Apple’s iPhone Thrives in Southeast Asia’s Underground Market


photo credit: Erik Hartberg

A cottage industry is emerging in Southeast Asia that addresses the need for a cheaper, lower-end version of Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone. The company has consistently faced criticism for it’s focus on high-end pricing, a strategy that has largely ignored a huge, untapped market for the tech giant. But that hasn’t stopped so-called “budget iPhones” from developing organically, reports

Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia are all countries which are part of a massive emerging market for smartphones, a market that has been left largely unaddressed. Phones in Southeast Asian countries are largely unsubsidized by carriers and the prohibitive cost of the phones has inspired a creative industry in which customers buy used or refurbished iPhones from unofficial Apple shops. Often the “Apple shops” aren’t much more than a tiny kiosk in a busy mall, but they are becoming fairly ubiquitous, seemingly popping up everywhere across Southeast Asia; the spread of the little stores has encouraged the spread of iPhones to a new group of consumers who want but can’t afford the higher end Apple products.

One thing’s for sure; the trade in used smartphones is buzzing, and for good reason when comparing prices. A refurbished iPhone 4 sells for around 4,000 THB (Thai Baht), or around $120. An iPhone 5S retails for a whopping 23,900 THB, which is about $720. Even older devices, such as the iPhone 3G, still retain their popularity years after they’ve been replaced by newer models.

As it stands, Apple is content to leave Southeast Asia untapped, and continues to focus its efforts on China and Japan; indeed Apple has no official stores in Southeast Asia, so all of its products are sold by official resellers there.

It’s difficult to say how much Apple’s fans in Southeast Asia mean to the company, or if its worth the tech giants’ time and effort to respond to this newly created market, but according to, it’s clear from walking around the streets of metropolitan areas in Thailand and other countries that the unofficial shops that sell, refurbish, and repair old iPhones are making it possible for people who would otherwise be unable to afford such devices to break into the higher-end ecosystem. Android devices remain the dominant player throughout the Asian market, despite Apple’s recent deals with mobile providers in China and Japan.

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