Apple gears up for direct iPhone sales in India

After lots of political wrangling, online iPhone sales will commence next month.

Chris Velazco

Apple is finally ready to begin offering online iPhone sales in India after what seems like years of negotiations and political wrangling. Bloomberg is reporting that the company will launch a web store on the subcontinent next month, marking a new era for the famously protectionist country. Apple is also working on building the first of two real-world stores, expected to open its doors in Mumbai in 2021. After that point, Bloomberg’s sources in the know claim that a second Apple Store will open in Bangalore.

It’s been a pretty long road, getting from there to here. After all, India’s Foreign Direct Investment rules mandate that foreign companies source 30 percent of their parts from local sources. In addition, the country has insisted that big US companies partner with a local retailer to run the sales part of their business. In order to counter this, Apple began a building a limited number of iPhone (SE) devices in the country at partner factory Wistron’s plant in Karnataka.

After Apple began building products in the country, and after plenty of glad-handing, India relaxed the retail rule in 2018. Even so, it’s taken a while for India to allow Apple (and other major foreign brands) to sell their wares direct to consumers online. And this plan was originally going to take place far earlier this year, but was disrupted by the effect of COVID-19.

Coronavirus has seen India’s economy contract by anything up to 25 percent, with its manufacturing, construction and service industries hardest hit. Despite this, analysts say that the country is now the world’s second-largest smartphone market after China, making it a key battleground for big hardware makers. India is, however, nowhere near as wealthy as other nations, and so much of this boom has been to the benefit of low-end Chinese phone makers as well as domestic players.

The high price of the iPhone means that Apple has a paltry chunk of the country’s marketshare, with iOS holding 3.35 percent of the market. Sure, it’s the most popular phone amongst premium phone users, but in a country of 1.353 billion, that’s not a huge amount of people. Local sales may help, although as iOS device growth stalls, it’s likely that it’ll need to adjust its devices to cater for a more “price-sensitive” market.