Sunday, January 23, 2005

Will Indians really never buy iPods?

Through GigaOm, I found a post on Youth Curry, the blog of Rashmi Bansal, editor of JAM magazine. This post was in response to an article in the Economic Times, about Indian youth. Though I don’t read JAM, I’ve always read her interesting articles in BusinessWorld about that all important demographic in India, the youth.

I couldn’t quite agree with some of the technology related points she makes in the response….

"Flashing their iPods?" iPods may be objects of curiosity - even desire - but at a price band of Rs 19-25,000 ($430-550) the Ipod is still a tech toy for Pajero puppies (rich kids) and celebs who need something to talk about in interviews. Although young India wants to buy into cool, it is unwilling to pay the kind of premium for it that's acceptable in other countries.

Recognising this, IPod is apparently releasing a 512 mb version called the "shuffle" for Rs 7000. But in my view, unless it adds on a phone capability (like the Palm has done in response to PDA enabled phones) most young people in India will go for Mp3 cellphones.

While I agree with her view that the iPod may be too expensive from an Indian perspective, what should be kept in mind is that the iPod is only a popular representative of a whole host of similar devices. What’s relevant is the willingness of the Indian youth to spend on the latest techno toys other than cellphones. The reason for the more muted usage of such devices is, I believe, not because of our hesitation to open up our wallets, but because of the reluctance shown by the manufacturers of these devices to properly introduce and market them in our country. This is true not only for the uber rich, but also the present middle class in India, which is seeing a sharp growth in its spending power thanks to a booming economy, with cities in the eye of the IT storm being prime examples of this phenomenon. The automobile industry has already shown us what simultaneous worldwide releases of their offerings can do, and I think the consumer electronics manufacturers will find out that a similar strategy will work for them. The point I’m trying to make is that the Indian youth is not averse to spending its money on products that can add some kind of value, to their lives, coolness factor, whatever. Maybe I shouldn’t generalise this to be the view of the ‘Indian youth’, as I don’t have any data to back it up, except for being a part of it myself and the evidence that I see around me.

Another point is that of young people going for cellphones with MP3 capability, rather than spending money on dedicated flash or hard disk based jukeboxes. This will no longer remain an issue, as India will once again follow its past pattern of skipping entire generations of technology and catching up with the world mid-way. The cellphone and devices like the iPod are on a path of convergence and soon cellphones with huge memory, in the form of hard disks will make any argument on the willingness of people choosing one device over another irrelevant.

PC or console gaming will not achieve the kind of widespread popularity with 10-20 year olds it has in other countries, given the continuing pressure on young Indians to perform academically. Mobile gaming has a brighter better future, being a personal device less prone to parental supervision.

The absence of widespread popularity of gaming in India is not because of the pressure on young Indians to perform academically, but, because of the abysmally low level of PC penetration in our country. I think it would be fair to assume that academically, the expectations from a student in a household without a computer would be the same as that on a student who has one. But, I will bet everything I have, which isn’t much, that the most popular activity on that computer will be gaming. It only takes access to a computer to get hooked onto the experience of playing a game on a computer which can never be matched by the ‘it’s better than nothing’ experience of playing on a mobile phone.

It would be nice, however, to see journalists and other experts go beyond the superficial level and get under the skin of the young Indian.

Totally agree with that one.

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Blogger Rashmi Bansal said...

I would just like to add that using the car market as an analogy does not work. Cars in India are sold to the 25 + audience and the EMI culture has made the whole process rather painless :)

1/25/2005 04:09:00 PM  
Blogger Thejo said...

The analogy was to point out what simultaneous worldwide release of products can do. The under 25 market is still buying stuff that is comparable in cost to the devices that I was referring to. Same strategy, but in a different price band..... might work.

1/27/2005 12:16:00 AM  

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