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Apple’s cash pile is a chance for India

business Updated: Jan 30, 2012 16:29 IST
N Madhavan
N Madhavan
Hindustan Times
N Madhavan

While policymakers across the planet grapple with the fallouts of a Wall Street financial crisis, one company is worried, or should be, about a $98 billion (Rs 480,000 crore!) cash mountain it is sitting on. Seems like a fairy tale! And thereby hangs a tale of opportunity for India.

Apple Inc, thanks to the relentless culture of excellence and innovation pursued by its recently departed founder, Steve Jobs, has left a legacy difficult to emulate for his successor Tim Cook. Cook has to keep on innovating the excelling to sustain the company that gave us the Mac, the iPod, the iPad and the iCloud.

Apple’s journey to excellence has a strong connection with China and Taiwan, whose firms have produced components or manufacturing methods to help the US company proudly say “Designed in California” on its products — because the manufacturing is elsewhere.

Conventional thinking would say that India has missed this bus to become an Apple manufacturer. I would disagree. Recent accounts clearly show that Taiwan’s Foxconn and its Chinese factories that help Apple have questionable labour practices that might be impractical or inhuman or both in India.

On the other hand, India could instead help Apple scale new highs by trying to bring to this side of the planet its core excellence in design.

India’s IT industry is known for its software, back-office and customer support services but is also a repository of multi-disciplinary talent that can help cutting-edge product design. This is not globally celebrated enough.

About 15 years ago, I was invited by the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in Delhi to address students when it introduced a course that combined IT with fashion. NIFT now has 13 branches in India, teeming with bright talent.

India also has the National Institute of Design (NID), which is a centre of excellence that blends aesthetics with utility design. With campuses in Ahmedabad and Bangalore, it offers design courses strongly integrated with software and IT (and also toy and game design!). It ranks among the world’s top design schools.

Just imagine! If a team led by the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) gangs up with leaders at NIFT and NID — and some other institutions — to talk Apple into setting up its second design hub in India, would that not be great?

Tim Cook must be told that Microsoft, Google, Nokia, Philips, General Motors and Yahoo are here, doing some cutting edge design. He would be foolish to miss the bus because he has the cash, and India the human resources for innovation. And the future markets are in Asia.