Apple May Soon Open Retail Stores in India

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Apple May Soon Open Retail Stores in India

SAN FRANCISCO — After months of delays, Apple is likely to open its first retail stores in India, a fast-growing market for smartphones where the American technology giant has little presence.

New rules issued by the Indian government on Monday exempt foreign-owned companies that want to open stores selling a single brand of products from requirements that 30 percent of the content of those products come from India. The exemption, which lasts three years, can be extended to eight years in the case of companies selling “cutting edge” items, such as Apple’s iPhones and Macs.

Apple, which makes virtually all of its devices in China, lobbied for months for the loosening, and Timothy D. Cook, the company’s chief executive, discussed it with government officials during his first visit to India last month.

An Apple spokesman declined to comment on the issue on Monday. The company has not yet received any formal response from the Indian government on its application to open stores.

By themselves, new stores will have little impact on Apple’s small market share in India, beyond serving as a marketing tool. Although Indians will buy an estimated 139 million smartphones this year, Android models that cost less than $120 dominate the market, according to the Gartner research firm.

Apple says its sales in India grew 56 percent during its last fiscal quarter, but its cheapest phones typically run $400 or more. Its total annual sales in India were around two million units last year, according to Gartner.

The policy changes, which also affect other sectors like the military and aviation, are the latest effort by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make India more predictable for foreign technology companies — even if the rules do not always work exactly as planned.

In March, the government declared that online retailers that sell many brands, including Amazon, are legal under Indian law, which had been a gray area. However, it also said that such retailers could not sell goods directly to consumers, but instead must serve as marketplaces for third-party merchants. That threatened to upend the business structure of Amazon as well as local competitors like Flipkart while protecting local merchants.

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