Well, look who's turned up in China.
Apple CEO Tim Cook surprised shoppers on Monday when he made an appearance at the Apple Store in Beijing's Joy City shopping mall, reports China-based internet and tech blog TechNode.
The blog spotted a post by @STwing on Sina Weibo (China's version of Twitter), explaining that the tech titan dropped in at the store around 11 a.m. The user even included a photos of Cook smiling with Apple store employees and posing with customers. (Visit TechNode to view the photos.)
The Wall Street Journal heard word from Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu confirming Cook's presence in China. Wu also said Cook had met with Chinese government officials, in addition to visiting the Beijing Apple store.
The trip is not Cook’s first visit to China — he was infamously sent to the country by Steve Jobs during issues with Foxconn — but his appearance does mark the first time that a serving Apple CEO has set foot in China, as Jobs never visited.
His trip comes just days after the company published data collected by the Fair Labor Association (FLA) updating the public on reportedly exploitative working conditions in factories owned by Chinese companies where popular devices like iPads are assembled. Apple's report, published last week, noted that the FLA probe turned up no instances of underage workers employed at supplier factories; Apple also said that instances of excessive working hours were relatively low, with most employees in supplier factories averaging about 48 hours per week, though 11 percent of employees were found working in excess of 60 hours per week in February.
Cook's visit to China also comes during strikes at a Taiyuan plant owned by manufacturing giant Foxconn, one of Apple's suppliers that received perhaps the most scrutiny over working conditions. According to CNET, Foxconn is planning to recruit 20,000 workers to help pick up the slack left by those currently on strike in Taiyuan and to prepare for production of Apple's upcoming iPhone 5.
ZDNet speculates that Cook may be visiting the country to meet with certain mobile carriers that could help strengthen the iPhone's market share there. Indeed, China's mobile market is crucial for Apple, especially since the country recently surpassed the U.S. in activations of Apple and Android devices.
"Apple has done a great job with the relatively small number of retail stores they have got here," David Wolf, CEO of Beijing-based marketing strategy consulting firm Wolf Group Asia, told Bloomberg. "The challenge now is to extend the successful retail model they have in the U.S. to China. Now they are really still in a test phase. It's time to take it broader."
Check out the slideshow (below) to see photos of Tim Cook through the years.
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