Bich Ngoc, who earns less than $60 a week and has a newborn son, cobbled together four months of savings to buy the latest iPhone so she could impress her colleagues who have older versions of the device.

"I like the iPhone because it is small, light and very delicate," said Ngoc, a 24-year-old accountant in Hanoi who recently purchased the device. "Everyone seems a bit jealous."

Apple is looking to consumers such as Ngoc in Vietnam and across Southeast Asia willing to spend more than two months salary on an iPhone or iPad, as it seeks sales amid competition with Samsung. Apple is tapping FPT, Vietnam's biggest listed information and communication technology company, to roll out retail outlets in major cities as part of a regional push.

"One of the biggest moves Apple is making is in Southeast Asia," Tim Bajarin, president of San Jose-based technology consulting firm Creative Strategies, said in a phone interview. "If you look at the numbers, Android has passed Apple in smartphones, and it has made huge strides in tablets this year."

Smartphones based on Android, which Google provides to hardware manufacturers for free, made up 78 percent of the global industry in 2013, up from 66 percent in 2012, according to Gartner. Apple's iPhone was second with 16 percent, down from 19 percent. Apple's share of the global tablet market dropped to 36 percent in 2013 from 53 percent the year earlier, while Samsung jumped to 19 percent in 2013 from 7 percent, according to Gartner.


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Apple's push into Southeast Asia comes as the company forms a partnership with IBM to expand its mobile technology into the global corporate arena with business-specific software for iPads and iPhones. Apple aims to use its collaboration with IBM on data analysis, cloud and mobile technology to deepen its reach into businesses.

Apple products are popular in Vietnam, where a brand-savvy young population covets the instant recognition a slender iPhone brings, said Lam Nguyen, Ho Chi Minh City-based country director at International Data Corp. He predicts Vietnam smartphone sales will increase 56 percent to about 12 million units in 2014, and Apple will get a good chunk of that.

"There are more and cheaper alternatives out there," Nguyen said in a phone interview. "This is about a relatively affordable status symbol. It's fashion."

Sales of iPhones in Vietnam soared 262 percent in Apple's fiscal first half ended March 29, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said during a conference call with analysts April 23.

Michaela Wilkinson, a spokeswoman at Apple's Cupertino headquarters, declined to comment about the company's Vietnam and Southeast Asia retail strategy.

FPT's F.Studio stores, styled after Apple outlets in developed markets, feature minimalist interiors and English- speaking store clerks clad in black and trained by the iPhone- maker.

A sparsely appointed F.Studio with stark black and white tables displaying polished devices sits incongruously on a Hanoi street with blaring motorbikes and women in conical hats hawking lychees. Inside the store, sales staff handle the devices with the delicate touch of diamond sellers.

"Here I can trust the quality and get support from the staff," Vuong Ha, 41, said during a recent visit to the store. She held off buying her first iPhone until F.Studio opened in Hanoi for fear of buying a fake device, a common concern among Vietnamese consumers.

"I would not dare to spend this much money on an iPhone from another store," she said.

FPT last year qualified as the country's "premium" reseller, allowing it to sell Apple's range of products, from iPods to iPhones, CEO Bui Quang Ngoc said in an interview in his company's headquarters in Hanoi. For years Apple brushed off FPT's requests for a partnership, he said.

Apple's retail priorities were elsewhere, Ngoc said. "Then they started to focus on Vietnam," he said. "It's a big change for Apple. Southeast Asia is a big market."

As part of its increased focus on Southeast Asia, Apple also has retailing relationships similar to the one with FPT with local chains in countries including Malaysia and Thailand.

Apple made 26 percent of its sales from Asia Pacific in its fiscal second quarter, with 20 percent from the greater China region, which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan. Japan, which isn't included in the Asia Pacific figures, represented 9 percent of Apple's sales.

FPT's relationship with Apple will "allow them to generate residual success off of Apple's popularity," Patrick Mitchell, head of institutional sales at VinaSecurities JSC, said in a phone interview in Ho Chi Minh City.