Tim Cook to visit India as iPhone sales slow in more mature markets

Apple CEO Tim Cook will visit India this week for the first time in an effort to unlock a massive and relatively untapped market.

Cook will unveil a development center for digital maps as well as an accelerator program for iOS developers, Bloomberg reported. And Cook is likely hoping to continue to discuss the buildout of Apple's retail footprint in India following January's news that it had applied to open its own stores in that market for the first time.

Like other handset vendors, Apple faces a brutal market worldwide as penetration rates reach the saturation point in regions like China, the U.S. and Western Europe, and as replacement cycles grow and consumers hold on to their handsets for longer. But India still holds enormous promise: The smartphone penetration rate is still less than 30 percent in the country, and operators are in the midst of major LTE rollouts.

"If you look at India, and each country has a different story a bit, but the things that have held not only us back perhaps but some others as well is that the LTE rollout in India just really began this year, and so we'll begin to see some really good networks coming on in India," Cook said last month on Apple's quarterly earnings call, according to a transcript from SeekingAlpha. "That will unleash the power and capability of the iPhone in a way that an older network, a 2.5G or even some 3G networks, would not do. And so the infrastructure is key."

And Cook added that Apple is working to develop a distribution footprint to enable the company to get its devices into users' hands.

"The second one is building the channel out," he continued last month. "Unlike the U.S., as an example, where the carriers in the U.S. sell the vast majority of phones that are sold in the United States, in India the carriers in general sell virtually no phones. And so it's out in retail, and retail is many, many different small shops."

Apple already has 33 retail outlets in the region, and iPhone sales in India grew 56 percent year-over-year. If the company can continue to build those distribution channels – and if it can increasingly offer lower-priced, refurbished phones – sales in India could help offset weakening sales in more mature markets.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg report

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