Apple’s love affair with India makes it the new Microsoft in more ways than one

Pankaj Mishra May 18, 2016 3 min

Apple used to create markets. It never chased them.

Apple never gave a hoot about China and India. It never wooed them.

Apple never cared about what Wall Street thought. It never played to the investors’ gallery.

Now, if China sneezes, Tim Cook catches a cold and takes a trip to downtown Dalian. Earlier this month, India rejected Apple’s plans to import used iPhones. And Cook is already here meeting Prime Minister Modi, and announcing an iOS accelerator in Bengaluru, besides several other goodwill initiatives.

In a year when Apple is scrambling to look beyond its waning cash cow (read: iPhone), and with investors questioning Cook’s strategy after the company’s first ever quarterly revenue slide in many years, Steve Jobs’ Apple is looking more mortal than ever. The irony is that this mortality is not about cash at all —  at $233 billion, there is, in fact, too much cash.

I am writing this on a day when the Indian media is celebrating Tim Cook’s first ever visit to the country.

Cook is visiting Mumbai and Delhi after a weeklong trip to China, where he invested $1 billion in Uber’s biggest rival Didi Chuxing. Many see this investment as Apple’s way of appeasing China, clearly the company’s biggest and the most precious market.

Apple is actually looking more like Microsoft than ever before. It’s chasing new markets for its old products much more aggressively now (there is, by the way, nothing wrong in being Microsoft. If anything, the company looks far better under CEO Satya Nadella).

The similarity is more about the way Apple is chasing new markets for its old products. It’s the way Microsoft kept pushing Windows (and still does) in  emerging markets like India and China. For Apple, the iPhone is the new Windows.

Take, for instance, the new iOS accelerator Apple is opening in Bengaluru, India’s Silicon Valley. It is reminds me of Microsoft’s BizSpark accelerator, which incubates and mentors startups in the hope that they use Microsoft software and other applications. In fact, if anything, Microsoft’s idea of the accelerator was far better fleshed out. It was focused on a single-point agenda of getting newer startups and developers to use Microsoft software. The BizSpark accelerator provided free software, offered mentorship and other help, all without taking any equity, while Apple’s accelerator, according to an press release will simply work to “inspire and instruct developers on best practices, help them hone their skills and transform the design, quality and performance of their apps on the iOS platform.”

With all this, it’s no wonder why people like Vivek Wadhwa are arguing that Apple should buy Tesla and make Elon Musk its CEO.

If you ever needed a proof point about how Apple is beginning to look like Microsoft, it’s here. Cook’s trip to China and India, and the announcements that came along, underscore why Apple is beginning to look like the new Microsoft.