Every tech enthusiast dreams of getting his hands on the latest gadget as soon as possible – and I was no different. I wanted to hold an iPhone 4S in my hands; test its awesome camera, and say a few words to Siri. Holding these desires close to my heart, I anxiously waited for the iPhone 4S to hit the local market. But if you don’t already know, the iPhone is one of those Apple products that are not authorised for sale in Pakistan.
Then how do iPhones enter the Pakistani tech market, you may wonder. As you might know, people living abroad have official (and cheaper) access to iPhones. Many among them purchase these iPhones (on contract), use them for a while (some even keep the box to help in their resale), come to Pakistan, and sell them at steep prices. And sadly, people here are so desperate to own these devices that they purchase them without even realising that they’re buying something that originally costs only a fraction of the amount that they’re paying.
The quest begins
When I learned that the new iPhone 4S was available locally, I embarked on a quest to find myself a refurbished piece, and went to a famous technology market in Lahore. The shops, however, had a different story to tell – only a few iPhone 4S units were available, and no used units at all. Upon asking for a used iPhone 4S, all the shopkeepers responded in the same accusatory tone, “the iPhone 4S is the latest in the market, how can it be available as a used unit?” As for the price tag, it was a whopping 100,000 rupees for the 32GB (black), which is available in the US for 299 US dollars with contract (that’s about 26,000 rupees!). I wondered, was it really possible that no one was selling a used iPhone 4S in Lahore? In my naivety, I assumed that everyone had bought factory-unlocked iPhones (which cost almost 850 US dollars a piece) from abroad, and were selling them here without even opening the box. But still, a price-tag of 100,000 rupees is insane for a phone (even an iPhone)! The fact was that local sellers were taking advantage of a novelty; hence, they set a custom price all over the market, regardless of its original price. The same was the case with the iPhone 4 when it was launched; it is now available for as low as 30,000 rupees.
Supply versus demand
When sense finally prevailed, I couldn’t help but doubt the supply chain of the iPhone 4S. You see, when it first came out, the iPhone 4S was what they call a hot cake. Hardcore Apple enthusiasts wanted one, and would’ve gotten one – come what may. Similarly, the sellers knew that new units had more value than used ones, so they simply claimed that they didn’t have any used units, and raised the price of the “sealed” ones.
Fortunately, I personally witnessed the scam at play. So here is what actually happened: the shopkeepers purchased used units of iPhones, and since the original owner had already opened the packaging, the box needed to be resealed. If you ever thought that used products couldn’t come out of sealed boxes – think again! Fake seals are the way to go. Unless you’re an Apple fan and have seen authentic Apple-packaging, you’ll never detect the difference.
Most shopkeepers said they had the brand new iPhone 4S, but in many cases there were no boxes on display. At one shop, I asked to see the box. At first, the shopkeeper hesitated and looked at me as if I was going to pick up the box and run. When I in sisted, he pointed towards the glass showcase. Yes, it was an iPhone box, which he identified as the iPhone 4S, factory unlocked. As an Apple fan-boy, I quickly concluded that it was a resealed box, but to my horror, it wasn’t even an iPhone 4S, let alone a new one. It was an iPhone 4! You should know that the iPhone 4 and the 4S look very similar (except for the two slits on each side of the 4S). Again, I had the benefit of knowing a thing or two about iPhones, unlike many others who may have not been as lucky. It depressed me to think that there were people out there who paid a hundred thousand rupees, thinking they bought a brand new iPhone 4S, but actually got a used iPhone 4 that was available for less than half that amount.
So what can be done to stop this? I believe that only Apple can truly solve this problem. Apple should officially bring the iPhone to Pakistan; and I’m not saying this out of ulterior motives. I say this because on the commercial front, it’s causing a lot of telecom companies to lose out on money, since people often bail out on contracts to resell their units.
A happy ending
Coming back to my quest, did I get the coveted iPhone 4S? You’ll be glad to know that I did, but only out of sheer luck. I stumbled upon a shop where the shopkeeper was selling authentic iPhone 4S units (I write “authentic” only after thorough verification). Needless to say, holding the phone and playing with it was definitely worth the frustrating quest.
Usman Younas wrote this article for the December 2011 issue of Spider magazine.
Disclaimer: Research for this article was conducted when the iPhone 4S was newly released. This article only reflects the author’s personal views, which may or may not apply to the current market scenario.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.