NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Apple Inc’s iPhone 3G made its debut in India on Friday minus the mass hysteria and winding queues that had marked its launch in the U.S., Europe and parts of Asia last month.
A midnight launch in the Indian capital drew a scant crowd but didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the four buyers who showed up at a Vodafone store in the city’s Connaught Place commercial district.
Rudra Khurana, a 14-year-old high school student, was among the first in the country to buy the iPhone a minute past midnight on Friday.
“I can’t wait to show it off at school, it’s way better than having a PlayStation,” said the jeans-clad teenager, standing next to his beaming father.
There was more drama in Mumbai where the launch of the device, which combines a music and video player, cellphone and web browser, was accompanied by a shower of confetti and cheerleaders waving red pom-poms.
Television pictures also showed onlookers jostling for a glimpse of the iPhone at a mall in Gurgaon on the outskirts of New Delhi.
Vodafone Essar, India’s third-largest mobile operator, was selling the iPhone 3G at 31,000 rupees for the 8GB model, and 36,100 rupees for the 16GB model.
Khurana said he had pestered his father to book the gadget online weeks in advance, but didn’t expect to be among the first iPhone buyers invited to pick up the much-hyped smartphone.
Neither did Nishant Arya, a 22-year-old entrepreneur who owns his own company.
Arya said he bought six iPhones — one for himself, the others as gifts for his friends — despite knowing they won’t perform to their potential as India is yet to support 3G services.
“We can’t change phones on a daily basis. We have to keep the future in mind and 3G will come to India soon,” he said.
Consumers were excited by the new phone’s promise of faster Web speeds and support for third-party software such as instant messaging and video games.
And few seemed put off by its price.
Sanjay Kapoor, Airtel’s president for mobile services, said the company had received more than 200,000 pre-bookings for the new iPhone even before prices had been announced.
Indian operators Vodafone Essar and Bharti Airtel are selling the device in India from Friday. But they are not subsidising the new iPhone, which sells as low as $199 (8,650 rupees) in the U.S. with contractual obligations.
“You should compare apples to apple, not to oranges,” said Kapoor, adding that there was no contractual obligation between his company and consumers.
The first version of the iPhone was snapped up by 270,000 people within days of its June 2007 U.S. launch. Analysts expect the iPhone 3G to draw as many as 10.5 million buyers worldwide this year.
“The pricing will drop — maybe by yearend, perhaps even at the fall festive season — but well before then, you’ll see iPhones in a lot of hands, young and old,” said Prasanto K. Roy, Chief Editor at technology publisher CyberMedia.
Aditya Malik, a garment exporter in his 30s, said he missed the New York launch of the iPhone by a few days but didn’t want to repeat the same mistake in India.
Malik, the first customer at a store in New Delhi to lay his hands on the gadget, posed happily for a swarm of photographers, with his wife by his side.
“I’ll try out the phone for a few days and then buy another one for her,” he said.
But not everyone shared the excitement of the iPhone’s first owners in India.
Observing the hubbub at the store, its entrance festooned with red balloons and a live band playing inside, an autorickshaw driver looking for passengers asked: “What’s the big deal?”