Apple CEO Tim Cook looks towards growth in India

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Following his high-profile visit to India in May this year, Apple CEO Tim Cook has singled the country out as a potential growth market in a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Post.

“I see enormous opportunity [in India],” said Cook, in one of two long interviews with the paper. “There are still a fair number of people in this country who don’t have smartphones. They’re using flip phones or a feature phone. There are a lot of people switching from Android to iOS, and that’s huge for us because they have a lot more market share than we do, from a unit point of view. Our goal has never been to make the most. It’s always been to make the best.”

With China presenting more regulatory challenges for foreign tech giants in recent months, companies like Apple and Amazon are increasingly fixing their gaze on India – another market with a billion plus population and rising middle class.

As Cook mentions in the interview, India has been slower to develop on the digital front due to lack of infrastructure, although Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and other players are rolling out 4G networks this year.

“One of the big things that has held India back is the cellular infrastructure,” Cook continued. “They have two major carriers putting in a lot of investment to bring 4G. You can imagine if you didn’t have 4G today. You can’t enjoy video on a 3G. Periodically you can, but not consistently. This is a game changer. In India, there’s no fixed line to home. So they’re a mobile society. China’s very much like that as well.”

See full interview here: Tim Cook, the interview: Running Apple ‘is sort of a lonely job’.

While iPhone sales globally and in China have fallen in recent quarters, India has been a bright spot – up by 56% in the first quarter of 2016 – but from a much lower base. Apple only has a 3.4% share of India’s smartphones market, according to CyberMedia Research, as low-cost models dominate the market.

During his trip to India in May, Cook met business leaders and Bollywood stars, watched an IPL cricket match and had an audience with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. He also made two announcements: Apple is opening a development centre in Hyderabad, where 150 developers will work on Apple Maps, and a design and development accelerator in Bangalore.

Although he jetted in from Beijing, Cook’s trip was significant as he was the first of Apple’s seven CEOs to visit India while in office, although Steve Jobs of course spent time backpacking around the country before founding Apple.

And Cook is not alone in setting his sights on India. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently pledged to invest an additional $3bn in rolling out ecommerce services across the country. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime Video is reportedly spending around $300m on acquiring and producing Indian-language content over a multi-year period (see story here).

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has also honed in on India, although the company suffered a setback earlier this year when Indian telecoms regulator TRAI banned Facebook’s Free Basics scheme (see story here).

In the Washington Post interview, Cook also discussed new technologies including augmented reality, the challenge of steering Apple following Jobs’ death and coming out as a gay man. He also shared that he’s reading a book about Gandhi: Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autobiography: The Story Of My Experiments With Truth: “I tend to like nonfiction and particularly reading about people and how they lived and how they fought, and what motivated them and their philosophy and so forth,” Cook said.