Apple CEO Tim Cook traveled to China earlier this week to discuss intellectual property issues and greater cooperation. As an Apple spokesperson told AllThingsD, “China is very important to us and we look forward to even greater investment and growth here.”
But Cook’s trip may have had another purpose as well: Finalizing Apple’s long-in-the-offing iPhone deal with China Mobile, China’s largest wireless carrier. Sources say Cook visited China Mobile’s Beijing offices, and while they offered no details beyond that, it’s not much of a leap to conclude that he was there to talk about the iPhone, which is currently offered by China Mobile rivals China Unicom and China Telecom.
“We wouldn’t be surprised if Cook was exploring a deal to distribute the iPhone with China Mobile, Mainland China’s largest mobile phone carrier,” Barclays Capital analyst Ben Reitzes said in a note to clients. “We believe that China Mobile could sell the upcoming iPhone 5 by C1H13, after a fall launch in the U.S.”
That seems a reasonable prediction. Certainly it’s in Apple’s best interests to sign a distribution deal with China Mobile. If it at long last it was able to add the device to the carrier’s portfolio, it would gain access to an additional 120 million subscribers. That’s a massive addressable market, and one that Apple can’t ignore much longer.