Apple sees China as its new boom room

We already knew China was big. One point three billion big. Much bigger than the United States with its 311 million.

And while each and every one of those 311 million seemingly now owns an Apple product of some kind,  the iPhone maker so far has been scratching the surface among Asian consumers. As global markets go, China remains one big fat juicy landscape for Apple to get even more of its shiny new gadgets into the hands of the digital masses.

Now, in what could go down in the annals of overstating the obvious, CEO Tim Cook has told the Chinese press that America’s days as Apple’s top market are numbered. He’s been quoted as telling Xinhua News Agency:

“China is currently our second largest market. I believe it will become our first. I believe strongly that it will.”

Cook didn’t say how and when this tectonic shift might occur, and Apple declined to comment further on the boss’ sound bite. But Cook did tell Xinhua that new Apple products could be unveiled in China in the future, saying:

“I would love that to happen. China is a very important marketplace for us.”

Meanwhile, Apple is steadily gaining retail-sales traction and boosting its presence in China, recently opening its 11th Apple Store there.

“We are growing very fast. We are continuing to invest in retail stores here and will open many more over the next several years. We have some great sites selected, our manufacturing base is here, and we have incredible partners here. So it’s a very very important country to us.”

The addition of the multistory flagship on a busy corner in Beijing’s bustling Wangfujing shopping district provides Apple another product-pushing fire hose in a country whose booming smartphone market has been dominated by cheaper handsets using rival Google’s Android system. In fact, as Bloomberg points out, Apple is sixth in market share.

And while its sales in China have cooled a bit of late, Apple has reported sales there more than doubled in 2010 and 2011. To juice that growth even more, Cook has made his second trip in less than a year, meeting with China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology as well as managers of state-owned China Unicom Ltd., the first Chinese carrier to support Apple’s iPhone.

In a tantalizing addition to his current itinerary, Cook also pow-wowed this week with the chairman of China Mobile Ltd. The world’s biggest phone carrier has more than 700 million subscribers, but no partnership with Apple to support its iPhone. Teaming up with China Mobile would be a huge step toward the marketing future that Cook  now envisions.

True to form, Cook was upbeat in his interview, heaping equal praise on China and his own company:

“People around the world, regardless of culture, really want the best products. I think they love that people at Apple create products that make their lives easier and better. That’s what we try to do. I feel really good about our progress in China.”

And if there’s any doubt that the Chinese are hungry for more Apple goodies, consider this: In the first three days since its December 14, 2012 launch, the iPhone 5 was snapped up by 2 million people in China. At the time, Cook said:

 ”Customer response to iPhone 5 in China has been incredible, setting a record with the best first weekend sales ever on the mainland”

 

Patrick May Patrick May (259 Posts)

With more than 30 years on the front line of daily American journalism, I'm currently a staff writer with the San Jose Mercury News, covering Apple and writing people-centric business stories from Silicon Valley.