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Apple's iPhone Will Fail In India. And Maybe Britain too.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on December 17, 2007

A number of Indians at the summit on design and innovation in Bangalore last week were carrying hacked iPhones around and they complained that Apple didn’t get it when it comes to Indian culture. Why? Texting. The Indian designers said the iPhone didn’t do group texting and didn’t forward texts. But Indians, with their extended families and social networks, need to do both all the time.

Indians live on their phones. I joked to one that it was hard for me to see how India actually existed before the cell phone, since it was so much a part of their culture.

Bottom line—Apple has time to fix its texting function for the iPhone before it officially launches in India. Early adapters in Bangalore have done Apple a favor by testing the iPhone out. Now all Apple has to do is listen to them. Get that group texting and forwarding thing right.

I hear the same complaints are coming out of Britain as well.

Reader Comments

Not an Indian

December 18, 2007 12:42 AM

I agree to a certain degree that group texting is an important feature for some, but not for all. If I wanted to justify my purchase solely on texting, then I would by myself a low level cheap mobile phone that can do group texting and live with it. But will I choose it over an iphone? No, of course not. I like to take my music library along with my play lists wherever I go, and my favorite videos downloaded from YouTube. I check my email when I am in the bus or the train and surf the web when I am near a hot spot. I write down my To Do list and the weekend shopping list in the same device because I said bye bye to paper long time ago. Will I trade any of the above for group texting? No, I won't. Can I live with it? Well.... I am not an Indian so I guess I can.


December 18, 2007 2:43 AM

Is this just another troll, posting a sensational headline for the search machines, and then stating nothing new, significant...or even related to the title?

It's surprising and dissapointing to find this on a BusinessWeek site.

niti bhan

December 18, 2007 6:49 AM

I'd be curious to know if Apple *even* was planning an India launch. Haven't seen any news or rumours to that effect, after the buzz on the european launch the discussion has moved onto china.


December 18, 2007 11:58 AM

considering apple did not design the iphone for indian customers... the complaint is absurd.

apple generally tell people what they want. and they do not generally care about their customers in india.

apple online store for india has been down dead since ages now.

David Malouf

December 18, 2007 3:00 PM

But isn't this just an easy software change? Seriously, whenever I hear a criticism of the iPhone based around software, I often jump up and scream.

Maybe this is why they are delaying the release in India for this reason? It would be REALLY easy for them to add these features in any firmware update and the features would obviously be useful to other markets as well.

There are a host of "problems" with an iPhone that even in the US are still real at the software level. No cut&paste should be at the top of everyone's list, but the total experience package of having iPod, Phone and internet all together in such an engaging and dynamic package tied together with iTunes is an eco-system that is just so hard to compete with.

I mean, have yo started buying your music on Nokia's service? Yea! we're running in droves to do that, right?


December 18, 2007 5:29 PM

Apple can easily do this with a future software update. There is no reason to come out with a new phone. This is one of the reasons why the iphone is so revolutionary - no other phone lets you update its software in this way.

niti bhan

December 18, 2007 6:37 PM

Apple has 12 months to go by which to meet their intention of selling 10 million iPHones [as stated by Steve Jobs] or 12.5 million [as this recent estimate shows.

the first rush of buyers in the United States is over, as is the price drop rush. The UK has happened. Europe is happening now.

That still leaves at least 8 to 9 million from any of those targets left to sell.

The fastest growing mobile phone markets in the world are none of hte regions mentioned already.

As one of the commenters mentioned above, Anonymous I believe,

December 18, 2007 11:58 AM

considering apple did not design the iphone for indian customers... the complaint is absurd.

apple generally tell people what they want. and they do not generally care about their customers in india."

Its not about India. Its about the fact that as long as the Mac and assorted Apple products were niche products they could tell people what they want. The iPod's business model is not linked to a service dependent on many other cultural and social usage factors like the mobile phone's is due to the fact that its a different product category.

But if a mobile phone is to be sold in those numbers, it becomes 'mass market' if only on a global scale outside of the Apple lovers niche club. Not low income segments of course.

Then, to be a valid alternative to the phones available on the market that serve the functions required of a phone, in addition to all the coolness of an Apple as another commenter mentioned, it makes sense for the iPhone to cater to the needs of these markets.

Their sales targets for 2008 demand it, as do the real facts of where mobile phone sales are really growing.

And I'm amazed at the quality of the comments made by readers of a business magazine.


December 18, 2007 11:57 PM


Most of what's wrong with most phones can easily be fixed with software, and other smartphones have histories of significant firmware upgrades as well. The issue is whether companies actually make it a priority to write the software to address the issues.

Will Apple actually listen and adapt the phone to local markets? Maybe, maybe not. There have been 3 firmware upgrades so far, of differing levels of significance. So far, they have added features that let you buy more from Apple, but haven't yet addressed the group text, MMS, cut-and-paste, or other issues that are supposedly so easily fixed, so it obviously hasn't been a top priority for them. They are still selling like hotcakes in the US so maybe it doesn't need to be, but the somewhat slower rate of adoption in the UK and Germany suggests that they may need to make changes to see similar uptake rates elsewhere. Also, some things, like GPS and 3G, can't be added through software alone. iPhone 2 will need a significant hardware upgrade to make it in other markets, like Japan or Korea.

