With China weakening, Apple turns to India’s smartphone market to revive flagging fortunes

Apple’s revenue in Greater China rose 14 per cent in the last quarter, but company is beginning to see a shift in the economy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 January, 2016, 6:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 January, 2016, 6:43pm

As red-hot sales in China show signs of cooling, Apple executives are touting India’s growing appetite for iPhones.

In an earnings call in which the company reported meagre iPhone growth and forecast its first revenue drop in 13 years, the Indian market stood out as a rare bright spot for Apple.

Sales of the company’s flagship smartphone climbed 76 per cent in the country from the year-ago quarter, Apple chief financial officer Luca Maestri said on the call.

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Apple chief executive Tim Cook suggested more growth is on the horizon, noting the median age in India is just 27.

“I see the demographics there also being incredibly great for a consumer brand, and for people that really want the best product,” Cook said.

“We have been putting increasingly more energy in India.”

Growth in India is a tantalising prospect as Apple grapples with the economic downturn in China, its second largest market. While revenue in Greater China rose 14 per cent in the last quarter, Apple is beginning to see a shift in the economy, particularly in Hong Kong, Maestri said.

India cannot immediately offset Apple’s woes in China, said analyst Neil Shah of Counterpoint Technology Market Research.

The company averaged only about 450,000 smartphone shipments per quarter in India in 2015, compared with more than 15 million per quarter in China, Shah said.

In addition, nearly 70 per cent of smartphones in India sell for less than US$150, leaving just a sliver of the market for Apple’s high-end phones. The company’s smartphone market share stands at less than 2 per cent, Shah said.

READ MORE: Hong Kong smartphone prices fall after competition law comes into force

The Indian market, however, seems to be turning in Apple’s favour. With 4G coverage spreading, Indian consumers will likely be more open to investing in smartphones, Shah said.

Young consumers are already willing to spend heavily on the device at the centre of their digital lives. As in China, Apple products are coveted status symbols.

“The love for the iPhone is there,” said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of US business at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, a consumer research firm.

Apple’s next task is expanding distribution in India, where its products are sold through third-party resellers. The company has filed an application with India’s Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion to open its own stores, an Indian official said earlier this month.