Fact 1: The average yearly salary in India was supposed to touch ₹100,000 ($1436) in 2016–17.
Fact 2: The base model of the iPhone XS Max costs ₹109,900 in India. That’s a jaw-dropping $1561, which is more than the average Indian salary for a year.
The other iPhone models listed are just as expensive in dollar terms (with one exception). So it isn’t surprising Apple owns less than 1% share of India’s cellphone market. As you can see from that list, the iPhone SE is the only one affordable by the ordinary Indian (it’s the only 32GB phone in the above list but I have seen the 64GB version going for inside ₹20000 [$284]). The iPhone SE is inexpensive because Apple assembles it in India and hence it’s exempt from India’s high import taxes. My wife has this phone, and I can vouch it’s good value for its price if you prefer small screens.
The thing is Apple has stopped production of this iPhone SE, probably because the profit margins aren’t enough. I understand that India’s high taxes are responsible for the country having the dubious honour of having the highest priced iPhones in the world. But the Indian government gives exemptions from these taxes if the phones are made in India. In fact, the Chinese company, Xiaomi, has taken full advantage of this policy to become India’s top selling phone brand.
Moving on, despite these high prices, Apple fans do exist in India. India has over a billion citizens and Apple’s 1% market share works out to quite a few customers. Most of these are wealthy Indians. But some like me, used to work outside India, and have got used to iPhones, iPads and Macs. We don’t want to switch to Androids for whatever reasons. But Apple’s ridiculous pricing in India makes life difficult for Apple’s fans in India. So what are we supposed to do while Apple coyly dithers around its high price line?
Well, this particular fan did some serious rationalising. I had my eye on that iPhone XS Max base model, but that ₹109,900 ($1561) price tag made me pause. What was I getting for that money which would justify my getting rid of my trusty old iPhone 6S+? Let me see if I can list it out.
Two cameras Sure, portrait mode would give me a better picture. But the 6S+ camera photos are pretty good for a 3 year old phone, and as long as I can catch shots like my title image, I can live with one camera.
Face ID vs Touch ID I admit Face ID is pretty magical, and Touch ID is often an issue for my sweaty fingers in India’s tropical humidity. But again, I can live with it as both systems seem to be equally secure as far as I can see.
3D Touch The XR doesn’t have this so my iPhone 6S+ is actually one up on it. 3D Touch is a late bloomer for me as I began using this feature only recently. These days, I find it useful to quickly access and change Bluetooth or WiFi from my home screen, pull up macro mode in my Camera+ app, quickly peek at WhatsApp images, change the keyboard to a trackpad, and so on. Yes, I will miss 3DTouch if it’s missing. However I believe ‘long press’ seems to do a similar job on Apple devices that don’t have 3D Touch. For instance, ‘long press’ to turn keyboard to trackpad works on my iPad on the Apple keyboard.
Augmented Reality The measuring app works fine on my iPhone. I don’t know about other AR stuff. Ignorance is bliss.
Apps that don’t work on older iPhones I have come across a couple of apps that don’t work on my iPhone. But I don’t even recall what they were so it’s no big deal. Some apps have features that don’t work on my phone. Like changing the focus on photos that have already been shot using the double lens back camera. Sure, it would be nice to have this feature as I might be able to salvage shots where the camera focussed on something beyond or ahead of my subject. But does that feature justify such a steep price? No way.
Speedy new phones My iPhone has an A9 chip as against the A12 in the XS series. However the speed difference between recent iPhones and newer ones, is not as drastic as it once used to be. I recall my iPad 3 became so slow after its update to iOS 9 that the touchscreen would not work for 2–3 minutes after I started it. This was pretty aggravating as I couldn’t even revert back to iOS 8. However iOS 12 actually made old iPhones faster, instead of slower. Are these signs of a new Apple?
Battery Woes This one was the deal breaker for me. Older iPhones tend to run out of charge midway through the day especially when we use apps that need a lot of processor usage. Like the battery on my iPhone6S+ used to rapidly drain when shooting videos. Replacing the battery might resolve the issue but it would cost a bomb. So it was often more feasible to trade up to a newer iPhone.
Apple makes a concession
Luckily for me, Apple came up with a controversial solution of throttling older iPhones to prevent battery drain. When this was revealed, the public outcry forced Apple to offer a subsidised battery replacement program across the world.
My iPhone’s battery health was down to 85%. And like I said if I was outdoors and shooting, the battery would drain in no time. So I leapt at the subsidised battery replacement offer, and got the battery changed. The difference was drastic, with the phone retaining its charge a lot longer while I was outdoors and shooting. I still need to carry a battery pack if I go on a full day outdoor expedition. But even my old DSLR camera used to run out of charge when continuously used, so that was acceptable.
In fact, I was so impressed by the improved performance that I had the battery changed on my wife’s iPhone SE too. What’s more, I also influenced a couple of my friends with older iPhones to change their batteries, and even wrote about it here on Medium.
I believe that with good battery charging practices, I should be able to easily extract two more years out of my iPhone 6S+. That would help me justify to myself why it’s ok to pay a premium for an iPhone. Besides, in two years, a lot could change. In fact, the news is Apple has already begun assembling its new phone models in India, which means iPhones will finally be eligible for tax exemptions. So Indians can expect drastic price cuts on the new iPhone models during the course of this year.
Sending out an SOS
The way I see it, by changing the battery and sticking with an older phone, iPhone fans like me are sending a message to Apple.
“We love Apple and will stick with you, but your prices are too high.”
Well, it seems there were quite a few customers sending this message. This morning, I read a ‘Letter from Tim Cook to Apple investors’ wherein he mentions that iPhone sales were down, and one of the reasons for this was quoted as “…some customers taking advantage of significantly reduced pricing for iPhone battery replacements.”
Hey, I’m one of those ‘some customers.’ If Tim Cook says ‘some,’ there must have been a substantial amount of customers opting to change batteries, and stick with their current iPhones instead of upgrading.
It would appear that Apple did receive our memo.