In an interview with Chinese media on Thursday, Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook told reporters that the cellular version of Apple’s first 7.9-inch iPad mini tablet will arrive on the mainland in late January.
Cook’s current visit to Beijing, which is seen in part as a way to address Apple’s slipping smartphone supremacy in the world’s largest mobile phone market, has included meetings with government leaders, visits to Apple stores and discussions with China Mobile (CHL), the nation’s largest mobile carrier by subscribers.
Wi-Fi only versions of the 4th-generation iPad featuring Retina display and iPad mini hit the Chinese market on December 7. The iPhone 5 launched on December 14, three months after the device’s debut, while the third-gen iPad took four months to arrive in the country.
Cook admitted that Apple’s Chinese product launches typically lagged well behind those in other countries because of a longer approval time. He mentioned steps the company has taken to shorten those gaps and promised to continue working on the problem.
Cook also predicted that China, presently Apple’s # 2 market for sales, will become the company’s largest market in the near future.
“Currently, Apple has 11 stores in the Greater China region, as well as many resellers. We will continue to expand in China and the number of retail stores we’ll have will exceed 25,” Cook was quoted as saying by news portal Sina Technology News.
Cook stressed during an earnings call in October of 2012 that the region is an “extremely exciting market” for the company as the tech giant’s quarterly revenue for China amounted to $5.7 billion during the quarter.
Although Apple plans to triple its number of retail stores in the grater China, the iPhone maker’s smartphone market share in the region has fallen from the fourth to the sixth spot, according to researcher IDC.
That said, if there indeed is a lower-end iPhone in the making, as recent rumors suggest, the company could make even greater strides in the country’s mobile market by competing with its budget smartphone against competitors like Samsung and other low-cost Android smartphones vendors who are eating into Cupertino’s market share.
The visit is Cook’s second to China within 10 months.