduce the impact of protectionist tariffs implemented by the Indian government over the past two years, Apple has increased manufacturing in India, and now produces iPhone SE and iPhone 6s devices at local factories. But sales of those lower-end iPhones have been tapering off due to their ages, and higher-end models currently carry a 20 percent import tax.
Another key element will be improving Apple’s own apps, which the report notes have spent years receiving language- and location-specific complaints from Indian users. The company will need to add Siri support for local languages, Apple Pay support within India, and India-specific guidance for Apple Maps — all issues that have already been tackled by rival alternatives from Google, Amazon, and Facebook.
As of the moment, Apple hasn’t made specific promises to India on any of those fronts, but it has committed to wholly redeveloping its Maps offering across the world. Siri language support has been steadily improving, as has Apple Pay availability, though there’s an obvious chicken-and-egg question as to how much effort to place on developing features specific to large but challenging territories.
Apple is currently in the midst of a public battle with the Indian government over India-specific anti-spam functionality within a government-developed app and iOS 12, the latest in a series of cultural challenges it has faced within the country. The company has vacillated between optimism and realism on its prospects in India, describing the market as one with great potential but also blaming issues such as a weak 4G infrastructure as impediments to its sales.