New Delhi: The high price at which Apple Inc.’s iPhone has been launched in India ensured that the frenzied crowds that mark the opening sales of the iconic phone elsewhere in the world were missing here, but for a pricey phone it didn’t do so badly.
Between Thursday midnight and 3am Friday, India’s largest mobile phone firm Bharti Airtel Ltd saw 50 of the phones being bought — mostly the Rs36,100 top-end model — at an outlet in a Gurgaon mall. The firm’s retail outlets on Friday morning had sold 200 phones by 10.30am. End-day sales were not available.
Vodafone Essar Ltd, the only other phone firm selling the iPhone in India, started slower, selling just three phones in the first hour that iPhone sales opened Thursday midnight. But the numbers kept adding up as more of its stores — some 50 — were kept open through the night.
“We kept open almost 50 of our stores last night. There were queues and celebrities at some places,” said Harit Nagpal, director, marketing and new business at the Vodafone Indian unit.
“There were a few lakh enquiries. We’re doing the sale with appointments with half hour intervals at some 350 outlets in the day.”
Nagpal declined to disclose how many iPhones had been sold by the end of the day, but reckoned it would be in the range of “a few thousand”.
Customers, while not in the hundreds, made for a focused, small crowd not just in the Capital, but elsewhere too. In Jaipur, the local Maharaja was seen waiting in line at midnight for the phone that sells at more than 10 times widely-selling phones cost.
Thin crowd: Only three people turned up at this Vodafone store in Connaught Place, New Delhi, for the the launch of iPhone. Photograph: Rajeev Dabral / Mint
India is the world’s fastest growing wireless market and, with some 300 million subscribers, is the second largest market after China.
“Indians tend to buy the most fancy cellphones, and the iPhone has a massive fan following,” said Pinaki Mishra, head of retail and consumer practice at Ernst and Young. “It is seen as a status symbol, an aspirational product, so you can expect to see not just the rich, but also tech-savvy youngsters and people in small towns buying it.”
Bharti Airtel said it is selling the iPhone for Rs36,100, or $700, some 3.5 times what it retails in the US, because it does not want to subsidize the phone with locked-in usage plans. The phone sells for as little as $199 in the US, with customers often buying mandatory data-service plans.
Nishant Arya, a New Delhi-based director of auto components firm JBM Group, said he bought six iPhones, one for himself and the others as gifts for his friends. “We can’t change phones on a daily basis. We have to keep the future in mind and 3G will come to India soon,” he said.
Angst among customers who missed buying a phone of their choice was evident too. Pankaj Bajoria, chief financial officer at Orchid Infrastructure Developments (India) Ltd, wanted to buy one for his sister, whose birthday was on Friday, but couldn’t do so late Thursday night because of a malfunction with the credit card machine at Bharti Airtel’s Gurgaon outlet.
“They promised to reserve one for me in the morning. But, when I turned up (this morning), the black model that I wanted to pick-up was not there,” he said. “It is an embarrassing situation for me.”
“Most consumers seem to prefer the black iPhone, unlike the white (body) model that is popular elsewhere in the world,” said Manoj Kohli, chief executive and joint managing director, Bharti Airtel. “We need to order more of the black ones.”
An Apple spokesperson in Singapore was unavailable for comment.
Tony Tharakan of Reuters contributed to this story.