Tim Cook has been spotted in China, making him the first Apple CEO to visit the world’s most populous country, sparking a media frenzy among a nation that is already obsessed by Apple.
The Apple CEO was spotted by Sina Weibo users, such as ‘牛羊的家‘, who posted a photo of her with Cook at the Apple Store in the Xidan district of Beijing on what appears to be the first day of an historic trip to the country.
Update: Apple has confirmed Cook is in China, see the update below for more.
The trip is not Cook’s first visit to China — he was infamously sent to the country by Steve Jobs during issues with Foxconn — but his appearance does mark the first time that a serving Apple CEO has set foot in China, as Jobs never visited.
Apple has not officially announced or confirmed the trip, leaving it unclear what brought Cook to China or what his itinerary there will be. However, there are plenty of issues that he will be interested in hearing more about during his stay.
China Daily speculates that he may have held meeting with new partner China Telecom, which began selling the iPhone 4S this month, and existing partner China Unicom but equally Cook may also be likely to visit China Mobile. Apple is reported to have “promised” to supply a phone compatible with the world’s largest operator’s 3G network this year, and getting China Mobile on board will massively increase Apple’s reach.
There are rumblings of a new Foxconn strike and, the ongoing issue of China’s China-based supply chain and reports into labour and environmental issues have become a key focus for Cook, who emailed Apple staff to reject claims against it.
The ongoing iPad trademark dispute with Proview is arguably the most significant problem for Apple as it fights to continue to sell its iPad there. The case, which has been ongoing since 2010, has seen numerous Apple supplier cease shipping and selling the iPad — fired up by a fresh warning from Proview — and, with the new iPad reportedly passing its first regulatory hurdle, the issue is taking on increased importance.
Irrespective of why he is there, the visit is likely to be the first of many as Cook has repeatedly spoken of Apple’s increased focus on China. Apple’s sales are “off the chart” in the market, which has just overtaken the US on iOS and Android activations.
Update: Apple confirmed Cook’s trip to China, telling the Wall Street Journal that he had “had great meetings with Chinese officials today.” The statement also confirmed China’s importance for Apple, and suggested it will be making an investment, likely to increase its retail store presence:
China is very important to us and we look forward to even greater investment and growth here