NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Apple Inc.’s hugely popular 3G iPhone made its debut in India on Friday, but with a price tag of $700 there was none of the mass hysteria that marked its launch in the United States, Europe and parts of Asia last month.
At about three times the U.S. retail price, and twice the monthly salary of white-collar middle managers, the phone may still find buyers among affluent young professionals who are snapping up iconic brands and luxury items and helping fuel the Asian giant’s trillion dollar economy.
A midnight launch in the Indian capital drew a small but enthusiastic crowd to Vodafone Essar, one of the two retail distributors in India, at the city’s Connaught Place commercial district.
In Jaipur, capital of the desert state of Rajasthan, the local Maharaja was seen waiting in line at midnight.
Local television showed onlookers jostling for a glimpse of the phone at a mall in Gurgaon on the outskirts of the capital while retailers took out adverts for it on the front pages of some of India’s biggest newspapers.
“I can’t wait to show it off at school, it’s way better than having a PlayStation, said Rudra Khurana, a 14-year-old Delhi high school student, standing next to his beaming father.
India is the world’s fastest-growing wireless market and with nearly 300 million subscribers is the second-largest market for such services after China.
Operators have been adding more than 8 million customers a month, but most of them are low-paying users, who use their phone just for calling and not for data and multimedia services.
The country’s new rich, however, flaunt new mobiles as symbols of status and success and smuggled iPhones have been available in the black market in India for months.
“Indians tend to buy the most fancy cell phones, and the iPhone has a massive fan following everywhere,” said Pinaki Mishra, head of retail & consumer practice at Ernst & Young.
“It is seen as a status symbol, an aspirational product, so you can expect to see not just the rich, but also tech-savvy youngsters and people in small towns buying it.”
Sanjay Kapoor, Airtel’s president for mobile services, said the company received more than 200,000 pre-bookings for the new iPhone before prices were announced.
The phone sells for as little as $199 in the U.S., with customers often buying mandatory data-service plans. India’s top mobile operator Bharti Airtel and third-ranked Vodafone Essar are selling the 8GB model for around 31,000 rupees ($716) even though 3G services are not yet available.
Nishant Arya, a 22-year-old entrepreneur, said he bought six iPhones, one for himself and the others as gifts for his friends.
“We can’t change phones on a daily basis. We have to keep the future in mind and 3G will come to India soon,” he said.
The first version of the iPhone was snapped up by 270,000 people within days of a June 2007 U.S. launch. Analysts expect it could draw as many as 10.5 million buyers worldwide this year.
But in India, not everyone shared the excitement.
Observing the hubbub at the store, its entrance festooned with red balloons and a live band playing inside, an autorickshaw driver looking for passengers asked: “What’s the big deal?”
The iPhone was also launched in Singapore on Friday with Singapore Telecommunications Ltd, Southeast Asia’s largest telecoms firm, the first to sell it.
($1= 43.41 rupees)
(Additional reporting by Devidutta Tripathy in New Delhi, Rina Chandran and Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai)
Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by David Fox