New Delhi: Vodafone Group Plc., the world’s biggest mobile phone services firm, will distribute Apple Inc.’s hugely popular GSM phone, branded iPhone worldwide, in India besides nine other countries.
The announcement, made on Tuesday by the two companies, will mean customers will be legally able to buy the phone in India bundled with the Vodafone service, unlike now when they buy smuggled phones or those that are locked on overseas networks.
In India, Vodafone is the controlling shareholder in Vodafone Essar Ltd. The other countries where the phone will be available on Vodafone networks are Australia, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Portugal, New Zealand, South Africa and Turkey.
INDIAN CONNECTION (Graphic)
The iPhone, that was launched in the US in late June last year, is today officially available in the US, the UK, France and Germany. In each of these countries, it has exclusive tie-ups with network providers: with AT&T Inc. in the US, Telefonica O2 Europe Plc. in the UK, France Telecom SA in France and T-Mobile Systems in Germany. The phone has sold 6.5 million pieces since launch.
In India, tech-savvy users who wanted to own the iPhone, popular for its look and feel (one of its coolest features is its touch screen that allows users to make a call by simply tapping a finger at a name or number in the address book), could own the device only illegally by unlocking the phone mostly from the AT&T network or buying an already unlocked phone from sellers in flea markets in the country, who sourced the instrument mostly from Dubai, Bangkok, or other South-East Asian cities at up to Rs25,000 each, compared with the some Rs16,000 (or $400) the product retails at in the US.
On Tuesday, a local Vodafone executive said the date of the launch and its selling price had not been finalized. “We have not yet decided on the date, price or the model of the iPhone to be made available in India. Discussions are on,” said Harit Nagpal, marketing and new business director, Vodafone Essar.
Apple said in an email response that the iPhone would be available across these 10 locations later this year. In the quarter ended March, Apple sold 1.7 million iPhones globally.
iPhone users in India say that though the touch screen experience of the phone is “fabulous” (users can also flip images or emails horizontally or vertically with the flip of the phone), there are some features which need improvement. A Gurgaon-resident, who is a huge music buff, bought the phone from a neighbour who had brought it in from the US a couple of months ago for $400. “The phone doesn’t allow one to forward messages, pictures or mails; it doesn’t have a video and it hangs a lot and has to be restarted, but the touch screen is very cool,” she said, asking not to be identified. She uses a Vodafone network on her iPhone and recently spent Rs2,500 to update it with software features such as SMS, sketchbook and a calendar, among other applications.
Vasu Yajnik-Setia, a homemaker based in the upmarket New Delhi colony Greater Kailash II, who is a big fan of Apple’s Mac computer, bought her iPhone from an electronics retail store for Rs25,000 two months ago and said she would like to be accepted as a legal iPhone customer when Vodafone launches the phone in India. “A strange problem I have with my iPhone is that it automatically keeps deleting phone numbers. Also, iPhone’s bluetooth service is only compatible with another iPhone and doesn’t work with other phones. A little more stable software and some kind of a support structure for the features of the phone would be great,” Yajnik-Setia said.
Atul Chopra, managing director of LifeTree Convergence Ltd, a convert to the iPhone after long years of being a loyalist of Nokia phones, predicted that “Vodafone will probably price it lower than the grey market and launch the 8GB model in India.” Chopra, who bought the phone nearly a year back in Hong Kong for the equivalent of Rs27,000, said Apple had addressed most of the problems faced by earlier users in the latest version of the iPhone.
An electronics salesman at Satnam Electronics in a south Delhi market said demand for the iPhone in his neighbourhood was sated. “The maximum sales have already happened in the first six months of availability. Vodafone should sell it in India below the grey market price of between Rs20,000 and Rs25,000,” said Lalit Sharma on phone from his shop in Greater Kailash-I.
There are no official estimates of the number of iPhones in India, but one leading operator reckons it alone has some 20,000 such phones operational on its network, said an executive with the telco who asked that he and his employer not be named.