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Still no iPhone-killer in sight

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The bucked the trend around Apple’s product launches. Yes, it followed intense speculation around the latest iPhone launch, both online and offline. But it did not reward the fanboys with what they were expecting. In place of a brand new iPhone 5, Apple launched a reiteration of the iPhone 4. Even then, the iPhone 4S became the highest selling iPhone in terms of its pre-sale bookings and opening weekend sales. Riding on its sales, Apple’s iOS operating system has gained market share faster than Google’s Android, according to Gartner.

India too has not been immune to its charms. It ranked high in both aided and spontaneous recall among consumers surveyed for the Brand Derby. As with Apple’s other markets, Indian mobile network operators partnered with Apple to launch the iPhone 4S and share marketing duties with the company. The two operators partners in India — Aircel and — launched it a month after its international launch. Their stores were kept open from midnight on November 24, 2011, in the major cities. Both the operators had opened pre-bookings on their websites a week before.

However, at launch, the phone drew flak in India for its high pricing. At Rs 44,500 onwards, its tag was 35 per cent more than in the US. The operators did their bit to alleviate the launch pangs for the 4S by offering discounted call and data rates for their iPhone buyers. Airtel also introduced deferred payments or a monthly installment scheme for those looking to buy the iPhone 4S. N Rajaram, chief marketing officer, consumer business, Bharti Airtel, points out, “We found younger people, say, with a budget of Rs 20,000 for a smartphone, actually make the leap to an iPhone. The customer acquisitions for the iPhone 4S has not always been linear. Bringing down the total cost of ownership for the user has helped this trend.”

Telecom plans that allowed topping up data access in small quantities and the ability to set a ceiling for data usage were other features that Rajaram says made the iPhone 4S friendlier.

It helped that the 4S, despite being a reiteration of the earlier avatar (same design, screen size, ports), had 200 new features. It had significant hardware improvement (dual-core processor, superior graphics chip, 8 mega-pixel camera) and the voice-enabled virtual assistant, Siri, which became one of the highlights of the launch abroad. Hackers were already trying to make Siri work with earlier iOS phones. Apple aficionados in India, most of whom surf the Internet, were already aware of Siri and its diverse use.

A multibrand white goods chain-owner says, “For Apple products, people in India come to know all about the products much before the first ad is released in the market.” Ninety per cent of those who walk in even at his stores don’t go in for a comparison with other products. “The EMI system introduced by the operators helped increase sales by 15 - 20 per cent,” says the large-format retail chain owner.

Homegrown brands such as Micromax and Karbonn took potshots at the iPhone even before the 4S launch. The Karbonn ad for its Android A1 phone parodied the just-ran iPhone 4 TVCs which had a voiceover telling viewers, “If you don’t have an iPhone...well, you don’t have an iPhone.” For its A70 Android phone Micromax ran a print campaign that said, ‘I can afford this phone’. What they ended up doing was make the iPhone more desirable.

In way, the demise of Apple’s charismatic leader and co-founder, Steve Jobs too helped. It was only to be expected that when Jobs passed away in October, right before the iPhone 4S launch, the glowing eulogies and media attention would have a positive impact on the launches that followed.

Amit Agarwal, a personal technology columnist and founder of the technology blog, Digital Inspiration, says, “The learning curve with Apple’s iPhones and the many apps (applications) is shorter than any other phone. In terms of the operating system, previous Android platforms have tended to be geeky with the most recent Ice Cream Sandwich version being the most user-friendly. Apple’s iOS has never had such issues.”

Despite the steep pricing, iPhones still find favour because of Apple’s support for older iPhones, feels Agarwal. “iPhone buyers do not have to fret about their phones getting outdated without any support from the manufacturer. Apple enables older phones to run the latest iOS. But Android phones and their manufacturers have not yet figured that out.”

Agarwal sums the brand’s charm: Even though, in the reality, most people still sport Nokias and Blackberrys, smartphone buyers would look at an iPhone at least once before buying.

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