Friday, June 29, 2007

iPhone iN iNdia

The iPhone takes on USA today. The newest member of the Apple family is publicised as the coolest gadget on this planet, and no wonder thousands have queued up outside shops since Monday for this product that shall be launched today. The fact that this baby comes with a price tag of 599$ (for which you may get a PS3 easily), and a two year contract with AT&T (that's another 60$ per month) hasn't detered this nation of gizmo fans.

I was debating with Vivek the other night on how would India react to the iPhone. I said that this might do quite well, as we have taken the iPod very well, and other phones like the Nokia N-series (which I may call multimedia phones) are quite a success. Besides, I believe that most people are tired of the Motorazor now and need something sleeker and cooler. I am not much of a gizmo fan myself, so I have no idea about the market for these things; I am quite content with my good ol' Nokia 2300, which boasts of just a radio besides the usual features you would expect a phone to have.

Vivek differed though. He said the iPhone is being hyped for its wireless internet capbilities (some 3G thing he told me, I didn't grasp most of the technical part) - and he doesn't see a huge market in India for this 'coz of this reason. In India, we may just look at the iPhone as an enhanced iPod, and nothing more. And maybe it won't be all that worth to spend so much on such a gadget if it offers little gain in the place where you live. And the cellular industry in India is just coming out of the traditional cell phones to the new multimedia phones, as I call them. It hasn't been long since we have had such phones out there, and he feels Apple may not consider investing in India any time soon, given the small size and the diversity of the market out there. Besides, given the high cost of the iPhone, only the affluent ones will be able to buy it, which makes the market size even smaller.

I beg to differ though. The iPhone is surely costly, and more of a luxury than a fancy phone if you ask me, but then India is slowly learning to take in new fancy products over traditional ones. The obstacles that I see that Apple might face in India is stiff competition and a tough exit if the market fails. I think the stiff competition part is justified, so let me focus on the tough exit part. Considering the small market size and the novelty of the iPhone, I think huge sales early on after launching will be like Apple canibalising its future sales. I don't see the market for a gadget like iPhone to rise in India hugely after the product is launched. So the iPhone market in India may stagnate in quite a short time, say few years. Considering the amount of corruption in the country and the amount of market regulations, I think exiting the market won't be all that easy. I feel Apple should enter India with a different business strategy, otherwise I don't see a good scope for the iPhone in India. True, people will like it and many will buy it - it might be a huge success when it's launched. But I am not sure of how it will fare in the long run. And considering that a piece sells for 599$ in USA, Apple has surely put in a fortune on this one, and is talking big money - so long run sales do matter, I feel.

I feel it would make more sense for Apple to buy either an existing player(s) in the market, or to collaborate with one/few, so that they minimise the risk involved. Or maybe they can come in with some other fancy idea; like focus on something that's hotter and more accessible in India, than Wifi, say something like TV streaming/Cable TV or something; maybe partner up with some player in the Cable TV market and launch something new. Or maybe they could try an iPhone that is also a useful office tool, or a good help in college or something. You know, some modifications here and there may have a huge impact on their success in the market.

So that's it then. The iPhone hits USA today. Let's see if I get the privilege of actually holding one in my hand while I am here :)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Interesting stories

The other night we all roomies were sitting outside in the grass in our backyard after a good dinner, when Shashikant said, "Sid yaar, kuch bol. Tu kuch bolta hi nahi hai, hamesha chup chap baitha rehta hai." And the first thing that crossed my mind was - 'How odd! Tell this to my hostel friends back at IIT, and they may probably split their sides laughing.'

But yes, it is true. I have kept more to myself here in Cornell as against my usual outgoing nature. Well, I would say that it is partly because I am taking this experience here as a learning experience and take every opportunity to observe and learn, and hence, am not much of a participant out here, and partly because I think I really don't have anything much interesting to talk about! 'How odd' you may say, or probably not; I am not sure how many dull folks exist out there. But it is true; unlike most people who I know, who always have something interesting to say and tell, I am rather the stodgy species.

I should point out here that it isn't my life that is dull - I do have interesting things happening in my life; well, at least they seem interesting to me, but I somehow don't seem to document them well enough to recall later and then narrate at ease. I happened to read a post by Scott Adams on his Dilbert blog the other night, where he spoke on this very issue. He says he tries remembering key issues from any interesting anecdotes, and can recall the whole situation from these. I feel I should give this a try; maybe that way I will have something interesting to say the next time I sit in a group where the pauses would have the better of the speeches.

