Tag Archives: technologies

Why Apple failed in India — and how it can start innovating again

Apple’s iPhone sales in India are expected to have fallen dramatically this year to 2 million, from 3 million phones last year.

Reuters reports that at the peak shopping season, in Diwali, Apple stores were deserted. This occurred in the world’s fastest-growing market, in which smartphone sales are often increasing by more than 20 percent every quarter.

Yet Apple’s loss of the Indian market was entirely predictable. In a Washington Post column of March 2017, I described Apple’s repetition in India of the mistakes it made in China: Relying entirely on its brand recognition to build a market for its products there. Rather than attempt to understand the needs of its customers, Apple made insulting plans to market older and inferior versions of iPhones to its Indian customers — and lost their loyalty.

IPhone isn’t special

The iPhone no longer stands out as it once did from its competition. Chinese and domestic smartphones boasting capabilities similar to those of the iPhone are now available for a fraction of the iPhone’s cost. Samsung’s  high-end phones have far more advanced features. And, with practically no brand recognition by the hundreds of millions of Indians who are buying their first devices, Apple does not have any form of product lock-in as it does with Western consumers who have owned other Apple products and are now buying smartphones.

Apple also made no real attempt to customize its phones or applications to address the needs of Indian consumers; they are the same as in the United States. Siri struggles no less on an Indian iPhone than on a U.S. one to recognize an Indian name or city or to play Bollywood tunes.

It wasn’t even their technical superiority that made the earlier iPhones so appealing to the well-to-do in India; it was the status and accompanying social gratification they offered. There is no gratification in buying a product that is clearly inferior. Indian consumers who can afford iPhones want the latest and greatest, not hand-me-downs.

So Apple could hardly have botched its entry into the Indian market more perfectly.

Pursuit of perfection

And it’s not just Apple’s global distribution and marketing strategy that needs an overhaul. The company needs to rethink the way it innovates. Its pursuit of perfection is out of touch with the times.

The way in which innovation happens now is that you release a basic product and let the market tell you how to make it better. Google, Facebook, Tesla and tens of thousands of startup companies are always releasing what are called minimum viable products, functional prototypes with the most basic of features. The idea is to get something out as quickly as possible and learn from customer feedback. That is because in the fast-moving technology world, there is no time to get a product perfect; the perfected product may become obsolete even before it is released.

Apple hasn’t figured that out yet. It maintains a fortress of secrecy, and its leaders dictate product features. When it releases a new technology, it goes to extremes to ensure elegant design and perfection. Steve Jobs was a true visionary who refused to listen to customers — believing that he knew better than they did about what they needed. He ruled with an iron fist and did not tolerate dissension. And people in one Apple division never knew what others in the company were developing; that’s the kind of secrecy the company maintained.

Jobs’s tactics worked very well for him, and he created the most valuable company in the world. But, since those days, technological change has accelerated and cheaper alternatives have become available from all around the globe.

More experimentation

Apple’s last major innovation, the iPhone, was released in 2007. Since then, Apple has been tweaking that device’s componentry, adding faster processors and more-advanced sensors, and releasing it in larger and smaller form factors — as with the iPad and Apple Watch. Even Apple’s most recent announcements were uninspiring: yes, yet more smaller and larger iPhones, iPads and watches.

There is a way in which Apple could use India’s market to its advantage: to make it a test bed for its experimental technologies. No doubt Apple has a trove of products that need market validation and that are not yet perfect, such as TV sets, virtual-reality headsets and new types of medical devices. India provides a massive market that will lap up the innovations and provide critical advice. Apple could develop these products in Indian languages so that they aren’t usable back at home, and price them for affordability to their Indian customers.

To the visionaries who once guided Apple, experimenting with new ideas in new markets would have been an obvious possibility to explore. Taking instead the unimaginative option of dumping leftovers on a prime market suggests that Apple’s present leaders have let their imaginations wither on the vine.


Vivek Wadhwa is a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School and Carnegie Mellon’s School of Engineering at Silicon Valley. He is the author, with Alex Salkever, of “Your Happiness Was Hacked: Why Tech Is Winning the Battle to Control Your Brain — and How to Fight Back.” Follow him on Twitter @wadhwa.

