Indians will no longer need to illegally buy, unlock and then use the most-desired item on gadget lovers' lists -- the Apple iPhone. Its much-awaited and delayed India launch is expected with telecom operator Vodafone in the first week of September.
The Cupertino, California-based company, according to Apple retail sources, said initially the 8 GB version of the much-hyped touchscreen device -- which combines Wi-Fi capabilities with a powerful email client, TV feeds, online music store and map-based location guide -- will be launched at a price ranging between Rs 27,200 and Rs 28,000.
Based on buyer response, the launch of the 16 GB version will be staggered to the middle of 2009.
Apple sources in Singapore, when contacted last month, had maintained that the India launch would happen in 2008, but were tight-lipped on the exact date.
Apple reportedly claims to have shipped four million iPhones this January since its US launch on June 29 last year, and its chief Steve Jobs has targeted sales of 10 million units by December 2008.
The tie-up is an exclusive arrangement with AT&T. Initial sales targets for the iPhone in India or unit numbers at the time of launch are as yet unavailable, with Apple wary of grey market sales in India.
"The carrier deal for India is being worked out with Vodafone," said an Apple source, adding: "Vodafone could also become the carrier for the Australian market once iPhone is launched there, though more than one carrier is likely for Australia."
When contacted, a Vodafone spokesperson denied any knowledge of the deal. However, company sources confirmed the iPhone carrier deal with Apple, though the exact commercial terms were not disclosed. Mobile carriers that offer the iPhone share a percentage of their sales with Apple.
The Apple retail sources also did not rule out Apple extending universal access for iPhone users to all major telecom carriers in India.
"Post launch in India, the iPhone can be 'unlocked' (or configured to use SIM cards from all telecom carriers), though the company is not fully open to such a possibility," the source said.
The real signs of 'iFatigue' in India over the long wait for the iPhone are evident on Internet chat forums where users debate thorny issues like how to unlock the iPhone without losing call quality, free open source hacker kits like AppTapp, the best unlock deals at the right price, and quick bargains in the grey market.
Meanwhile, Apple India's tentative expansion plans in the coming year include opening a second branch of its exclusive product station, the iStore, in Bangalore's southern suburb of Jayanagar to tap growing demand for the iPod series and the Mac Book Air workstation launched early this year. A third iStore is planned to be launched in Chennai this August.
As the Indian mobile subscriber base gets set to almost double to 500 million by 2010, brand positioning and pricing schemes will be crucial. Customer churn has increased across telecom circles from 18 per cent in 2006 to 20 per cent in 2007, according to IDC India figures. The iPhone's entry could tilt the balance further, say industry watchers.
Further, the introduction of number portability could prompt customers to jump to competing networks or go in for superior handsets with better offerings.
No matter how much of the iPhone's feature basket will be available to the user initially, those awaiting the launch agree that it's better to have the ecosystem in place before buying the phone.
The rewards of buying the kosher version far outstrip the risks of stalking it down the murky alleys of the grey market, and hacking and re-hacking the device every time Apple releases a software upgrade. Till September, then.