Apple CEO Tim Cook met with China Mobile chairman Xi Guohua in Beijing on Thursday to discuss what a China Mobile spokesman called "matters of cooperation." Reuters reports that no further details on the meeting were given, besides that the two parties were bound by a confidentiality agreement. China Mobile is the largest of the mainland's three wireless providers with over 700 million subscribers. It's also the only one of the three without a deal to support Apple's iPhone and iPad. A long-anticipated agreement between the two giants could jumpstart smartphone adoption in China and earn both companies untold sums.
So far on this visit to China, Cook has toured Apple Stores and official resellers throughout the country, met with government officials to discuss technology policy, and visited current partners, including China Mobile's smaller rival China Unicom. In December (shortly before the iPhone 5's launch in China), research firm IDC estimated that Apple's share of China's smartphone market had slipped from fourth to sixth, behind Samsung, Lenovo, Coolpad, ZTE, and Huawei. Smartphones are still just a small fraction of China's total wireless market, but access to all three networks would certainly improve Apple's outlook. Factor in each carrier offering generous carrier subsidies for smartphones, improving infrastructure, and possibly even a new budget-priced iPhone, and Apple is rightly keen to grab as much as it can. This may be why Cook told Tencent Digital [English auto-translation] that Apple planned to expand its retail presence in China from 11 official stores to more than 25 nationwide. "China is now the world's second-largest market for Apple," said Cook. "I believe that in the future [it] will become Apple's largest market. I can not accurately predict when, but I [am] convinced."