Apple's Tim Cook feted like a rock star in India

Rubbing shoulders with stars and moguls all part of visit to expand Apple's presence there

MUMBAI • Apple chief Tim Cook is getting rock star treatment on his first trip to India. Paparazzi have tailed him since the visit began on Wednesday in Mumbai, keeping his bodyguards busy. 

"I'm here to learn" was all he said when ambushed by reporters who had waited hours in sweltering heat outside the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai.

He flew to Hyderabad on Thursday to open a development centre, before jetting off to another city to watch a cricket match. Just about every step has been reported, photographed and tweeted.

Mr Cook attended a dinner in Mumbai hosted by Bollywood film star Shah Rukh Khan, spent time with Mr Anant Ambani - son of India's richest man Mukesh Ambani - and met Tata Group chairman Cyrus Mistry, whose sprawling conglomerate includes stores selling iPhones. Mr Cook also met the top brass for Vodafone in India.

He was in New Delhi yesterday, and could meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi today before leaving India. The administration is currently reviewing Apple's application to open retail stores in Asia's third-largest economy.

Mr Modi is likely to tell Mr Cook that if Apple wants to sell more phones in India, it should make them there - helping the Prime Minister to realise his dream of making India a manufacturing powerhouse.

Mr Modi is known for taking selfies with his gold iPhone. He breached electoral rules when he photographed himself holding his party's symbol of a lotus flower immediately after casting his vote in the 2014 general election.

As China's market becomes more saturated and people across the globe upgrade their smartphones less frequently, Apple, Samsung Electronics and other vendors are keen to sell to India's burgeoning middle class. 

The challenge for Apple is that its products are beyond the reach of many in India, where most people live on less than US$3.10 (S$4.30) a day, according to World Bank data.  In an interview with the local NDTV channel, aired yesterday, Mr Cook said Apple wants to lower the price of devices over time in India, sell pre-owned iPhones refurbished there and introduce Apple Pay.

A telecoms ministry official said on May 3 that India had rejected Apple's request to import and sell refurbished iPhones to the world's second-largest mobile population.

India is a market where most phones are bought outright and are not subsidised by carriers through calling plans. Apple does not feature in the top 10 in terms of smartphone market share in India, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Simon Chan.

In the TV interview, Mr Cook said Apple is planning a long presence in India.

"We are putting enormous energy here," he said. "We are not here for a quarter or two quarters or the next year or the next year, we are here for 1,000 years."

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2016, with the headline 'Apple's Tim Cook feted like a rock star in India'. Print Edition | Subscribe