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Apple takes baby steps in India, selling 2.5M iPhones in 2016

The company came in 10th place in phone sales during the fourth quarter, but sold more iPhones in India last year than ever before.

Josh Miller/CNET

Apple is slowly succeeding at carving out a slice of India's growing smartphone pie, selling 2.5 million iPhones in 2016, according to Counterpoint Research.

Many of these sales came from the iPhone 7's launch in the fourth quarter. Apple came in at 10th place in phone sales during the quarter but was the leader in the premium-phone space ($450 and up), responsible for 62 percent of sales in that market. For comparison, the company's global iPhone sales in the third quarter reached 45 million units.

Most smartphones bought in India cost around $150 or less, so Apple's premium iPhones are fighting an uphill battle of sorts in the country. Conversely, midrange Chinese brands are gaining ground, with Vivo, Xiaomi, Lenovo and Oppo rounding out the top five after Samsung, which is still king of the mountain.

Apple has done much to win over consumers in India, including launching the cheaper iPhone SE for it and other budget-conscious countries. Apple CEO Tim Cook last year also announced a first-of-its-kind design and development accelerator for India to foster development of iOS apps, and a new centre in Indian city Hyderabad to accelerate Maps development.

Most tellingly, the company is reportedly strongly considering manufacturing phones in India, according to NDTV, which would take advantage of Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi's Make in India tax incentive.

Smartphone shipments to India grew 18 percent last year, Counterpoint noted, more rapidly than the 3 percent global rate. The market in India is growing fast but is already huge -- more than 300 million people now own smartphones, Counterpoint said.

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