Apple Lays Russian Groundwork

Investors typically don't hear too much about Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) in Russia. That's because Apple doesn't have much presence in the country since it doesn't offer direct sales or retail stores there. Besides, when it comes to the emerging BRIC markets, the iPhone maker is focusing most heavily on China and Brazil for the time being.

But certainly the company will eventually head to Russia, and Apple is reportedly laying some groundwork in preparation. TechCrunch has gotten its hands on a media invite sent out to a handful of people for an iTunes even in Moscow to be held tomorrow evening. In all likelihood, investors could be looking at an official iTunes launch in Russia this month, which is slightly delayed from a couple months ago.

Apple has been working to launch its flagship digital storefront in Russia, but reportedly ran into hurdles with licensing negotiations.

Content has always been a part of Apple's broad strategy to boost unit sales of iDevices. The company operates its content stores just above breakeven, with the hardware generating the real margins. That's why an iTunes launch in Russia could be an important precursor to the day that Apple tackles the country. Apple launched iTunes in Brazil a year ago, but has yet to do so in China (likely due to the regulatory environment).

Russian carrier Mobile Telesystems (NYSE: MBT  ) , which currently boasts nearly 71 million subscribers in the country (about half of the population), estimates that Apple's unit share in the third quarter was 7.2%. That's up from 5.7% a year ago, but still lagging players like Samsung and Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) . Samsung's position has soared to 44% of the market, mostly at the expense of Nokia, which currently claims a 17.8% slice.

Apple still has a lot of work to do to grow its share in Russia, but an iTunes launch is a start.

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