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'Unlocked' iPhone could be in India soon

Priyanka Joshi  |  New Delhi 

Apple Inc will launch its latest offering, the iPhone in the US tomorrow. Apart from functioning as a phone, the device can function as a media player and also as a wireless web surfing device.
Officially, it will not be available in India for at least another year.
But for those who really want it, the wait might be as short as a fortnight or, at the most, a month. This is not just because of efficiently smuggled shipments but a technical 'feat' as well.
In the US, Apple has tied up with AT&T in an exclusive contract. This means that the iPhone will only work on an AT&T SIM card for which buyers have to sign up for an $59 to $100 a month plan for a minimum two-year subscription.
But in India, grey market operators say they can "unlock" the phone for just Rs 1,000 or Rs 1,500 so that it can be used on any network in India. "Unlocking the iPhone isn't tough," said a dealer in central Delhi.
In the US, the phone is priced between $500 (Rs 22,000) for the 4 GB version and $600 (Rs 25,500) for the 8 GB model. There are further variations depending upon the memory. Out in the grey markets of Palika Bazar or Sarojini Nagar, an entry-level iPhone will be available for Rs 30,000.
Unlocked Apple iPhone units are expected to be auctioned off at a premium, especially in Asian markets.
For those looking to buy the iPhone though the legal channels, however, the wait will be much longer. Apple executives refuse to talk about an Indian launch.
Tript Singh, a premium Apple reseller in New Delhi says, "It is highly unlikely that the iPhone will reach India before the year-end. Even early 2008 seems a long-shot."
Yet the interest is high. Singh's shop in south Delhi's Ansal Plaza recorded a whopping 50,000 enquiries when Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, announced the launch of the iPhone. "We receive 10 to 20 enquiries everyday," says Singh.
Meanwhile, other mobile vendors are taking the Apple challenge pretty seriously.
High Tech Computers (HTC), a leading provider of Microsoft Windows mobile-based smart phones, has launched an iPhone lookalike, the HTC Touch.
Peter Chou, CEO, HTC insists that his company has not made "an iPhone killer but a phone that is far more innovative and efficient". Available at Rs 19,900, it will be available exclusively for Airtel subscribers.
Globally too, Samsung has announced the launch of Ultra Smart F700 (to be launched in India this year). It will have a full touch-screen interface with a QWERTY keypad.
Says Asim Warsi, marketing head, Samsung India, "The music and phone features of the iPhone cannot be called cutting edge."
Nokia has also upgraded its N-series with N76 and plans to add to its communicator line with the launch of its E90 communicator phones.
One of the closest competitors to the Apple's iPhone is the LG Prada (which costs around Rs 42,000 outside India) and is available in touch-screen format.

First Published: Thu, June 28 2007. 00:00 IST