Apple Pitches for a Bigger Russia Slice

APWil Giseler talking on his iPhone in front of a poster at Apple's MacWorld conference in San Francisco on Jan. 15.
Computer giant Apple made its first direct pitch to Russian consumers Wednesday, showcasing a line of new products in Moscow.

But analysts said Apple's marketing style in Russia had been slow to catch on in a country where high-tech consumers need convincing and fans of the Mac are few and far between.

Some of the products showcased Wednesday, such as MacBook Air, the world's thinnest laptop, will go on sale next week in the United States, while others, such as iPods and Apple TV are already on sale in Russia.

But Apple, which set up a representative office here only last year, has localized the user interface of most of the devices to put them within reach of many Russian consumers.

The firm is touting its newly upgraded iPod Touch as a must-have, top-notch product to make headway into the country's highly lucrative computer and music-player market.

It has also localized the music-playing, web-surfing device to make it accessible to more Russian users. The model demonstrated on Wednesday includes Google Maps for Russia, which makes getting directions around Moscow a snap.

Apple's newly launched iTunes Movie Rentals, which allows iPod owners to buy and download movies directly from the Internet, is currently only available in the United States.

Russian consumers would need to shell out 12,590 rubles ($510) for an 8-gigabyte iPod Touch and 17,670 rubles ($710) for a 16-gigabyte model. The device is expected to ship Wednesday.

Apple officials also presented the MacBook Air, which was first unveiled last week in San Francisco by CEO Steve Jobs.

Apple official said the ultramodern notebook would ship to Russia "in a matter of weeks," but without Cyrillic keypads. The MacBook Air will retail for a whopping 67,900 rubles ($2,740), more than $1,000 more than the $1,700 U.S. price tag.

Sergei Skripnikov, an IT analyst for Expert magazine, described Apple's marketing strategy in Russia as counterproductive and focused only on a narrow market segment.

"Apple capitalizes on its popularity while other computer makers such as Sony capitalize on their brand names," Skripnikov said. "This has reduced Apple-products consumers to a narrow circle of professionals and technically minded people."

Skripnikov said Apple products have not been well projected, adding that the company needs a new marketing strategy if it is to grab a significant share of the Russian high-tech market.

Skripnikov also said the company's obsession with fan loyalty rather than branding to promote its product line is also hitting the sales of its popular iPods.

"Unlike in America, the iPod is not synonymous with a top-of-the-line Apple product in Russia," Skripnikov said. "Many ordinary consumers have an array of cheaper MP3 players from China, Korea and Taiwan to choose from."