For the first time in more than 20 years since Apple began its operations in India, the iPhone-maker has started selling its products directly to consumers in the world’s second largest smartphone market.
Apple launched its online store in India on Wednesday, which in addition to offering nearly the entire line-up of its products, also brings a range of services for the first time to consumers in the country. India is the 38th market for Apple where it has launched its online store.
Consumers in India can now purchase AppleCare+, which extends the warranty on products, and access the trade-in program to get a discount on new hardware purchases. The company said it will also offer customers support through chat or telephone, and let users consult its team of specialists before they make a purchase. The company is also letting customers order customized versions of iMac, MacBook Air, Mac Mini and other Mac computers -- something it started offline through its authorized partners only in late May in India.
The company is also offering customers the ability to pay for their purchases in monthly installments. TechCrunch reported in January that the company was planning to open its online store in India in the quarter that ends in September. The company plans to open its first physical retail store in the country next year, it has said.
Jayanth Kolla, chief analyst at consultancy firm Convergence Catalyst, argued that the launch of Apple’s online store in India is a bigger deal for the company than consumers in the country.
Apple typically starts investing in marketing, brand building and other investments in a market only after it launches a store there, he told TechCrunch.
Apple does oversee billboards and ads of iPhones and other products that are displayed in India, but it’s the third-party partners that are running and bankrolling them, said Kolla. “Apple might provide some marketing dollars, but those efforts are always led by their partners,” he said.
In recent years, Apple has visibly grown more interested in India, one of the world’s fastest growing smartphones markets. The company’s contract manufacturers today locally assemble the latest generation of iPhone models and some accessories -- an effort the company kickstarted two years ago.
The move has allowed Apple to lower prices of some iPhone models in India, where for years the company has passed custom duty charges to customers. The starting price of the iPhone 11 Pro Max is $1,487 in India, compared to $1,099 in the U.S. (It started to assemble some iPhone 11 models in India only recently.) The AirPods Pro, which sells at $249 in the U.S., was made available in India at $341 at the time of launch.
Apple has also been trying to open its store in India for several years, but local regulations made it difficult for the company to expand in the country. But in recent quarters, India has eased many of its regulations. Last year, New Delhi eased sourcing norms for single-brand retailers, paving the way for companies like Apple to open online stores before they set up a presence in the brick-and-mortar market.
This year, India also launched a $6.6 billion incentive program aimed at boosting local smartphone manufacturing. South Korean giant Samsung, and Apple’s contract manufacturing partners Foxconn, Wistron and Pegatron among others, have applied for the incentive program.
Unlike most foreign firms that offer their products and services for free in India or at some of the world's cheapest prices, Apple has focused entirely on a small fraction of the population that can afford to pay big bucks, Kolla said. And that strategy has worked fine for the company, Kolla argued. Apple commands the segment of premium smartphones in India.
That's not to say that Apple has not made some changes to its price strategy for India. The monthly cost of Apple Music is $1.35 in India, compared to $9.99 in the U.S. Its Apple One bundle, which includes Apple Music, TV+, Arcade and iCloud, costs $2.65 a month in India.
Some Apple customers say that even as they prefer the iPhone-maker's ecosystem of products over Android makers' offerings, they wish Apple made more of its services available in the country. A range of Apple services, including Apple News and Apple Pay, are still not available in India.
The launch of Apple's online store in India comes weeks before the company is expected to unveil the new-generation iPhone models and a month before the festival of Diwali, which sees hundreds of millions of Indians spend lavishly.