Though the U.S. is still Apple’s(s AAPL) largest market, CEO Tim Cook is sure that won’t last. During his much-discussed trip to China, he said that he sees China eventually becoming the largest market for its products.
“China is currently our second largest market. I believe it will become our first. I believe strongly that it will,” he said, according to state-run Xinhua News. “We are growing very fast. We are continuing to invest in retail stores here and will open many more over the next several years. We have some great sites selected, our manufacturing base is here, and we have incredible partners here. So it’s a very, very important country to us.”
He’s not just flattering his hosts. The greater China region represents about 15 percent of Apple’s total revenue. It brought in $23.8 billion during Apple’s fiscal 2012; an increase of $10 billion over all of 2011.
Cook is touring the country with SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller. So far, he has met with the head of China’s Industry and Information Technology agency, the chairman of the world’s largest carrier, China Mobile, and popped into at least one Apple reseller’s store.
China’s large population, with many people rapidly rising into the middle class — and thus able to afford Apple products — is crucial to Apple’s future if it wants to grow sales. It’s already the largest market in the world for new smartphone activations, but it should soon represent the largest in overall smartphone ownership. Inexpensive devices running Android(s goog) dominate, however. Part of how Apple hopes to extend its reach is with more branded Apple Stores; it has eight in China already.