Apple's dual media events—one in Cupertino and one in China—start on Tuesday. Most speculation has focused on what Apple will announce. The iPhone 5S and 5C? Yes. New Apple TV features? Likely. iTunes Radio? Duh. iOS 7? Double duh. A distribution deal with China Mobile and Japan's DoCoMo? Hopefully and maybe, in that order.
Forget about that stuff, though. There's only one real question, and that's where will Tim Cook be, at the U.S. event or in China? And if he's at the U.S. event, who will host the China media event? That's what I want to know, and as important as Apple's new products will be, all I can think about is who will be where.
A Tale of Two Events
At issue is the September 10th media event Apple is holding on its campus in Cupertino. The digital ink was hardly dry on the media invites when word hit that Apple was also holding an unprecedented media event in China. That event is technically the next day, on September 11th, but thanks to the International Date Line, it will be just ten hours later.
And that's ten hours between starting times, it's more like eight or nine hours after the Cupertino event ends.
Now, Tim Cook is awesome, but he can't get from Cupertino to Beijing in even ten hours, not even if he borrows the Gulfstream jet Apple bought for Steve Jobs. Heck, it's probably a four hour trip from the Beijing Capital International Airport across town thanks to Beijing's infamous traffic, and never mind that he's smart enough to know that hosting a media event after flying halfway around the world would be a bad idea.
My belabored point is that Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, and/or Craig Federighi can't be at both events, and I am dying to know who's going to do which.
It's an interesting scenario. For one thing, this is the first time Apple has ever held a large media event for a product launch in China.
It's also the first time Apple has held two media events for the same products, though it is possible Apple will actually divide up some of the products, say the iPhone 5S in the U.S. and the iPhone 5C in China. I don't think that will happen, however.
I think the China event is being held for several reasons. The first is to show respect to Chinese consumers. Tim Cook has said repeatedly that China is a very important market for Apple, and that Apple looks to China for significant growth.
What better way to show respect by relegating the U.S. show to underlings? I know I'm a little miffed to think Mr. Cook might blow us off for a market half way around the world. It seems safe to project that the Chinese media and Chinese consumers who pay attention to these things (Apple's target market) will make much ado over the same thing.
Tim Cook in the U.S. or China? Advantage: China
Related is the reality that Apple will get huge press in China for its media event because of its unprecedented nature and because Apple is showing respect to Chinese consumers. We've always talked about how much free press Apple gets (in the West) for its product launches, and now Apple will get the chance to experience the same thing in the world's most populous country.
Tim Cook in the U.S. or China? Advantage: China
The third reason is actually up in the air at this point, and that's China Mobile, the world's largest carrier. As I have often pointed out, China Mobile has more than twice as many customers as the U.S. has people, 745 million as of July. 147 million of them are 3G customers ripe for iPhone envy.
China Mobile, which is owned by the Chinese government, has been a stalwart holdout on the iPhone. The company has resisted Apple's subsidy demands and generally wants special treatment. Apple has heretofore insisted and generally wants special treatment.
They both need the other, Apple for access to China Mobile's customers, and China Mobile to help expand its 3G and upcoming 4G networks.
There have been rumors the two have worked out a deal. As I said on the Apple Context Machine, Apple's media event lends substantial credibility to those rumors.
To that end, if Apple has a deal with China Mobile, I'll put Tim Cook's appearance in Beijing at 100 percent. If not, the advantage is still with China.
For bonus points, if Apple is able to also close a deal with Japan's DoCoMo, will it be mentioned during the China event? My guess is no due to political tensions over what is called the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China.
The two countries each claim those islands (they're uninhabited, but have significant oil and mineral rights attached to them), and the subject engenders intense nationalistic feelings in both countries, too. The Chinese government and some people might take great offense at Apple sullying its Chinese event with a mention of DoCoMo.
I mention this because I believe all of Asia will be watching this event. We're on the cusp of an Asian market becoming the largest market for America's largest corporation, and one of the richest corporations of all time. Geographically it makes sense for Apple to make a big todo of a DoCoMo deal, but politically it doesn't. I suspect the folks at Apple understand these issues at least well as li'l ole me.
So Which One?
I think Phil Schiller will host the U.S. event with the help of Craig Federighi, while Tim Cook will host the Chinese event. I'm hoping, however, that Tim Cook takes the stage in Cupertino.
Either way, Tim Cook's presence will tell us which market is more important to Apple right now.