Price shock spoils iPhone debut in India, reports say

Sticker price shock has spoiled the launch party of Apple's iPhone in India, home to the world's fastest-growing mobile market, an AFP report said, quoting local media.

The 3G sells for more than triple its US price tag in India, a new key battleground for makers of high-end mobile handsets thanks to its increasingly affluent middle-class, the AFP report said.

iPhone launch events in major Indian cities on Friday, replete with confetti and cheerleaders, drew none of the big crowds and hysteria that greeted the phone's debut in the US, Europe and other parts of Asia last month.

'Hefty price tag keeps queues away,' said India's Economic Times daily.

The 8-GB model of the phone, which includes a built-in iPod and a desktop-class web browser, sells for 31,000 rupees (€486, US$712), while the 16 GB version goes for 36,100 rupees (€561).

Technology writer Nitya Chaudhury told AFP: 'I like its looks, but at that price I can get something cheaper that does as much.'

A spokesman for India's leading mobile company Bharti Airtel, which is selling the iPhone along with rival Vodafone Essar, owned by Britain's Vodaphone Group, said it was 'not possible to give a (sales) trend.'

But, in what appeared to be an attempt to explain away the low buzz surrounding the product, he said the ' iPhone is a very aspirational project, it's not conceived of as a mass device.'

A manager at one New Delhi phone showroom, who did not want his name used, said sales of the iPhone so far were 'not very good. We've had a few buyers and people just in to look at it.'

The Indian price is far higher than the €135 (US$199) paid by US customers to the telecom giant AT&T for the phone. AT&T heavily subsidises the phone and makes money by tying the customer to an expensive annual subscription.

But vendors say they are confident the Apple gadget will find its place in the Indian market despite the higher price and the fact that India has yet to launch 3G networks needed to support faster browsing and downloads.