Apple is failing spectacularly in one of the world's biggest smartphone markets

Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
  • Apple is struggling to gain market share in India, the world’s third-biggest smartphone market.
  • Bloomberg says the company has lost important sales and distribution executives in the country and has failed to develop important carrier relationships.
  • iPhones are especially expensive in India thanks to customs tariffs.
  • Consumers in India more often buy cheaper devices from Asian manufacturers such as Samsung, Oppo, and Vivo.

Apple is struggling to sell the iPhone in India, the world’s third-biggest smartphone market, and has reportedly lost several important sales executives in the country.

According to Bloomberg, Apple’s national sales and distribution chief, the head of its commercial channels and mid-market business, and the head of telecom carrier sales for India have all left. The company is reportedly restructuring its sales operations in India in an effort to boost its market share beyond single digits.

Bloomberg cited sources who said the company’s head of India operations, Michel Coulomb, had been slow to develop key business relationships with carriers in India. Coulomb took the job at the end of last year.

Research from Counterpoint shows that Apple doesn’t even rank among the top five smartphone makers in India, where Asian companies rule.

Samsung leads the way with 26% market share, ahead of the Chinese makers Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, and Huawei. All five phone makers have a much bigger suite of devices than Apple, ranging from expensive flagships to cheap entry-level phones for those connecting to the mobile internet for the first time.

Here’s a graph from Counterpoint showing the most popular smartphone makers in India – Apple is nowhere to be seen:

According to Counterpoint, Apple’s market share stood at about 2.5% at the end of 2017. It sold just 3.2 million iPhones in India last year, while less than a million were shifted in the first half of 2018, Counterpoint said. The iPhone is especially expensive for people in India thanks to import duties.

With a population of more than 1 billion people, India is an important market for Apple to conquer. CEO Tim Cook made his first visit to the country in May 2016 and, two years later, acknowledged his company’s “extremely low” market share.

In an earnings call this past May, Cook likened India to the opportunity in China. “There are obviously huge opportunities there for us and we have an extremely low share in that market overall, and so we’re putting a lot of energy there,” he said. “It’s clear that many people would be moving towards middle class over time like we have seen in other countries.”

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