Apple and India

Indians, if you would go by the Twitter feeds and posts, are up in flames about the iPad 2. The recurring theme of the question – why isn’t it available in India – almost at the same time that it is available in the rest of the (first) world. There are accusations of dumping an “old” iPad in India and many such-like themes and questions.

A long time blog mate, has a post published at IBN – his open letter to Steve Jobs – regarding how Steve Jobs has forsaken the India – as a market.

Before I get into this post, I’d like you to know that I use a multitude of Apple products. I have a Macbook, a Macbook Pro (work), an iMac, an iPod Classic, an iPhone, an iPad (V1.0), a Time Capsule. Another Macbook, and an iPod Touch 4G, with the rest of my family. Except for the Time Capsule, all products were bought in India, as, and when they were available. I also happen to have a Windows 7 Acer laptop. Needless to say, my household is pretty much Apple oriented.

And for those who have said so, I am no Apple fanboy. There are enough things that I dislike about using Apple products, but I make a very personal choice in what works for me. Unfortunately, this is not how it works for most folks.

On Strategy

An Old iPadSo, Steve Jobs. Why do you ignore a big market like India? OK, says Steve. Let me take a really good look at this market: (a) how many of you are willing to pay a Rs. 35K+ price for a phone, when your local Nokia vendor will retrofit a phone with illegal songs worth 4GB for free in a phone that costs Rs.12K? Steve, I guess, would ask, of your billion+ population, (b) how many can afford this phone and (c) how many need this phone. and (d) how many can really make use of this phone? If I were to launch the iPad 2 on March 11 in India, how many of you would (be really be able to) use FaceTime?

How have we as a country come to have this love-hate relationship with Apple? I really wonder. It is not that Microsoft had an amazing love for this country. So why do we hate Apple? Not for its products, as it is obvious by the amount of tweets on the keynote for iPad 2. Someone somewhere told us that we are a market force to reckon with – and we believe it. Statistical data might prove it true, too, but here’s the crux: if there is a particular way that Apple wants to do its business – and India is not a part of it – that’s just how things work! Apple is a corporation. It has responsibilities to its shareholders. To question the priorities and the mission of the board of the company is no business of the consumers. If it is so painful – why aren’t we scurrying to buy the Nokias and the LGs of the world? Why lambast Apple products. Godammit, if he doesn’t want to sell here, he doesn’t want to sell here. Apple is a private corporation. It has the freedom to operate based on what what it perceives to be its best interest.

I can understand a customer complaining about bad service – I just don’t get a potential customer demanding a service. I call it public-sector-socialist thinking.

On Choice

Is it that Indians don’t have a choice? For a population that thrives on “free”, any Android phone would make perfect sense. Nokias and LGs and the recent new breed of the Micromaxes, would too. Seriously, why would most Indians want an iPad? Out of home or office where you do not have access to Wi-Fi, it is pretty useless, apart from being an offline device. 3G is a big effing joke, in India, anyways. And all of the Twitterati who are complaining against Apple about why the company “ignored” India, why don’t we all take “revenge” and buy ourselves a Samsung Tab and teach Apple a lesson? It does more than what an iPad (1 or 2) does.

If 1/16 of the population of this country were to give a rupee to Adam’s  Notion Ink, they’d have INR 6,25,00,000 to build the iPad “killer” – but, it is unfortunate – that we insist on deserving an overpriced locked-down device and are willing to curse the company for not making it easily available to us. Oh, what the hell, how many of us (even morally) supported the $35 Laptop for Education?

We have choice – we just don’t want to see it.

Apple is not a government institution nor a social organisation. It has choice as much as you do. If it hurts your ego so much to import an Apple product from the Middle East or another “unlocked” country, via your ‘foreign’  cousin, don’t do it. You have alternatives. But if it is an Apple product that you desire, find a way. This is not the first time Indians have been denied something – and this definitely not the last. All these years, we have found a way, haven’t we? To curse a private sector business for its business decisions is not just untoward, it is futile.

There may come a time when one of the IT behemoths in India may (finally) build a product that is world-class, innovative, and path-breaking. They will shed the compulsive demand of scale and low-hanging fruit and make difference in this world. That day, the world will ask of us that we have to make it available globally. That day – if we think of relevancy, market strategy, revenue imperatives, will we be wrong?

Scale vs. Premium. Where are we; where is Apple? If you are a consumer caught in conflict between the two, you will have to find a way out. As Indians, that is in our genes. We invented jugaad, didn’t we?

Apple and India

Culture, Systems and a Plan

Call it serendipity, if you will.

(Though, I’ve heard that that’s a bad word to use in business. Everything should happen because you planned for it. In my experience, though, it is not always the case.)

In the last couple of days I came across various links that somehow fit together to tell me a story.

The first, a post by Ashish Bhagwat titled Systems Today, Culture Tomorrow. Don’t Tweak! It is an interesting take, but the closing paragraph was really the key to an important message:

When tweaking systems and policies for shorter term goals, do not lose sight of the longer term effects on culture and mindset of people working in the organization. Systems and Policies of today are the organizational culture of tomorrow!

The next day, I saw this brilliant talk by David Heinemeier Hansson: “Unlearn your MBA“. (A 58 minute video that I urge you to watch). For those of you do not know, David is the creator of Ruby on Rails and a partner in 37signals – the company that makes Basecamp (The company I work for uses it, and I can tell you, the product’s simplicity and utility are what makes it one of the best collaborative products around.)

But there is something interesting about 37signals and another company I hugely admire – Automattic (the people who brought you the platform on which you are reading this post.) These are companies that have understood, internalised and implemented lean management and a trusting organisational culture, successfully. Both companies have happily shared their secrets of success. It seems to me that they are (almost) structured to avoid recessionary effects on the company.

Organisations with a fragile culture and those that are structured out of a textbook; are the ones most susceptible to recessionary effects (even if they aren’t!).

Because, by default, organisations plan for the long term, the advice from Ashish’s post is significant. And the scramble, in my opinion, is not so much to ward off the recession, but to protect the plan by postponing it. As the environment changes, a plan can be adapted, but a hurt culture is difficult, if not impossible, to heal.

Culture, Systems and a Plan

Monetising Outside the US

As always, Fred’s blog is a pleasure to read. This time more so, because it is an issue close to heart.

He has just published a post titled: Does Rest Of World Matter More Than The US? in which he says:

What this means to me is that web services that are highly international today should invest in fully localizing their user experience and then start thinking about monetizing outside of the US. Start with local partners and then start putting people on the ground in your best international markets.

Rather that the conventional wisdom, as Fred suggests, that, “international usage cannot be monetized as well as US traffic”, I think it is the hesitation on part of these web companies to apply different business models in different regions.

Just yesterday, I was cribbing that while Apple is gladly selling iPhones and iPods in India, the India store is really shabby. Resident Indians cannot buy music in the India Store. Even MobileMe is sold in physical stores or through the Singapore online Store. Nokia and some of the mobile service providers are doing very well selling music downloads in India. And I don’t think it is a DRM issue as it is made out to be.

Facebook, Twitter and those guys have a better chance if they wake-up earlier as Fred suggests in his post. I am not sure just localising the experience will be enough though, while it is an important attribute for success in non-US markets. Interestingly, Godrej, has launched – India’s answer to Second Life. Knowing Godrej, there is a business model to it, though it has yet to present itself very well.

India at least, and I suspect the other three of the BRIC too) are a volume and a patience game and few of the players have both the qualities, or are ready to investing in them. And I believe this applies not just to web companies, but others too.

Monetising Outside the US