“Countries have become companies, and companies have become countries,” is a line from last year’s Bollywood film, Tamasha, which captures the highs and lows of young urban Indians. That rang true last week as Apple CEO Tim Cook hopped across India in a high-profile visit that would have done a head of state proud. His meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who flaunts an Apple-made gold iPhone and a personality app to match, was the symbolic high point, but what can you say about a visit that started with a temple to Lord Ganesha and touched cricketers, movie stars and an IPL match along the way , except that it made a wholesome cultural connection with a nation where Apple’s legendary founder, Steve Jobs, made a spiritual connection.
Perhaps it is time for India to make a spiritual connection with Apple in return– albeit of a different kind. Cook, who inaugurated an Apple technology centre for maps and announced a programme for developers and entrepreneurs, has committed to “a thousand years” for India while keeping an open mind on manufacturing in India. For Indians, there is a philosophical lesson in the company’s zealot-like pursuit of excellence that he spoke of during the visit. In Cook’s own words, Apple tries to make the best products for affluent customers, with a deep concern for their value. The underlying philosophy behind this is a work ethic and a quest for quality that makes Apple stand out in crowded markets and blaze new product categories than hide behind old brand value. It is this that should inspire Indian entrepreneurs and policymakers alike.
If Apple’s glory travels by word-of-mouth rather than an expensive public relations machinery, it is because of its obsession with innovation and customer satisfaction that users are happy to pay a premium for. India’s industry can take inspiration from this because the nation now prides itself on science, technology and a “Startup India” spirit alongside a red carpet to companies such as Apple to “Make in India.” While attempts to create jobs by inviting Apple to manufacture in India may be in order, for India to be a true global economic leader, there is a need to respect the company’s cult-like devotion to observing markets and thinking anew as to how to wow customers.