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Southeast Asia may be Apple's next growth driver as sales soar in Vietnam

Status-conscious consumers in Southeast Asian nations like Vietnam —where iPhone sales doubled in the most recent quarter —are snapping up Apple products in record numbers in an effort to "build a luxury image."

A Vietnamese Buddhist monk films an event with an iPad | Source: Reuters

A Vietnamese Buddhist monk films an event with an iPad | Source: Reuters

"This cost more than two months worth of my salary," 23-year-old Vietnamese office worker Pham My Linh told Reuters when purchasing an iPhone 5. "But I need it, to feel more confident when hanging out with friends and colleagues."

The sentiment is similar to those expressed by consumers in other developing Asian nations like China, where Apple's handset was almost single-handedly responsible for driving early adoption of China Mobile's new 4G network.

Apple has been seen as an aspirational brand for less-affluent Asian consumers who are often willing to go into debt or sacrifice in areas such as housing in exchange for the more public display of prosperity that comes with owning one of the company's instantly-recognizable products. That view is backed up by the company's recent sales boom in Vietnam, one of the poorest countries in the region.

In three of Apple's fastest-growing markets —India, China, and Vietnam —the highest per-capita income is China's $5,720, with India and Vietnam clocking in at just $1,550 each. That means that the $649 unsubsidized cost of a 64-gigabyte iPhone 5c can set buyers back 40 percent or more of their yearly salaries.

For those who are unable or unwilling to purchase an iPhone, Reuters notes that knockoff iPhones that sell for as little as 2 million Vietnamese dong ($95) are an easy substitute.

"There are a lot of people out there who can't afford an iPhone but still want to look rich, which is why shops like mine can do well," shop owner Nguyen Duc Hai said. "Why pay 10 times more for a real iPhone just to build a luxury image and show off?"

Apple has been steadily stepping up its efforts in Southeast Asia as demand grows. The company recently brought back its Indonesian store, for instance, and runs yearly "Red Friday" sales in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand which bring discounts in advance of lunar new year.