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Apple Is Making Old iPhones New Again to Win India

Old-gen models like the 5S make up more than half of Apple’s shipments to the subcontinent.
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Varuni T.V., a business professor in India, had her eye on a particular smartphone for months. She coveted its look, its camera, its user-friendly features. Finally, at the end of May, the 34-year-old—who, like many in southern India, uses initials instead of a surname—bought that dream device: a black iPhone 5S, a model Apple Inc. released in 2013. “It doesn’t bother me that it is several generations old,” says Varuni, who teaches at a college in Hospet, a mining town six hours north of Bangalore. “It’s a good feeling to own an Apple phone.”

Apple needs more people to think that way in India, where iPhones are struggling against cheaper rivals with comparable specs, including local manufacturer Micromax Informatics and China’s Xiaomi, Oppo Electronics, and Gionee Communication Equipment. Apple made just 3 percent of the smartphones sold in India, the industry’s fastest-­growing market, in the first quarter. Now it’s letting stores and online retailers such as Inc. and Flipkart Ltd. slash prices for retro models, a rare concession for a brand that carefully guards its high-end image. All in, the business professor paid 20,400 rupees (about $300) for her 5S at iPlanet, a local reseller. The most similar model Apple still sells in the U.S., the iPhone SE, starts at $400 without taxes or fees.