Shashwat Parhi

December 19, 2007 1:54 AM

more than group texting, is the lack of forwarding contact info via SMS. every phone on the market has implemented this feature one way or another. I am sure this has nothing to do with culture. How come no one in the US even mentions this as a problem. Of course, Apple can fix it via a software update.

Kamla Bhatt

December 19, 2007 10:39 AM

I think besides the texting feature, the price point might be a big barrier for brisk iPhone sales in India. Just this weekend I was at a mobile demo conference in Bangalore and met a techie, whose presentation about his hacked iPhone was one of the highlights for the mobile enthusiasts. I asked him if iPhone will find a market in India. His answer was it might or might not work because of the price point.

Apple is looking to roll-out the iPhone in India sometime in mid-2008 according to some reports.

Bruce Nussbaum

December 19, 2007 2:35 PM

Niti, Dan and all the folks,
I remember when I first saw Steve Jobs show me the iPhone. It was, of course, a dazzling performance, especially when it came to talking about the amazing touch screen, the music, the web, the images. But when Jobs came to the email function, he was singularly lackluster. And he admitted that it wasn't until the end of the development process that Apple realized that people typed with their thumbs in emailing. That was a stunner.
So I am not surprised that the texting function isn't all that great either. It may be fine in the US but apparently not so in Europe--or in India, where Apple has to do well if it is going to sell tens of millions of iPhones. Not having a group texting or forwarding function is a big minus to people who need them and want them. I'm just guessing that this texting need is a big surprise over at Apple. Gotta fix it guys.

niti bhan

December 19, 2007 5:18 PM

The price point decision is an interesting one when it comes to the iPhone. I've been talking to many people from different countries where SMS, texting etc are far more prevalent than the United States and phones embody greater intrinsic value as the catchall single gadget. Not everyone has a computer/internet access outside of work or can afford to contemplate it or whatever decision regarding this expenditure, or even if they do, they don't tote it as much as you would in the US.

But a handheld mobile information device is worth spending money on particularly if it allows you to do much of what you'd continue to do if you did have a laptop handy - communicate or connect or access information- therefore when taking a decision to plonk down X amount of money between the coolest gadget on earth, the iPhone, and another phone that *also* has the functionality you need based on your home location's mobile culture, you're highly likely to sigh a bit wistfully but take a decision to buy "not the iPhone" because you'll be able to do everything you need. Sorta like the BMW Z3 roadster - looks great, no speed.

The iPhone is a superb first prototype or concept validation, however. But in markets accustomed to going without, it may be a no brainer decision to go without if its launched on the strength of the Apple brand alone.

Bruce, your comment's insight makes me wonder if we're only assuming Apple does any exploratory research before design?

Sheshank Reddy

December 21, 2007 9:43 PM

iTunes for India has not yet happened.

the mobile phone market in india may be booming, but how big is the iPod market ?

who are the existing indians using iPods ? considering very sources sell downloadable digital music to indians ?

are people digitizing their audio cd collections ? are teens, students, people with desk jobs downloading pirated music ? how many of them ?

nokia sells several fairly expensive handsets in india. and they sell partly because of the brand's snob value ("i have an n-series!!"). 300$ to 400$ price range.


December 25, 2007 10:25 PM

iphone might be a big failure in india..

i did some findings on this


January 2, 2008 11:20 AM

With 3rd Party application.. i bet iPhone is going to be massive hit in India... believe me.. it's just initial jinx.. once it is one can stop iPhone..except another iPhone... u may find lots of other phones with similar features..but still iPhone is iPhone.. and from when ppl from india started complaining about iphone feature.. u r using it in India..means already on net according to ur requirement..u will find solutions for it.... for SMS forward and multiple SMS ... an indian has created application SMSD.. use that.. for Contact info forward.. there is already CONTACT.APP..use it...
what Apple has done.. it has a given a platform to all of us.. to start thinking big.. and don't be so demanding..this is just iPhone 1.x.x.... with newer release... it is going to be big problem for other cell companies to match Apple's benchmarks...


January 5, 2008 9:30 AM

If the Iphone does not forward text messages or you cannot sms contacts , what is the point of a cel phone ?! I for one do not see the grand purpose in playing around with an expensive photo album which is occasionally used for telephone calls.

I frankly do not know what the iphone does or does not do -several people say
*does not let you use bluetooth to exchange files
*does not text forward
*does not contact send via sms
*it is relatively hobbled without the sync facility of the computer to exchange mails etc
* They refuse to provide any indication whether they will launch in March 2008 in India as rumour mills are saying
* they refuse to indicate whether it will be network specific or network independent
* they refuse to indicate the network if it is network specific
* there is no idea on price

I mean, WTF ?! this is not the Arc of the Covenant man; and Jobs is not Moses - why all the suspense ? Just be clear and open - what is their problem here ? Its beginning to annoy me immensely .d

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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