Excuse Me, an iPad for You? No, Thanks!

In spite of being labeled as one of the fastest selling gadgets, the iPad is doomed to fail in India. The reason? The dynamics of the Indian market are completely different.

By Sanjay Gupta

Apple Computer has always regarded the Indian market as the boondocks, keeping its presence in the country very limited and launching many of its products late into the country’s ultra price-sensitive market.

The most recent example: the iPad, which was launched here a few days ago – almost 10 months after its US debut.

[ Also Read: 5 Special Things iPad Can Do for You ]

Not that the company is entirely wrong in its thinking. Only 10 million PCs are estimated to be sold a year in a country of 1.1 billion – whereas this figure is over 70 million for US, whose population is about 300 million.

But that’s only the macro picture. When you look at the details of how and why most consumers buy computing devices in India, the case for a product like the iPad becomes clear.

Whether it’s a desktop, a laptop, netbook, or, ahem, a tablet, Indians go shopping for computers mainly for two reasons: office work or children’s education. And the majority of them look for the cheapest options on the market.

[ Also Read: When iPad Tells You the CNN Story ]

So when you drill down to the lowly category of tablet computers, all the thrill and whistles are confined to a few thousand people – including geeks, aficionados, analysts and media. They may chorus excitement and wonder in an echo of the US market, but the realities in India are totally different.

And even they would prefer a sleek notebook (even netbook) or go for a smartphone rather than loosen their purse strings for something that is neither a full-fledged computer nor a handy smartphone.

[ Also Read: Why Marketers are Chasing the Mobile Mirage ]

Consider this. When a product like the iPad is launched in the mature and advanced markets like the US or Japan, people queue up outside hundreds of retail stores even before the doors open. Here in India, if you go to a handful of Apple stores that exist (only in the big metros), they mostly maintain a bare, clean look.

And the few curious visitors who do enter the stores come out rather quickly, usually empty-handed. So the iPad might have sold in millions in USA and Japan, in India the sales number over the next one year is bound to be in single-digit thousands or even just a few hundreds.

Some market estimates put the total number of iPads in the hands of Indians thus far – including gray market sales, online purchases and those brought from abroad – at 40,000. But even this number seems suspect on the higher side. 

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One might argue that the starting price tag of about Rs. 28,000 isn’t that high. To give you an idea of the prices of Apple products, an entry-level Mac starts around Rs. 60,000 whereas one can get a high-end custom-built or branded PC for less than Rs. 40,000. The iPad range is priced up to Rs. 45,000 in three versions.

However, for a product like the iPad – and there’s a debate about what animal exactly the iPad is – it is not just the price that will act as a stumbling block. There just isn’t enough traction for it in India.

In developed countries where iPads are selling like crazy, consumers are used to a rich online web experience. This includes putting up lots of pictures and videos online, listening to music and podcasts, even reading books and periodicals (remember Kindle?). There’s a large consumer base and widespread and easy availability of high-speed connectivity, applications and quality content.

[ Also Read: Email, Music, News Apps Popular on Apple Devices ]

India, in contrast, is a country where all this enabling infrastructure is missing. We are still arguing about 2G licensing irregularities while the world is moving on to 4G. Here, the average time spent online is among the lowest. And the 30-million-odd Internet users who do go online mostly surf job sites, buy travel tickets or send/receive emails.

[ Also Read: Here Comes ‘World’s First’ 4G LTE Phone ]

A few thousand do hang around on Facebook, Orkut or LinkedIn, but so what? They just hang around most of the time. None of these constituents of the Indian cyberworld would need an iPad. Not in the short term at least.

Some reviewers and analysts are urging consumers in India to hold their iPad purchases until iPad 2 is unveiled. My response to them: don’t bother, guys. They wouldn’t buy iPad 1. They wouldn’t buy iPad 2.

By Sanjay Gupta, contributing editor, Raman Media Network.

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