By Nivedita Bhattacharjee
MUMBAI (Reuters) - With only a tiny share of the world's fastest-growing major smartphone market, Apple Inc is stepping up its push into India, with a first targeted TV advertising campaign, expanded retail network and promotional financing schemes.
For years, India has been a low priority for Apple as spending power is weaker than in China, where the company's iPhones swiftly became must-have devices after their 2007 launch.
But Apple is now looking to build on a 93 percent increase in its iPhone sales in India in April-June, which for the first time outpaced growth in China, of 87 percent - albeit from a low base. Apple has just a 2 percent share of India's smartphone market, while South Korean rival Samsung Electronics accounts for around one third of volume sales with its range of Android phones.
The India push coincides with Apple missing elevated expectations when it reported earnings earlier this week, prompting some investors to question how long double-digit growth can continue.
"Apple is consciously expanding its distribution in India and pushing its products aggressively. The marketing spend too is a part of that," said Jaideep Mehta, managing director for India and South Asia at tech research firm IDC.
Executives at several electronics retail chains and Apple distributors said the Cupertino-based firm was chasing shelf space to make its gadgets more visible, and has more than doubled the number of distributors to five.
Apple has also brought in a new senior executive to take charge solely of the Indian market, industry sources said, and has placed advertisements for a policy adviser to help it work with New Delhi's bureaucracy.
The company declined to comment on its India strategy.
"Apple's single-minded focus for India is on volume," said a senior executive at an electronics chain store, who declined to be named. "They have increased distributors and want to reach out to smaller cities."
BALANCING VOLUME, ASPIRATION
Analysts say much of the high growth in iPhone sales in India has come from earlier models such as the 4S, 5S and 5C, which are sold more cheaply.
"Apple is an aspirational brand. They will (have to) balance their volume push with that to get growth," said IDC's Mehta.
That could be tough in a market where you can buy around eight basic-level smartphones for the upwards-of-50,000 rupee ($785) price of a new iPhone.
Taking to Indian TV screens for the first time, Apple plays up the aspirational appeal of its phones, showing a glamorous Indian bride using Facetime, Apple's video calling feature, to send coy flashes to her groom of a henna-ed hand or skirt hem before their wedding.
In addition, Apple offers financing schemes where buyers of its latest iPhone 6 can pay in monthly instalments, and has launched Apple Music, a cloud-based music streaming service, for just 120 rupees ($1.88) a month in India - a fifth of the price in the United States.
The company has offered easy financing schemes in India before, but retailers say the focus on operations and marketing show Apple is now more seriously targeting the market.
And there's plenty of market for it to aim at.
"The premium smartphone market will be close to 8 million units in 2015," said Neil Shah, analyst at Counterpoint. "Apple has a lot of room to grow and capture a significant share of that," he added, noting Apple sold just over a million iPhones in India in the year to April.
(Editing by Ian Geoghegan)