Apple is poised to open an online store for the first time in the fast-growing smartphone market of India next month, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, taking advantage of a relaxation of once-strict prohibitions against foreign direct retail.The online store will be ready for operations just ahead of the festive Dussehra-Diwali spending season, according to the person, who asked not to be named discussing confidential plans. The iPhone maker, which lobbied New Delhi for years to get around regulations that force companies such as Apple to source 30 percent of components locally, had originally planned to start online sales within months after the government relaxed the rule last year. Those plans were disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.India’s 1.3 billion people represents a large, under-served smartphone market that is becoming an increasingly important focus for Apple even as the pandemic raged this year. The iPhone maker, which has just made history by surpassing $2 trillion in market value, is boosting investments in the South Asian country to reduce its dependence on China both as a market and manufacturing base amid escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing.The Cupertino, California-based company also plans to open a second brick-and-mortar store in the technology hub of Bengaluru, following an outlet in Mumbai that will be its first physical location in the country, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The iPhone maker’s first physical store will open next year in the plush Mumbai neighbourhood of BKC, while, the people said, it’s already scouted nearly half a million square feet of space right in the heart of Bengaluru near Minsk Square, named after its sister city in Belarus. Apple did not respond to an email seeking comments on its renewed retail push in India. Apple currently offers its devices in India through stores owned by franchise partners and via online platforms including Amazon.com and Walmart-owned Flipkart through its own stores and via its website could help the company control branding and win customer loyalty while levelling the field with competitors like China’s OnePlus and South Korea’s Samsung Electronics.Alongside the expansion of its retail presence in India, the Cupertino, California-based device maker has been assembling its newest handsets, the iPhone SE and the iPhone 11, in the country through its manufacturing partners Foxconn Technology Group and Wistron. Another assembly partner, Pegatron, will set up its first plant in India.Apple dominated India’s premium smartphone segment with a market share of 49 percent during the second quarter, according to researcher IDC. The newer iPhone 11 and the iPhone XR together comprised 28 percent of high-end shipments, indicating that demand for pricier iPhone models is growing which is a contrast to a couple of years ago when cheaper and old models accounted for a big chunk of iPhone sales.