Apple's chief executive officer Tim Cook is coming to India this week, his first visit to the country as the CEO of the Cupertino-headquartered company. Cook will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the weekend and is likely to announce the company's plans to manufacture iPhones locally.
The company's largest global manufacturing partner, Foxconn, has already signed a joint venture with the Adani Group to manufacture Apple products in the country.
While a spokesperson of Apple in India declined to share the details about Cook's visit to India, a government official privy to this information confirmed that a meeting between Cook and Modi has been fixed for this Saturday.
During his stay in the country, Cook is expected to visit Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Apple has already announced it would set up a development centre in Hyderabad, to start with around 150 people, who would support on the development of maps. In New Delhi, apart from the meeting with the Prime Minister, Cook also has some private dinner engagements, according to sources in the know.
Cook's visit to India comes days after the government rejected Apple's proposal to import and sell refurbished iPhones in the country. The company is also close to getting the go-ahead to open its own branded stores in India, after the government agreed to waive off the 30 per cent local sourcing condition.
With diminishing prospects in large global markets such as the US and China, Apple is looking to develop India as a market that will offset declining iPhone sales, a trend which surfaced in the January-March quarter of this year. While iPhone sales fell 16 per cent globally, sales in India grew by a healthy 56 per cent. "Because the smartphones that are working there (India) are low end, primarily because of the network and the economics, the market potential has not been as great. But I view India where China was seven to 10 years ago. From that point of view, I think there's a really great opportunity there," Cook said in a conference call with investors.
During his visit to Silicon Valley last year, Modi is said to have asked Cook to consider manufacturing iPhones in India. The PM had travelled to the US to make a pitch to leading Silicon Valley and other US technology companies to invest in India and help the country realise its "Make in India" and "Digital India" initiatives.
Currently, Apple's play in the Indian market is quite small, largely owing to the high prices of its devices. To put things into perspective, nine out of 10 smartphones sold in the country cost between Rs 5,000 and Rs 15,000, whereas Apple's cheapest smartphone - iPhone SE - was launched in the country at Rs 39,000.
"Cook's visit basically shows the increased significance of India as a market for Apple," said Vishal Tripathi, an analyst with research firm Gartner. "If you look at the matured markets, their growth and penetration has reached its peak. With telcos in India offering 4G/LTE at the same price points as 3G, I think he is looking at India as a market for the future."
Apple's proposal to import refurbished devices into the country faced a lot of opposition from rival manufacturers who said the move would trigger a flood of used electronics to come into the country and defeat the 'Make in India' mission. A similar proposal by Apple was denied by the environment ministry in 2015.
"If he is coming to India, it could be for many other things - not just for pushing the agenda of refurbished phones," said an industry expert who did not wish to be named. "I don't think the proposal to bring refurbished phones will go through, owing to stiff opposition by many local players such as Micromax and Intex."
Apple controls a two per cent share of the Indian smartphone market in volume terms, which means it sells close to two million iPhones a year. Globally, Apple sold 51.1 million iPhones in the three months ended March 31.