By Mayank Chhaya-
It is conceivable that Apple CEO Tim Cook would have taken more selfies with gushing fans in India during his visit there this week than anywhere else in the world, including in America.
The opening of the first two Apple stores, one each in Mumbai and Delhi, was treated like a Hindi movie premiere with Cook being its leading star. The adulation seemed genuine even though at one level quite baffling considering that he is a company CEO albeit that of Apple, whose products Indian mobile phone consumers admire unabashedly. This is despite the fact that most cannot afford them.
Although Samsung remains the market leader in terms of its share at 22%, Apple dominates the premium smartphone segment but that works out to be only about 3%. iPhone Pro Max 128 GB is priced at 127,999 rupees which at today’s exchange rate works out to be about $1,560. It is prohibitively expensive even for an upper middle class Indian family.
As India nurses the ambitions of replacing China as Cook’s preferred manufacturing hub as well as a leading market for his products, the reality is that compared to China’s production of nearly 95 percent of iPhones and its 45 Apple stores, India has just managed its first two stores.
As Apple reduces the number of its production sites in China, it is expected to focus on India, Vietnam and Indonesia. According to J.P. Morgan Chase the company is expected to move about 5% of its iPhone 14 production to India by 2025.
Even as its China manufacturing reduces, industry experts do not expect India or Vietnam to grow commensurately since the countries do not yet have the scale to produce the numbers that China has done.
According to the India Cellular and Electronics Association iPhones constitute more than 50% of total smartphones estimated about $9 billion that were exported from India between April 2022 and February.
It was a measure of how India wants Cook’s attention that he was granted a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He tweeted, “We share your (Modi’s) vision of the positive impact technology can make on India’s future — from education and developers to manufacturing and the environment, we’re committed to growing and investing across the country.”
The Apple CEO met a diversity of people and non-governmental organizations during his visit and even watched an Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket game.
Beyond the hospitality and exultant fans, it is not clear how much of Apple’s China manufacturing share will come India’s way but if the visit is any indication, it could be of a reasonable number.
In keeping with Indian hospitality Cook was also plied with food, including Mumbai’s iconic Vada Pav with the Hindi cinema star Madhuri Dixit Nene. “Can’t think of a better welcome to Mumbai than Vada Pav!” she tweeted to which Cook replied, “Thanks for introducing me to my very first Vada Pav — it was delicious!”
Whether that delight translates into serious business for India remains to be seen.