Reports of Tim Cook’s visit to India have been doing the rounds. A Reuters report on 16 May said that Cook, on the second leg of his Asian Tour, would visit India and meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Nothing more was known of this rather elusive visit. Sources in the ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and even Apple dealers sounded a bit vague on the specifics. Apple’s public relations officer in India was equally enigmatic, merely saying that Cook had a very tight, moving schedule and no media engagement had been planned.
It is surprising that Cook’s visit is shrouded in such secrecy and the company is not divulging any details. Such mystery usually surrounds hush-hush defence deals or diplomatic coups. Apple clearly isn’t in that league.
In Q2 2016, the company posted quarterly revenue of $50.6 billion and a net income of $10.5 billion. This visit, if and when it happens, would be Cook’s maiden visit to India as the head of a US technology company. But that should not be a reason for all the mystery. After all, when Google CEO Sundar Pichai visited India late last year his visit was meticulously planned months in advance and his agenda was in the public domain.
Similarly when Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg came in the summer of 2015, his town hall at IIT Delhi was publicly known and well-planned.
Of course, Cook’s visit comes at a crucial time as Apple looks for new growth markets after posting its first ever decline in iPhone sales. India now is the world’s fastest-growing major economy and more importantly has about 220 million smartphone users, mostly not Apple customers. Indian consumers tend to prefer cheaper devices, leaving Apple with only about 2% of the market.
Speculation is also rife that Cook’s visit is tied to the Apple Store announcement that comes after the Modi government relaxed rules on local sourcing as a condition for foreign direct investment in single-brand retail in November last year.
Or is Cook going to make Modi an offer he can’t refuse: set up manufacturing at a time when the Indian government has been hard put to excite enough global players to buy into its Make in India programme.