It started as another normal workday: up early for calls with China, meetings with clients, and working on a market-entry strategy for a fashion company. And then a small email with huge implications came in. It was an email that left us with our mouths hanging open. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple computer, had written, asking for advice about dealing with China Mobile and launching the iPhone in China.
At the time China had about 600 million mobile handsets in use and China Mobile had nearly three quarters of the market. Steve felt that the Chinese market was integral to the company's continued growth. He was right. There are now 900 million mobile units in use in China, and in the next two years that number will reach 1.2 billion. Jobs explained to us that his negotiations with China Mobile, the largest mobile provider in China—and the world—were proceeding slowly and progress in the short term seemed unlikely.
The email was all the more surprising because it came on the day Apple launched the world's thinnest laptop, the MacBook Air, at Macworld. Steve Jobs was thinking about China on a major product-launch day.
We suggested to Steve that while it was true that China Mobile was the biggest player in China, its current technology, management, and leadership position meant that it might still be years before a deal could be struck. We suggested pursing China Unicom, a big player by any global standard, but a much smaller rival to China Mobile. The technology ...