Which Media Event is More Important to Apple: USA or China?

| Analysis

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.

Apple in U.S. and China

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.

The Stakes

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.

Extra Credit

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.



Tim will be in China and do something in the US event by video. Just an opinion based on the dollars involved. Why else schedule dual events? China is getting a big push.



Bryan and skipaq,

One more twist on the unprecedented China event: Maybe they have to have an event in China because the iPhone 5c won’t be available in the States, and therefore needs an event of its own just to be introduced? I’ve read speculation online about that a number of times, that Apple will specifically offer the 5c only in certain countries as to prevent it from cannibalizing sales of the presumably higher-margin 5s in the States and other such markets. Thoughts?


That’s a very good question, Bryan - and something that entered the back of my mind, but hadn’t seriously thought about.

It’s all a guess at this point. But if we’re placing bets on horses, I’m going to put money on Tim & the Gang doing their product presentation in the US, and relying on their Chinese sales/marketing team to do it in China, with a possible video teleconference appearance by an Apple executive.

The reason?

You could consider keynotes here in the US as the best impact Apple can have for a worldwide announcement. This is where media eyes & ears are focused, and pretty much always have been. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if I recall, several years ago during one of Steve Jobs’ leave of abscence, Phil Schiller unvailed the new flat screen iMac at an event in France. As I remember, it had a “Hey, neat!” effect in the media (remember the “where did the computer go” slogan?), but in spite of being a major product revision it did not make the huge splash that is typical for an all-new Apple product. My perception is that major product updates that have been announced here in the US have always seemed to generate more buzz.

As to China: True that the potential market growth cannot be overlooked. As Apple seems careful to want to be respectful to that market, it seems more reasonable that they would want a top guy who really knows the language and culture best. After all, when it comes to English-speaking presentations, Sony, Samsung & Nintendo all have American executives on board.

I would feel kind of slighted if Apple only bothered to do a cheese & crackers show here in the states. And when you get down to it, people with deeper pockets are willing to pay more for advanced technology, and if it were not for American customers, the iPhone - let alone smart phones in general - would not be the runaway success that it is today. How many people on the planet knew what a “data plan” was six years ago?

My 2¢, anyway.


‘Which media event is more important to Apple: USA or China?’

Is this a trick question?

As you’ve articulated, Asia is Apple’s interim and long-term future, albeit India remains a challenge.

I’ve heard from one media source (far be it from international media to be mistaken) that Cook will host the Cupertino event, and be piped into the Chinese event, which will feature local Chinese celebs and personalities.

Irrespective of attendance, the importance of Asia in general and China particularly is not in dispute.

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