Aug 25, 2008

iPhone 3G, Still an INDIAN DREAM

The Apple has finally hit the Indian mobile market, but steep prices make it a forbidden fruit

The good news is that there is finally an alternative to the grey market for iPhones in India. Airtel and Vodafone launched the much-awaited new iPhone3G late last week amidst much fanfare. But the bad news, for most of us, is that owning the iPhone3G will still remain a dream. Priced at Rs 31,000 and Rs 36,100 for the 8 GB and 16 GB versions, respectively, this is certainly not a phone for light pockets.

Airtel’s Mobile Services president Sanjay Kapoor absolved himself of any responsibility saying, “Airtel is simply providing the iPhone experience to its customers. The prices have been fixed by Apple and there is no profit margin for us.” He explains that since India has no mechanism to bind the customer to a particular service provider, the product cannot be sold here as in the US—for an 8GB phone customers in the US pay $199 (Rs 8,358) upfront and another $99 (Rs 4,158) as annual contract with AT&T, the only service provider. Kapoor believes the product will cost the same in the West if it is sold unbundled.
Airtel admits the iPhone is not for the masses and will attract only high-end customers, what they describe as “funsters” and “the achievers segment”. This certainly seemed to be true of the crowd gathered at the launch to purchase the latest gadget.

Swati, the first customer of the iPhone in India, is a self-confessed tech-junky who just had to have the newest toy on the market, whatever the price. An MBA student she saved up for five months from her earnings as an intern with PepsiCo. “This isn’t just a phone it’s a laptop and an iPod and a phone, a three-in-one. I just had to have it.” Those like Chetna Taneja, among the first buyers in Delhi, have other reasons. “I was sick of my old Nokia that I’d been using for three years. I have used an iPhone in the US, but didn’t buy one because it would have been a hassle to get it unlocked. I managed to get the very first white one here.”

What’s THE big deal?
Obviously the first thing that captures the imagination is it’s sleek lines, wide-screen display, the excitement of a touch screen and its touted superiority over the original iPhone.
Some cosmetic changes have been made to the exterior in the new version. The rear panel has been changed from metal to plastic, while the external buttons have gone from plastic to metal. The move to plastic is good, given the new iPhone has so many radios, frequencies, and antennae needs. The metal ring around the camera lens is actually the new GPS antenna.
Smoother sides mean the phone’s dimensions have undergone a tiny change, it no longer fits into the speaker docks made for the original iPhone—a dock will now have to be bought separately from an Apple Store. Also, the phone vibrates when the screen is tapped, making it impossible to be used as a tabletop computer any longer.

While the dimensions of the 3.5-inch, 480x320 resolution screen are identical to the original, the new display is brighter and the daylight viewing better. iPhone has the world’s most advanced touch screen. Scrolling, dialling, panning, zooming, touching and pinching are all actions you can do to get around your photos, maps, movies, music and of course, your phone calls. In addition to desktop-class email and web browsing, the new MobileMe and Exchange applications push emails to your phone as soon as they’re received, just like BlackBerry.

The camera on the other hand, hasn’t been upgraded at all and is the same 2 MP. It still doesn’t have video capture, flash, auto-focus, optical zoom or video recording. The only saving grace is that the pictures, once taken, can be expanded or shrunk or moved around by literally squeezing them on the screen.
Music and movies are controlled by the “iPod” programme, which is wonderful if the user is familiar with the iPod—iTunes may be a bit tricky for those used to getting music on their phones through Bluetooth transfers or memory cards, especially since there is no external memory option, and the Bluetooth feature does not permit data transfer as it is configured to only allow hands-free calling. Also, since the iTunes music store is not available to Indian users, the lack of an FM radio certainly rankles. All the music and videos that you want to get onto your phone have to be done through the iTunes.

One of the key features is the Assisted Global Positioning System (A-GPS) which can home into a location faster with the help of cellular towers. Google Maps comes pre-installed, and while it doesn’t provide turn-by-turn route guidance or voice-assisted driving directions in India, it is an exceptional software. Here, the iPhone will remain no more than a location-aware smartphone, and not a dedicated GPS device, until detailed GPS maps are released and made available for usage on the phone.

To help its customers make a smooth transition into the new technology, Airtel has trained over 3,000 people in sales and services to ensure that their “customers get the best out of their iPhones”. “It was a one month process. We have trained employees, promoters, Airtel Relationship Centres and other staff to make sure everything goes off smoothly,” says Saurav Mustafi of Airtel. According to him, the only drawback to not having 3G in India is that everything will run a little slower. “3G is only third generation enhanced data transfer speed technology. Since we do not have it in India, you can use all applications using Wifi or EDGE. The only difference you will see is in speed.”

But the iPhone is not exactly revolutionary, as many basic functions are still missing. Though the iPhone can now read PowerPoint, pages, numbers, and keynote documents, functions like cut, copy, paste are still missing. Despite the bigger battery drain, it still doesn’t have an easily replaceable battery. Also missing are MMS, the ability to forward SMSes and expandable memory cards.
In addition, it is not your average Nokia that can easily take a tremendous amount of illtreatment and emerge unharmed. Mustafi has some words of caution, “The iPhone is precious and should be used with greater care.”
Moreover, it will come with network locks. “It is to make sure people have the right experience. All SIMs will come locked and for Airtel customers the phone comes embedded with AirtelLive, 500MB of data download free every month for the first year and applications such as Mobile Check. All these applications will be lost if the phone is unlocked,” says Kapoor.

Airtel is confident the youth will buy the phone using their savings or convince their parents of the merits of handing them a phone worth Rs 30,000. One such youth with extremely benevolent parents is MBA student Rohit. “It is a little too expensive, but my old phone is now so battered that I desperately needed a new one.” His friends on the other hand said they were just spectators. “We don’t have that kind of money. We’re just spectators,” says Mohit Sharma. It would be easier, and cheaper, to just use Rohit’s phone, Agni Chatterjee chips in.
Kapoor feels genuine users will not turn towards the grey markets. “An iPhone user is purchasing it for the overall experience. We are working on installment schemes.”
For India, which has so long been denied the original, it is safe to say this new pricing strategy is nothing short of cruel. Steve Job’s “twice the speed for half the price” phone, at the very best will be half the speed and four times the price in India. Source...

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