iPhone 5 doing brisk business in India's grey market

The new Apple iPhone isn't in India yet, officially. But as you read this, there are people in Mumbai's Heera Panna Market and Khan Market in Delhi shelling out upwards of Rs 1.15 lakh, a little less than the price of a Tata Nano car, for the shiny new glass-and-aluminium device, according to traders in these markets.

While you can actually drive the car around once you pay the price, those shelling out this neat sum can't just start making calls. They have to jump through hoops to make their SIM card fit the phone's specifications.

The iPhone 5 has a slot for a so-called nano SIM. In the absence of telcos offering this card, users have to cut the SIM to size and use sandpaper or other abrasives to finely shave off thickness - a process so fraught with the risk of ruining your SIM card that most experts advise users against it.

Turns out, those who think nothing of paying a huge premium to own the latest iPhone before everybody else, don't actually mind that they can't use it as a phone. They are happy to use it as a music player for the time being.

Traders in select markets in India are reporting brisk trade of unlocked iPhones two weeks after Apple launched the sixth iteration of its blockbuster device. Apple clocked record sales in the US, selling 5 million units in three days. Demand in India, not a key Apple market, appears to be strong.

A trader in Delhi's upscale Khan Market, who asked not to be named, said he sold the first lot of iPhone 5s for 1.35 lakh a few days ago. Apple has not announced a launch date in India, though speculation is rife the device will be here ahead of the Diwali shopping season. Apple's India website says iPhone 5 is "coming soon".

Stocks fast running out
On websites such as eBay.in and Olx.in, you can order the phone for upwards of Rs 58,000 for a 16GB device. The 32GB version is selling for Rs 94,000 and 64GB for Rs 1.06 lakh. If you don't want to wait and would rather buy it from a shop right away, be prepared to pay more. About Rs 80,000 for 16GB, Rs 98,000 for 32GB and Rs 1.15 lakh for 64GB, according to a trader in Mumbai's HeeraPanna Market. And, stocks are fast running out.

The iPhone 5 is capable of offering blazing internet speeds on a 4G/LTE network. Not in India though, as the country's designated 4G band is different from the international standard used by Apple. In this regard, the new iPhone will be no different from the previous iPhone 4S. Nobody seems deterred by this.

The dynamics of this sort of conspicuous consumption is rather fascinating. Apple's worldwide price for the device is $649, $749 and $849 for the three storage configurations. Say, you fly to Hong Kong this weekend (visa on arrival for Indian passport holders), buy a 64GB phone and return, you will still end up spending substantially less than what you will pay at Heera Panna.

But then, if you are in the market for the fanciest gadget at the earliest, why would you wait till the weekend?