Apple Jan. 18 will begin selling the iPad Mini and fourth-generation iPad in its retail stores in China—which is not only the world's largest market for smartphones, but a growing area of interest, and dollars, for Apple.
"China is currently our second-largest market. I believe it will become our first. I believe strongly that it will," Apple CEO Tim Cook said during his visit to China last week, according to a report from the Xinhua News Agency.
"We are growing very fast," Cook continued. "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."
In October, Apple opened the largest Apple store in Asia in Beijing's popular Wangfujing shopping district. Apple now has 11 retail stores in China.
During Cook's recent visit—his third in three years, according to the news agency—Cook had meetings with China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, as well as with executives at wireless carriers China Unicom, China Telecom and China Mobile.
China Mobile is China's largest carrier, with more than 700 million subscribers, but it doesn't yet (officially) offer the iPhone. The smartphone was, no doubt, a topic of conversation between Cook and China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua, who met at the carrier's Beijing headquarters, The Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 10.
Apple has learned from its experiences in China, and with China Mobile, Cook suggested as far back as Apple's July 2011 earnings call, after an analyst pointed out that 5.6 million unlocked iPhones were already being supported by the carrier.
"iPhone is the key contributor to Greater China having a cumulative revenue of around $8.8 billion for the first three quarters," Cook said. "So I'm not saying we have figured out precisely how to play perfectly in that environment. I think we have more to do and more to learn. But I feel very, very good about our progress. I think if any of us would have been told a year ago that we would do $3.7 billion in Greater China in a quarter, I don't think many of us would've believed it."
During Apple's most recent earnings call in October 2012, he said that revenue for China that quarter was $23 billion, with Greater China representing "about 15 percent of Apple for the fiscal year."
Apple defines Greater China as Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
An iPhone on China Mobile would help Apple push back against rising competitors and most particularly Samsung, which now dominates mobile phone as well as smartphone sales globally. Unlike Apple, Samsung offers a line of devices at multiple price points, which has helped it become the top-selling brand in China. During the third quarter of 2012, Apple fell from fifth place to sixth in China, according to IDC.
"People around the world, regardless of culture, really want the best products. Think they love that people at Apple create products that make their lives easier and better," Cook said during his interview, according to the report.
"There are no Apple products that you would look at and say they are not for China. I think they are all perfect for China," Cook continued. "I strongly believe that people from all cultures and countries want the best product, and that's what we are trying to do."
Apple's two newest tablets are already available in more than 100 countries.