Forget China! Apple, Inc.'s Next Big Opportunity Is India

In assessing its long-term growth drivers, investors in technology giant Apple clearly need to pay particularly close attention to China. With fresh revenue opportunities dwindling within key developed markets, Apple appears intent on increasing its exposure to the rising superpower, even amid signs of possible short-term trouble.

However, with sales expected to surpass $230 billion in its current fiscal year, Apple needs exposure to as many growth markets as possible. That's why the Mac maker recently accelerated plans to push further into its next great growth market -- India.

Apple's next economic engine? Like it did in China before, Apple has taken a number of steps to position itself to benefit from the massive expansion of the Indian smartphone market. So far in 2015, it has added two new distribution partners in India (bringing the total to five) with a goal of doubling its retail reach this year. This move should meaningfully increase the amount of shelf space the iPhone enjoys throughout the country.

Apple has also begun assembling a team of executives to help expose its products and brand throughout the country. According to Reuters, Apple already hired at least one senior executive to focus solely on executing Apple's growth strategy in India, with more likely to follow.

Apple also placed a job posting for an Indian policy advisor to help the tech giant more effectively navigate the complex -- and at times corrupt -- bureaucracy that makes India the 142nd most difficult country to do business in, according to The World Bank.

A long way to go Challenges aside, the latent growth potential within the Indian smartphone market certainly seems to justify Apple's efforts. A mere 81 million smartphones were shipped in India throughout all of 2014in a country with a population of 1.25 billion,according to World Bank data.

However, India also sits well below emerging markets like China in terms of personal income levels. Here's how the two countries compare in purchasing power parity terms:

Source: The World Bank (figures in purchasing power parity terms)

India's market potential for Apple's iDevices captured the analyst community's attention when CEO Tim Cook mentioned on Apple's recent conference call that sales growth in India (+93%) outpaced China (+87%) last quarter, albeit from a much smaller sales base.

Given India's low per-capita GDP, though, it should also come as no surprise that most smartphones sold there cost far less than an iPhone. Smartphone ASPs in India totaled just $135 in 2014 according to research firm IDC, a figure it expects to decline to $102 by 2018. As such, it should come as no surprise that Apple primarily sells more affordable legacy handsets in India rather than its most current models.

However, Apple has also found ways to alleviate some of the upfront sting of its high-priced handsets. It offers financing arrangements for the iPhone in India. Interestingly, it also offers services like Apple Music at a fraction of the cost of its American version ($1.88/mo in India versus $9.99/mo in the U.S.). Apple also launched its first TV advertising campaign in India recently, which should help expand awareness of Apple's highly aspirational brand.

At the same time, Apple is by no means alone in its interest in the massive potential in the Indian smartphone market. Korean smartphone powerhouse Samsung dominates the market, while a number of low-cost domestic smartphone brands like Micromax also enjoy substantial followings. Perhaps most significantly, emerging Chinese smartphone upstart Xiaomi also recently entered the market, making no secret of its intent to compete fiercely to establish its own sizable share of this space.

As we've seen in China, Apple's brand, in addition to its larger-screened iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, are tremendous assets in bringing in customers to its ecosystem. Apple should be able to replicate this success in India over time. So while the Indian smartphone market appears without a doubt to be the "next big thing," Apple's growth story in this key market will likely take years to bear meaningful fruit.

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Andrew Tonner owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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