This article is published with permission from the author.

Why You Need to Live in the Future — As I Do

I live in the future as it is forming and this is happening far faster than most people realise, and far faster than the human mind can comfortably perceive.

I live in the future. I drive an amazing Tesla electric vehicle, which takes control of the steering wheel on highways. My house, in Menlo Park, California, is a “passive” home that expends minimal energy on heating or cooling. With the solar panels on my roof, my energy bills are close to zero. I have a medical device at home, which was made in New Delhi, Healthcubed, that does the same medical tests as hospitals—and provides me with immediate results. Because I have a history of heart trouble I have all of the data I need to communicate with a doctor anywhere in the world, anytime I need.

I spend much of my time talking to entrepreneurs and researchers about breakthrough technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics. These entrepreneurs are building a better future. I live in the future as it is forming and this is happening far faster than most people realise, and far faster than the human mind can comfortably perceive.

The distant future is no longer distant. The pace of technological change is rapidly accelerating, and those changes are coming to you very soon. Look at the way smartphones crept up on us. Just about everyone now has one. We are always checking email, receiving texts, ordering goods online, and sharing our lives with distant friends and relatives on social media.

These technologies changed our lives before we even realised it. Just as we blindly follow the directions that Google Maps gives us—even when we know better—we will comply with the constant advice that our digital doctor provides. I’m talking about an artificially intelligent app on our smartphone that will have read our medical data and monitor our lifestyles and habits. It will warn us not to eat more gulab jamuns lest we gain another 10 pounds.

So you say that I live in a technobubble, a world that is not representative of the lives of the majority of people in the US or India? That’s true. I live a comfortable life in Silicon Valley and am fortunate to sit near the top of the technology and innovation food chain. So I see the future sooner than most people. The noted science-fiction writer William Gibson, who is a favourite of hackers and techies, once wrote: “The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet”. But, from my vantage point at its apex, I am watching that distribution curve flatten, and quickly. Simply put, the future is happening faster and faster. It is happening everywhere.

Technology is the great leveller, the great unifier, the great creator of new and destroyer of old.

Once, technology could be put in a box, a discrete business dominated by business systems and some cool gadgets. It slowly but surely crept into more corners of our lives. Today the creep has become a headlong rush. Technology is taking over every part of our lives; every part of society; every waking moment of every day. Increasingly, pervasive data networks and connected devices are causing rapid information flows from the source to the masses—and down the economic ladders from the developed societies to the poorest.

Perhaps my present life in the near future, in the technobubble in Silicon Valley, sounds unreal. Believe me, it is something we will laugh at within a decade as extremely primitive.

We are only just commencing the greatest shift that society has seen since the dawn of humankind. And, as in all other manifest shifts – from the use of fire to the rise of agriculture and the development of sailing vessels, internal-combustion engines, and computing – this one will arise from breathtaking advances in technology. This shift, though, is both broader and deeper, and is happening far more quickly.

Such rapid, ubiquitous change has a dark side. Jobs as we know them will disappear. Our privacy will be further compromised. Our children may never drive a car or ride in one driven by a human being. We have to worry about biological terrorism and killer drones. Someone —maybe you—will have his or her DNA sequence and fingerprints stolen. Man and machine will begin to merge. You will have as much food as you can possibly eat, for better and for worse.

The ugly state of global politics illustrates the impact of income inequality and the widening technological divide. More people are being left behind and are protesting. Technologies such as social media are being used to fan the flames and to exploit ignorance and bias. The situation will get only worse—unless we find ways to share the prosperity we are creating.

We have a choice: to build an amazing future such as we saw on the TV series Star Trek, or to head into the dystopia of Mad Max. It really is up to us; we must tell our policy makers what choices we want them to make.

The key is to ensure that the technologies we are building have the potential to benefit everyone equally; balance risks and the rewards; and minimise the dependence that technologies create. But first, we must learn about these advances ourselves and be part of the future they are creating.

 

This article is re-published here with the express permission of the author.