In mid-April, Apple CEO Tim Cook made his second official India visit. Cook checked all the boxes for the quintessential U.S.-executive-in-India tour: He rubbed shoulders with Bollywood actors, watched a cricket match, met with his company’s local staff, and topped it off with a photo-op with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While the visit closely resembled Cook’s previous trip in 2016, the purpose this time around was to inaugurate Apple’s first two Indian stores — one in Delhi and the other in Mumbai. “India is at a tipping point and it feels great to be here. You can feel the vibrancy, dynamism. The feeling that anything here is possible,” Cook told a local news outlet. Until now, Apple had sold its products in India through resellers, retail chains, and online stores.

But this visit, much like the one in 2016, was conspicuously devoid of big-ticket investment commitments which have become a mainstay for other Big Tech CEOs. In 2020, Sundar Pichai of Alphabet and Google announced a $10 billion investment in India over a video conference. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos had committed $3 billion when he met Modi in Washington, D.C., in 2016.

“Apple production in India was picking up pace anyway,” communications strategy expert Karthik Srinivasan told Rest of World, while weighing in on the optics of Cook’s visit. “I thought the opening of the brand stores is a good enough excuse [for Cook] to meet the prime minister, considering the signaling effect of that with respect to China,” he said.

Amid the U.S.-China geopolitical tussle, Apple has been looking to secure its supply chain by moving parts of the iPhone’s assembly to India. The company has tripled its iPhone production in India, reaching more than $7 billion — and has ambitions to grow it further. After meeting Cook in Delhi, India’s deputy minister of information technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, said the company has indicated that it plans to expand its India capabilities to iPads and AirPods, as it seeks to double or triple its investment in the coming years. In January, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal had said that Apple wants India to account for up to 25% of its production, as opposed to the current 5%, though the company has not confirmed this claim.

In March 2023, mobile phone exports from India crossed $11 billion, with Apple accounting for more than 40%, according to the India Cellular and Electronics Association (ICEA). Apple assembles iPhones in India through three contract manufacturers: Foxconn, Wistron, and Pegatron, which are now being boosted by the government’s initiatives.

$11 billion The value of mobile phones exported from India in the last fiscal year, over 40% of which were manufactured by Apple.


“Apple bringing its own physical retail spaces signifies that Apple is serious about India now,” Navkendar Singh, associate vice president of International Data Corporation (IDC) India, told Rest of World. “The only way from here is up.” Cook’s visit also comes on the heels of the company releasing the first Bollywood-style film shot on an iPhone. Apple did not respond to queries sent by Rest of World.

India, the world’s second-largest smartphone market, has long been on the back burner for Apple. The company has struggled here, as its handsets are priced at the premium end — above 40,000 rupees ($500). According to analysts, the majority of Indian buyers prefer cheaper smartphones that cost one-tenth the price. In 2015, Apple’s share of the Indian smartphone market was 2%, according to IDC India. 

Apple initially wanted to sell refurbished iPhones in India, but the government did not grant the company’s request due to concerns over e-waste. It was also unable to open an offline store because of the government requirement to source 30% equipment locally. Then in 2017, Apple’s Taiwanese contract manufacturer, Wistron, began assembling the low-cost iPhone SE in India. Over the years, more Apple suppliers in the country joined in: Pegatron began assembling the iPhone 14 in 2022, and Salcomp said it plans to increase its Indian workforce to 25,000.

Today, nearly three years after Apple opened an online store in India, the company’s local market share has climbed to 5%. The introduction of monthly payment plans, discounts, and phone trade-in services, along with the availability of older models have enabled more Indians to try their first Apple device.

Though Apple appears to be increasingly leaning into India’s potential, it is yet to localize its services. The country doesn’t have access to Fitness+ or News+, and Apple TV’s programming does not include content geared towards Indian audiences. Onerous regulatory stipulations also reportedly curtailed the rollout of Apple Pay in 2018. Apple Music is the one platform where the company has attempted to tailor its services to local sensibilities.

“The bedrock of services is, you need to have a [large] user base of iPhones. I think they’re trying to build that right now,” said IDC’s Singh. “I would give Apple a little leeway as they’re trying to figure out the hardware strategy right now.” He said it would take a couple of years before Apple aggressively rolls out its services in India — even as its global services revenue crosses $20 billion.