I do recall one incident though back from my school days - one that stands apart from the rest in my memory. There was an essay competition in our school, and I had worked hard on preparing a great essay, which I was sure was a winner. The day before the competition, (as was my usual habit) I took my essay to school to show it to my friends, partly to enjoy the awestruck looks on their faces and partly to tell them in their face - 'Ditch it guys, you don't stand a chance!' I guess the rest of the day went pretty normally, as I don't recall much from that, but when it was time to go home and I was repacking my bag, I noticed that I had lost my essay! I searched everywhere, scoured my neighbour's school bag too, but the essay was nowhere to be found. Sad and dejected, I returned home, and sat down to prepare another essay. I was cursing myself all the while for having been so stupid to take that essay to school - should never have done that at all! And as I was about to start writing another essay, I took out my notebook to note the topic again, to note that down in the essay. And lo! Wow! The topic read 'India's 50 years of independence!' I smiled looking at that topic, and thanked god for making me lose the essay I had written earlier.

The essay I had written earlier wouldn't have qualified - I had mistaken the topic for 'India's 50th year of Independence'. I smiled. Partly because I was saved. Partly because the person who stole my essay was doomed. I learnt one thing from the whole incident though - never to be a showoff again. And I have also learnt one thing now - I should remember most interesting things that happen in my life, lest people mistake me for a dumb person.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Of rising oil prices and the associated losses

Ask any toddler these days about oil prices, and chances are quite good that he may reply back - 'They're rising!' One may thus be tempted to think that this is a lucrative business now, with lots of money pooling in.

But just consider this - I happened to read today in the news that the Indian Government has decided to bill ONGC in Indian rupees now onwards. What was happening was that ONGC was running into problems considering the recent growth in strength of the Indian rupee compared to the US dollar on account of increasing foreign investments in India. Now ONGC was selling its oil in dollars, but earning in rupees, which was causing it some serious problems. Well, actually what happens is that we buy that oil at a price that is capped by the government, to reduce damages to the oil marketing companies on account of the volatile oil prices. Companies like ONGC partly compensate these damages.

Now what happens is that ONGC will be billed in Indian rupees too, so as to make up for the losses they were facing. But it still isn't champagne time for the company yet - since they will now be priced in rupees, they are now owned by the government, and have to pay a subsidy as a consequence, which greatly reduces their profit margin. I just feel sad for them.

Seems pretty complicated, doesn't it?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Freedom is not free

Last Sunday I was in Washington DC sightseeing with my cousins, Krishnanand Dada and Gayatri. Like most tourists out there, we covered most of the monuments and the National archives of USA before signing off our trip at the Smithsonian National museum of natural history. It was a good experience; this coming from someone like me who is usually indifferent towards sight seeing should imply that Washington DC is a beautiful place to be vacationing in if you are sight seeing material.

As a part of our trip, we visited the Korean war memorial in the West Potomac park, which is in the vicinity of the Lincoln memorial. It is a memorial in honour of the men and women of USA who served during the Korean war. One beautiful quote I saw at the memorial site inscribed on a wall was - 'Freedom is not free'.

Although I beg to differ on the image that Americans have created on most people around the world, I respect them for this - they respect their freedom. I have never seen people back home respecting the armed forces so much as they do here. I was here when they celebrated memorial day this year (the last Monday in May) and was happy to see a nation remembering their army so dearly. Back home we have martyr's day observed on January 30th, but somehow the patriotism I see here in general seems to be lacking in us. It might be because of the fact that this country has suffered much at the hands of terrorists in recent years that people have learnt to respect their freedom again (But hey! what about the 'terrorist-ish' activities that USA is involved in? say iRaq, and the recent US bombings on Pakistan this saturday? Well, that's a hush hush topic here - people are given this image of the nation being that of innocents suffering at the hands of some cruel nations by their media - refer to the entry 'News? Are you kidding me?' on my Cornell travelogue blog). Maybe India can take a leaf out of America's book and learn to value it's freedom more.

So that's it then. Americans respect their freedom and realise that freedom is not free. I can only wonder when this nation will learn to respect the freedom of other nations as well.