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Apple CEO Cook meets Airtel chairman, eyes bigger partnerships

It was a busy third day of Tim Cook’s maiden India visit. The CEO of the world’s most-valuable company, Apple, called upon Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal and, according to reports, also visited the office of Zomato, India’s largest restaurant search and discovery service.

tech Updated: May 21, 2016 00:39 IST
HT Correspondent
Apple CEO Tim Cook during the inauguration of the company's development office in Hyderabad on Thursday.
Apple CEO Tim Cook during the inauguration of the company's development office in Hyderabad on Thursday.(PTI Photo)

It was a busy third day of Tim Cook’s maiden India visit. The CEO of the world’s most-valuable company, Apple, called upon Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal and, according to reports, also visited the office of Zomato, India’s largest restaurant search and discovery service.

Cook called upon Mittal to discuss how both companies can work together to sell more phones, and offer better and innovative data plans to Airtel customers, sources said. “It was a great meeting. Airtel and Apple go back a long way back. Given the lead of Airtel in 4G, this relationship is going to grow stronger.”

Read | Cook in India: Make way for Jio-powered VoLTE iPhones

Details of Cook’s meeting with Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal were not available. On Thursday, Cook is said to have met founders of four other startup founders in Mumbai to understand the startup ecosystem in India. A day before that, Apple announced an accelerator facility in Bengaluru that would support entrepreneurs and app developers.

Besides Mittal, Cook also caught up with Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal, who was present with his team, and Mittal’s son Kavin, founder and CEO of Hike Messenger. The teams met each other for about an hour.

Apple first signed up Airtel as its preferred partner in 2008 to sell iPhones through the latter’s retail outlets. A lot has changed at these companies since then, and in the market, too.

At that time, Steve Jobs was alive, and iPhone 3 had just hit the market. Airtel had 65-million users.

Read | It’s incredible, I’m already hooked: Tim Cook on IPL experience

Now, Jobs is no more, and Cook heads Apple. The company posted its first-ever decline in iPhone sales during the January-March quarter, and China, the company’s most important overseas market, is seeing weakening sales.

India, on the other hand, has witnessed a 56% rise in sales in the first three months of the year, and Cook has said that “Apple is looking at India holistically and we are here for the next thousand years.”

Life at Airtel, too, has changed. It has over 250 million users, and about 3,000 retail outlets.

Read | Apple CEO touched by Indians’ warmth, opens facility in Hyderabad

Smartphones have burgeoned in the country, and Xiaomi and One-Plus-One have found some place in Airtel stores. Apple also has expanded partnerships with others, including Vodafone, and distribution firms Ingram Micro and Redington.

Airtel, however, has a strong adversary, Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio — all the more reason for Mittal to get Cook’s confidence.

And also because the Apple CEO met Mukesh Ambani on Thursday, along with a group of other Indian CEOs. He also had a chance meeting with Mukesh Ambani’s younger son, Anant, when he visited Siddhivinayak Temple on Wednesday.

“We are also planning to bring Apple Pay to India,” Cook told NDTV in an interview. Apple Pay is a digital-wallet service, which lets users make payments through Apple devices.

Most Indians still can’t afford Apple’s iPhones and the company has only about 2% market share in a country where 100 million phones were sold last year. Cook, however, attributed a part of the high prices to duties and taxes. “The challenge is that the duties and the taxes and a sort of compounding of those makes the price very high. Our profitability is less in India, materially less, but still I recognise the prices are high.”

The government has denied the company permission to sell refurbished phones — a move seen as key to appealing to price-sensitive Indian consumers. But Cook may offer a different take to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a meeting on Saturday. “We’re working right now on the certified pre-owned area. It’s like a new phone because it has a warranty and yes we would like to do it here. We do it in the US, we do it in Japan, we do it in many different parts of the world,” he told NDTV.

With inputs from Anirban Ghoshal