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Apple chief Cook meets the man who could make the iPhone soar in China

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By Noel Young, Correspondent

January 11, 2013 | 3 min read

Apple CEO Tim Cook, on his second visit to China in a year, has said China will eventually become Apple's largest market - bigger than the US - and yesterday he met the man who could make that happen.

Tim Cook: flying the flag

“I believe it will become our first,” Cook said in an interview with state-owned Xinhua News. Cook did not, however, say just when that would happen. Apple had $5.7 billion of sales in China during the quarter ended September. Comparable US revenue was about $14.4 billion.

Key to Cook achieving his goal was the man he met yesterday: Xi Guohua the chairman of China Mobile - with 707 million customers and no agreement to sell iPhones.

Apple’s growth in China has been limited by only working with smaller carriers and competition from domestic phone-makers. Its share of the nation’s smartphone market slipped to sixth from fourth in the third quarter, according to researcher IDC.

Cook met with Xi Guohua at the carrier’s headquarters in Beijing, Bloomberg reported. The two discussed “cooperation,” according to a statement from China Mobile, the world’s largest wireless operator by subscribers.

No more details were forthcoming. But clues may lie in an earlier statement by China Mobile.

The company, which has 64 per cent of the nation’s mobile users, said last month that it needs to reach agreements on benefit-sharing with Apple before it can begin offering iPhones.

One opportunity: China Mobile also has a homegrown third-generation network that isn’t used by other carriers.

Apple currently distributes the iPhone with the nation’s second- and third-largest carriers: China Unicom (Hong Kong) and China Telecom .

The California company intends to open “many more” stores in China over the next several years, Cook said in the Xinhua interview. The company now has 11 stores in China and Hong Kong.

Cook also said he would “love” to introduce new products in China first. The iPhone5 was released in China in December, almost three months after the US introduction.

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