Things are looking up for iPhone in Apple’s biggest untapped market


iPhone sales are showing signs of life in India
iPhone shipments rebounded in India last year.
Photo: Apple

There are few big markets that Apple has yet to crack. But one of the biggest, India, it’s really struggled with. In a population of more than 1.311 billion people, Apple holds just a few measly percentage points of the local smartphone market.

But things may be looking up slightly, as a new report makes clear.

According to Bloomberg, iPhone shipments in India grew 6% in 2019. No, that’s not the kind of crazy growth seen globally by, say, the ultra-successful AirPods. But it’s a big turnaround after the iPhone suffered a 43% decline in 2018.

The big change seems to have been discounting the iPhone XR by $250 in the middle of the year. This made it Apple’s best-selling iPhone in the country. Counterpoint Technology Market Research also says the lower cost of the iPhone 11’s introductory price “helped to gain share during the festive season and in its launch quarter in India.”

With a rumored low-cost iPhone SE successor supposed to launch in March, this could further help Apple in India. As could the opening of the country’s first official Apple Store sometime in the near future.

Why are iPhones sales struggling in India?

It’s not rocket science to figure out why Apple is struggling in India. The average annual per-capita income is around $2,100. That makes the prospect of owning an iPhone prohibitive for many people. As a result, the iPhone is a niche product. As Bloomberg notes, out of 158 million smartphones shipped in India last year, Apple sold under 2 million.

Apple lags far behind companies like Samsung and OnePlus. These OEMs have devices which sell for just a couple of hundred bucks.

But there’s reason for Apple to be optimistic. According to Counterpoint, India’s premium market segment is growing at 20% per year. That’s double the 10% overall growth of the smartphone market in India. Apple could be the beneficiary of this growth. As I’ve pointed out before, even a tiny percentage increase in India means billions more dollars for Apple.

It seems unlikely that India is going to be a massive market for Apple in the immediate future. But preparing for what’s happening down the line is important for any company. And, in a time when the smartphone market is hitting saturation point in plenty of places, there’s good reason to focus on the few places it’s still growing.

Alongside iPhone sales, Apple suppliers are also embracing manufacturing in India. These “Made in India” devices are produced for the local market and parts of Europe.

Source: Bloomberg (paywall)