Will Apple's gamble with iPhone 6 pay off in India?

The tech giant took a leap of faith by stepping into the big-screen smartphone segment, long after losing marketshare to Android. Will the price-sensitive Indian market finally show some love for the niche brand?

e4m by Aditi Raval
Published: Sep 11, 2014 9:14 AM  | 5 min read
Will Apple's gamble with iPhone 6 pay off in India?

Apple's much anticipated launch of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in the peak of the festive season in October, could not have been better timed.   

The unveiling on Tuesday was flagged off by Apple CEO Tim Cook, Kevin Lynch, VP, Apple and Phil Schiller, SVP, Worldwide Marketing at Flint Centre for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, California. The surprise element was a live performance by one of the biggest bands of the times U2, to mark the release of their new album, Songs of Innocence, for free on iTunes.

Playing catch up

The launch marks Apple's entry into the big screen smart phone market, which has been dominated by other players- HTC, Samsung, Sony- which have made the most of the abiding consumer preference. Currently in the premium phone segments, Apple's biggest rivals are Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and HTC One (M8).

The iPhone 6 marks the company's first major departure from Steve Job's legacy – he did not believe in phones with bigger interfaces. 

The tech giant played catch up once again, with  Apple Watch, making its foray into wearable tech segment, a year after Samsung launched Samsung Gear along with its premium phone Galaxy Note 3 and Sony launched SmartWatch. The watch, touted as a comprehensive health and fitness device, is the most personal device Apple has ever created, according to Cook.

Uphill task

It has been an uphill task for Apple, that has been losing marketshare to Android phones. According to GlobalWebIndex report, which takes into stock mobile audiences across 32 countries, “Just 20 per cent of the mobile audience were using Apple’s iOS on their phone. This compares to a mighty 68 per cent using Android.”

“Furthermore, if we drill down into this on a country-to-country basis, it’s clear, Apple performs much more strongly in some of the most mature markets – with the iPhone enjoying its highest usage figures in Australia (42 per cent), the USA (41 per cent) and Canada (38 per cent). Nevertheless, Android is still ahead even in these markets and, if we then turn our attention to the top 10 nations for Android usage, Apple’s problem is clear to see. Across a wide-range of fast-growth markets – where internet populations are rising rapidly each year and where the mobile internet is a hugely important gateway – Android’s usage figures are typically four to five times higher than those for Apple,” the report stated.

This is particularly true for a price-sensitive market like India where Apple is unlikely to capture the mass market, challenging Samsung and Micromax. Chinese mobile maker Xiaomi too has done significantly well on exclusive sale through Flipkart in India. The new phones will however capture premium buyers as every launch of Apple products almost always does. Also the company’s launch of bigger screen is also likely to attract  new consumers who prefer big screen mobiles.

The prices are rumoured to be north of Rs 50,000.

Wake up, smell the competition

According to a latest IDC report, the top performers in the smartphone market in India are Samsung, Micromax, Karbonn and Lava.

Samsung has been targeting high-end consumers with Note Series, and Micromax has upped its ante by bringing in Hugh Jackman as brand ambassador for Canvas series. Samsung and Micromax have engaged in heavy promotional activities, advertising and marketing strategies – something that has certainly not been Apple's strengths. Although India remains low on Apple’s marketing radar compared to its competitor Samsung, iPhones do command loyalty in India in niche, premium segments.

However, upon the release of the company’s quarterly results recently, Cook had shown high inclination towards capturing BRIC countries’ fast-growing smart phone and tablet markets. It was also revealed during Q2 earnings call, that the company did exceedingly well in BRIC countries including India.

Of late, Apple has indulged in aggressive marketing strategies in India by re-launching the popular iPhone 4 at a lower price and offered schemes like zero percent interest rates and buy-back schemes.

As far as advertising goes, the company has already released its first two ads with singer/actor Justin Timberlake and talk show host and comedian Jimmy Fallon. The ad features their voices and hands along with the phone’s features. The tagline says ‘Bigger Than Bigger’ (although that claim falls short since Samsung’s Note 4 has a slightly bigger screen than iPhone 6 Plus).

But clearly the celebrity duo have given a touch of humour and ease to the ads while highlighting key features.

You can watch the ads here:

Despite what seems to be the company's desperate attempts to follow the herd and reclaim lost ground, this doesn’t take away from the fact that the Cupertino-based company’s loyal fan base still remains strong and the company still excels at technological innovations. It remains to be seen if the ‘big screen factor’ can attract higher number of consumers for Apple in India.

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