Tim Cook puts the personal touch on India’s first Apple store as iPhone maker bids to expand Asian presence outside China

Apple CEO Tim Cook greets a customer in the company's new Mumbai store.
CEO Tim Cook flew to Mumbai to attend the opening of Apple’s first retail store in India.
Punit Parnjpe—AFP/Getty Images

Indian Apple fans lining up to enter the iPhone manufacturer’s first Mumbai store on Tuesday got to see a special guest: Apple CEO Tim Cook, who flew to Mumbai to inaugurate the company’s first Indian retail outlet.

The store in Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex is the culmination of a yearslong campaign by Apple and Cook to open a store in the South Asian country. Cook first announced plans for an Indian retail outlet in 2020, with a targeted opening date of 2021. Yet the COVID pandemic forced Apple to delay its plans.

Apple will open a second retail store in New Delhi on Thursday. The company has not expanded to a new country since 2018, when it opened an outlet in Bangkok.

The company’s efforts to open an Indian store were long hamstrung by regulations that required foreign retailers to source 30% of their goods locally. Cook personally lobbied Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to roll back the regulations, which were lifted in 2019.

Until 2020, when it opened an online store, Apple relied on third parties to sell its products, which Cook described as suboptimal. “I don’t want somebody else to run the brand for us,” Cook said in 2020, when he announced Apple’s first attempt to open an India store. 

Cook also met with Indian business leaders, like Reliance Industries head Mukesh Ambani and Tata Sons chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran, during his time in Mumbai, according to local media. The Apple CEO is expected to meet Modi during his trip.

India vs. China

Apple is a small player in India’s smartphone market, only capturing 4% of the market with its premium iPhones. Instead, Indian consumers have turned to cheaper brands from local manufacturers, as well as Chinese and South Korean brands. (By comparison, Apple products made up 23.7% of smartphone sales in China in the fourth quarter of 2022, beating even local Chinese brands.)

Yet Apple’s India sales are growing, reaching $6 billion in the year ended in March, up from $4.1 billion a year earlier, reports Bloomberg. Still that figure is much smaller than the $75 billion Apple made in China during the last fiscal year. 

The new Apple store before its opening in Mumbai, on April 18, 2023.
Dhiraj Singh—Bloomberg/Getty Images

India is also playing a larger role in Apple’s supply chain, after disruptions in China forced the company to warn that production of its newest iPhone would be lower than expected ahead of the 2022 holiday season. 

Apple made 7% of its iPhones in India last year, worth about $7 billion and triple the level from the year before, reports Bloomberg

Apple’s suppliers are shifting as well. Foxconn is already producing the latest iPhones in India, and is reportedly planning a new $700 million plant in India’s Karnataka state, which would employ 100,000 workers. (Foxconn’s plant in Zhengzhou, China, employs around 200,000 people.)

“India is a hugely exciting market for us,” said Cook on an earnings call in February. “We are, in essence, taking what we learned in China years ago, and how we scale to China, and bringing that to bear,” he continued.  

Apple is shifting production to other Asian countries as well, with suppliers reportedly investing in countries like Vietnam and Thailand

Other Asian countries could also be getting their first Apple store soon. In January, Apple started hiring store managers in Malaysia, reported Bloomberg, in what would be the Southeast Asian country’s first retail outlet. 

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