Apple CEO Tim Cook. Photo: Reuters
Apple CEO Tim Cook. Photo: Reuters

Apple’s Tim Cook may meet Narendra Modi today

Tim Cook's India visit comes at a crucial time as Apple seeks new growth markets such as India after posting its first-ever decline in iPhone sales

Mumbai/New Delhi: Apple Inc. chief executive Tim Cook will visit India this week and meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the second leg of his Asian tour, two people familiar with the matter said, as the company seeks to revive sluggish iPhone sales.

Cook’s first visit to India since taking over as CEO in 2011, following a trip to China (his eighth since 2011), comes at a crucial time as Apple looks for new growth markets after posting its first ever decline in iPhone sales, and after India has denied it permission to sell refurbished phones—a move seen as key to appealing to price-sensitive local consumers.

It was not immediately clear whether Cook would discuss importing refurbished iPhones with officials in New Delhi. Unconfirmed reports say Cook would also visit Bengaluru, announce a new distribution strategy in India, and launch an accelerator for start-ups.

One of the two people said India was keen to know if Apple had plans to set up production facilities for the local market, which would be a boost for Modi’s “Make in India" manufacturing push.

“If they can make in China to cater to the Chinese market then they can make for Indian markets here," said the person.

Maharashtra is already in talks with Apple product maker Foxconn Technology over it setting up an iPhone plant there.

Apart from meeting Modi, probably on Tuesday, Cook will also meet employees and partners, the two people added.

Both declined to be named as the plan is not public. Apple declined to provide details of Cook’s schedule in India.

His visit comes at a time when Apple is facing some challenges in its most important overseas market, including weakening smartphone sales, the loss of an iPhone trademark dispute and the suspension of some of its online entertainment services.

In India, Apple is looking to set up its first retail outlet, as it only has about a 2% market share. But its sales in India surged 56% in the first three months of this year, driven mainly by cheaper older-generation devices such as the iPhone 5S.

More than 100 million smartphones were sold in India last year and the market is expected to grow by 25% this year, making the country one of the fastest growing smartphone markets in the world.

Since his election in 2014, Modi has courted US tech companies as part of his strategy to bring jobs to India. He met Cook last year during a visit to Silicon Valley.

Cook is visiting China and India after announcing a $1 billion investment in Chinese ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing, a move that could provide a shot in the arm for Indian unicorn Ola, which counts Didi as a strategic investor, in its market share battle with rival Uber, Mint reported last week.

In December, Ola, Didi and two other international cab-hailing services, US-based Lyft and Singapore-based GrabTaxi, entered a global ride-share agreement to take on common enemy Uber, the most valuable Internet start-up that wants to dominate urban transportation across the world.

While the global alliance hasn’t translated into any meaningful change in business for any of the four companies, the sheer amount of funds raised by Didi over the past 18 months—more than $4 billion—gives the company significant firepower to fund peers such as Ola.

Ola raised some $500 million from Didi, SoftBank Group and others in November.

“It’s good news that a company which is as cash-rich as Apple is looking at investing this serious amount of money in other companies. In a way, it endorses the market opportunity which is there in this service. People like Ola should get a major boost, as this shows that this is a serious opportunity. Even other investors will look at it more positively now," Harminder Sahni, managing director at consulting firm Wazir Advisors, told Mint after Apple announced the investment in Didi.

A Mint staff writer contributed to this story.

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