This has so far not been a great year for Apple in India, if we talk specifically about iPhones. Preliminary estimates suggest it has shipped just around one million units in the first half of 2018. Compared to this, in 2017, Apple shipped over 3.1 million iPhones in the country, according to CMR’s India Monthly Mobile Handset Report.
It is only in Kerala and Punjab, as per CMR Mobilytiks, that Apple figures among the top three smartphone brands by installed base. In Kerala, it stood third with 5.25 per cent of installed smartphones share as of March-end 2018. In Punjab, it ranked second with 8.03 per cent.
So, the big question is: “Has iPhone reached the saturation point of its addressable market?” Well, to my mind, No!
There are three segments that could potentially buy an iPhone in India.The first is a technologically-evolved segment. They are well aware of the product and the brand and capable of making the decision on their own.
The second segment cmprises those who can afford, and want, the iPhone only because it has a premium tag. Whether or not they understand the iPhone, they would still keep on upgrading to the latest.
There is yet another segment, which Apple is not looking at in any significant way. This segment is of potential buyers who have the pockets to buy the iPhone, but do not understand Apple as a brand and the iPhone as a product. For them, it is just another brand and eventually they buy something comparing features and specifications.
In that decision-making process, Apple is always a loser as it has never been in the specs race. Most of these potential buyers go with Android smartphones where they get a huge number of specs at probably half the price of an iPhone.
Converting this segment has never been a focus at Apple India. Over the past few years, we have seen Apple busy only in streamlining its retail channel.
Well, I am a strong believer that, among smartphones, Apple is the only one that has brand-pull and it does not need a push approach where channel becomes paramount. It’s a phone that should have pioneered online sales and that would have worked very well for the company.
So, what is it that needs to be fixed? Here are some India-specific points that should constitute its strategy.
First and foremost, it has to be consistent in marketing. In a country with an overcrowded smartphone market — where there is a “flagship” launch of one or the other brand almost every week — it is important that a brand that launches just a couple of models a year communicates.
This has not been happening so far with Apple in India. It does sometimes get aggressive, painting all newspaper front pages with its ads; but then it goes into hibernation. This is not going to work in India. They have to be consistent in outreach.
Second, it is a very closed ecosystem. I have been talking to co-analysts as well as senior media people and all have one feedback: Apple India does not engage with them. The same holds true for the larger ecosystem around devices, especially smartphones. Apple is not engaging the ecosystem and influencers. This is again not creating enough talking points for the brand in India.
Third is about educating potential buyers. There are unique features in Apple as an ecosystem which could still excite someone having the capacity to buy an iPhone. For instance, Apple holds very high equity where privacy and security of data are concerned. This is what is being currently aggressively debated in the country. But there is hardly any participation from Apple to make potential buyers aware about how Apple treats privacy and security.
Since this segment of potential buyers is not an evolved one, they would need a bit of hand-holding to understand Apple and the iPhone. This requires a persistent campaign.
Moreover, from the products’ point of view, Apple has not invested much in creating India-specific content or apps that could give more reasons to iPhone users to enjoy their smartphones as well as make them productive. There are still several apps of enterprises and small and mid-size business (SMBs) in India which have a presence only on Android.
Lastly, it is almost absent digitally in India. Apple has to activate itself digitally and engage with the audiences over social media as well as other digital platforms. Otherwise, it looks like one of the icons of technology is not so social.
These actionable points could support the iPhone, which is still one of the best smartphones we have, and increase its potential in India. Here, just having a well-engineered product is not enough. Spice needs to be added to the marketing.
(Faisal Kawoosa is Head, New Initiatives, at CyberMedia Research. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)