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VIVEK WADHWA

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it

Yes, culture matters in tech too Vivek Wadhwa is distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering and author of Your Happiness Was Hacked

Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t fall far from better name recognition of Milwaukee than the tree. A Western tech brand developed by Mumbai, despite the latter being 25 times Westerners for Westerners seems incapable the size of the former and being, by some of pivoting to new markets. Its forays into measures, the largest Anglophone city in China are underwhelming. Prospects for the the world. iPhone in the new superpower look grim – The nail in the coffin is smoothly declining market share amid competition hammered home by iTunes. Sure, Apple from more advanced Chinese and East has launched an Indian version of its music Asian challengers. Now it risks repeating streaming service, albeit one that is more those mistakes in the world’s second largest expensive than, and inferior to, the offerings smartphone market – India. from local competitors. Yet even if Indians Consider the case for the prosecution. are willing to overlook the competition, few First, it is focusing on manufacturing will get very far: iTunes relies on payment smaller and cheaper models, such as the by credit cards, which less than 1% of the iPhone SE ,while simultaneously marketing population own. the discontinued iPhone 6. This is because Apple appears to be fighting a battle in it cannot command the premium prices India that it cannot win. Given that Android for its products that it commands 97% of the does in the West. Yet the market there, hot Indian Indian upper-middle developers are unlikely Speak the cultural classes who compose its to prioritize projects for language of your chief user base on the the Californian platform. customers, or lose them subcontinent buy Apple When Apple chief for social status. They executive Tim Cook don’t want cut-price spoke to investors in yard sales of stuff the rest of the world no 2016, he said: “I sort of view India as where longer wants. China was seven to ten years ago, I think Outside India’s moneyed classes, Apple there is great opportunity there.” Few leaves the population cold. It enjoys nothing could argue with Cook’s statement. Yet like the brand recognition and prestige Apple’s chances of success in the market among young, first-time device buyers as it are statistically zero, unless it radically does in the UK, France or the US. Nor does realigns its strategy to meet the cultural it have legacy lock-in with consumers. Key and economic realities of the territory. It is to Apple’s success is that, once users are relying on non-existent brand recognition familiar and comfortable with its ecosystem, to save it, while insulting Indian consumers they are reluctant to leave it, whatever they by punting them inferior and outdated think of the company. Its lack of presence products that rely on payment systems elsewhere in the tech market means there nobody owns. is a dearth of easy converts to the As a first step, it might recruit Indian iPhone cause. nationals to its board in Silicon Valley, a Yet perhaps its greatest mistake is its hiring strategy that has proved fruitful for catastrophic cultural ignorance of the Google and Amazon. territory. Bollywood is the world’s most Meantime, the sorry tale gives the lie prolific film industry, but you wouldn’t to the notion of a homogenous, globalized know it by asking Siri. Ask her to play you a technological market. As Apple found in Bollywood tune and you’ll be banging your China and India, those that cannot speak head against the wall rather than tapping the cultural language of their customers are your foot to the beat. It gets worse: Siri has doomed to lose them. Q2 2019 Dialogue

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