Tim Cook flew to China to introduce new environmental protection initiatives, but it's clear the Apple CEO is not leaving the country without securing some business for his company.
In an interview with the official Chinese news agency Xinhua, Cook said Apple is looking forward to introducing Apple Pay in China. He said that the overwhelming launch of Apple Pay in the U.S. in September is a "great start" for Apple's mobile payment system, and launching the same service in China would be even better.
"We very much want to get Apple Pay in China," Cook said. "I'm very bullish on Apple Pay in China."
Cook's visit to the country included meetings with bank executives as well as Jack Ma, chief of the world's largest e-commerce platform Alibaba. Apple is said to have been negotiating with Alibaba-owned Alipay, the largest Chinese electronic payment service to date. If talks with Alibaba go smoothly, Apple could possibly secure a partnership with Alipay instead of launching Apple Pay on its own.
Apple believes that China could become its fastest-growing and most important market, despite an IDC report released on Tuesday that the Chinese smartphone maker already has a 90 percent penetration point and Apple's smartphone shipments in the country dropping 4.3 percent year-over-year from the previous quarter.
However, Cook does not seem to feel a twinge of worry over the report, saying that Apple sold more iPhones in China than in the U.S. in the most recent quarter.
"I think China is a market where everyone will own a smartphone," Cook said, and that Apple hopes to own "a reasonable percentage" of the market.
In another report released by IDC, the research firm says Apple was the biggest smartphone vendor in terms of units shipped in this year's first quarter, overtaking Xiaomi as Apple sold a total of 14.5 million iPhones in China, owning 14.7 percent of the market share. Meanwhile, the homegrown Xiaomi trails behind with 13.5 million smartphones sold and 13.7 percent of the market share, while Huawei is in third place with 11.2 million units sold and a market share of 11.4 percent.
However, IDC says brand preference in China is highly volatile, as seen in the fact that Samsung and Lenovo, which now rank fourth and fifth respectively, actually were the top sellers during two separate periods last year.
This gives Apple all the more reason to set its sights on China and focus on growing a large and loyal consumer base in the country as it has in the U.S. This year, Apple has added seven new retail stores to its existing 22 Chinese Apple Stores and intends to bring the number of its physical locations in the country to 40 by next year.
"That is not where we want to end," Cook said. "We'll keep adding from there."
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