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iPhone puts India on hold
Magic in hand

New Delhi, June 27: Gadget geeks in the US will be able to grab the iPhone — Apple’s self-styled “magical” handset that rolls into a single device the features of the BlackBerry and the iPod — this Friday.

But enthusiasts in India will have to wait for over a year before they can lay their hands on the iconic smartphone.

Officials at Apple India refused to spell out their plans, but industry sources reckoned that the iPhone would be available in the market by the middle of 2008.

“After the US, the iPhone will be launched in the European market by December 2007. It will then be taken to the Southeast Asian market in early 2008 and enter India much later,” an industry source said.

India is one of the fastest growing mobile phone markets but there are still some doubts about the uptake of a product like the iPhone.

Apple has reason to be apprehensive: official sales of the iPod are dwarfed by indistinguishable lookalikes in the grey market.

The new phone has a touch screen and combines the features of a mobile phone, iPod, digital organiser and wireless Internet device.

Analysts say mobile service providers like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone-Essar (Hutch-Essar) are likely to figure as potential partners for Apple’s iPhone in India.

“Developing a strong partner ecosystem is part of Airtel’s business strategy. We will continue to look at global tie-ups to strengthen our business excellence,” said a spokesperson for Bharti.

Airtel was the first company to bring BlackBerry devices into India and recently tied up exclusively with Taiwan’s HTC to provide a touch technology-based smartphone for its customers.

Hutch officials were not available for comment.

Telecom analyst Mahesh Uppal said: “Any new entrant in the high-end multimedia mobile phone segment would aim at partnering with service providers who have the largest number of users. Airtel and Hutch, being early players in the GSM segment, have the majority of the high-end customers who demand convergence multimedia devices like the iPhone.”

The $19.3-billion Apple is launching the iPhone in the US on June 29 at $499 for the 4 GB version and $599 for 8 GB memory. A Reuters report had said yesterday the total cost, covering a two-year service contract, could touch $3,000.

The big question is whether the iPhone will be to the mobile phone market what the iPod has become for the digital music market.

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