The reason behind Tim Cook's mysterious visit to China may have been revealed Thursday, and it may have big implications for the iPhone continuing to take over the world: Apple's CEO sat down with the chairman of China Mobile this morning to discuss "matters of cooperation" in a meeting otherwise shrouded behind confidentiality agreements. The two companies have been talking since 2009, with the outlook looking uncertain as recently as this past December. But the word "cooperation," in an otherwise vague statement from China's dominant cellphone carrier, has generated immediate excitement — and marks a shift in strategy between Steve Jobs and Cook, who might just be seeking a big contract for the biggest market on Earth.
If Apple and China Mobile were to reach an agreement, it would mean a lot of potential customers. China Mobile has the biggest 3G network in the country and remains the last of the top three Chinese carriers not to offer the iPhone. Importantly, the 3G market is still developing in China — out of China Mobile's 222 million customers, only 82.4 million have adopted 3G. When the rest of those users upgrade from slower options, Cook wants them to upgrade on an iPhone.