On Tuesday, Apple sent out invitations to its September 10 event, at which it’s expected to unveil a new iPhone 5S and a cheaper iPhone 5C. But now, Apple’s sending out another invite—only this one is for an event in Beijing on September 11, marking the first time Apple has ever held concurrent events in the U.S. and China.
The invitations sent out to Chinese media are identical to those sent to U.S. media—the Apple logo fixed against a backdrop of multicolored dots, which likely refers to the different color casings for the iPhone 5C.
Some speculate that the event will serve as a platform for the announcement of a deal between Apple and China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile carrier and one of the only large Chinese carriers that doesn’t support iPhone. China Mobile accounts for 70% of the mobile services market in China and reaches more rural Chinese consumers than its competitors do. China Mobile currently has some 740 million subscribers.
That would be a pretty big deal for Apple, which has been losing its footing in China. Currently, Samsung is the largest smartphone player in the Chinese market. Apple slipped to seventh place in the second quarter, and its China revenue tanked 43% quarter-over-quarter and 14% year-over-year.
Tim Cook met with China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua in July, and Apple’s been posting a bevy of job openings in China on LinkedIn.
UBS forecasts that Apple could sell 17 million iPhones through China Mobile next year, two-thirds of which would be iPhone 5C.
Apple is also reportedly making plans for an engineering and R&D center in Taiwan.
But a full-blown separate event seems like a bit much for a partnership announcement with China Mobile. It could be that Apple simply plans to unveil the iPhone 5C in China to put direct emphasis on the smartphone’s implications for China. One of the reasons Apple has had trouble gaining traction in China is due to the fact that many Chinese consumers can’t afford an iPhone.
The iPhone 5C is expected to give Apple better leverage in emerging markets like China and India. And those emerging markets are becoming increasingly important as the high-end smartphone market nears a saturation point.
Unfortunately for Apple, there’s been a lot of Apple trash-talk in the Chinese media, which may be another reason why it’s staging a separate Beijing event. It could be a “hey, let’s be besties” gesture.
Despite the Apple trash talk, Chinese consumers are nevertheless into Apple. A recent survey by Morgan Stanley and AlphaWise found that Chinese consumers would be prepared to pay as much as Rmb 4,000 ($653) for an iPhone 5C without even seeing the device.