Apple's Beijing event stirs talk of China breakthrough

Apple Inc. has invited journalists to an event in Beijing next week, fuelling speculation it has finally cemented a deal with China Mobile, the world's biggest cellular provider.

iPhone maker has been trying for years to get access to China Mobile's 700 million subscribers

Industry watchers are divided on whether next week's Apple event in Beijing will be a product launch or the announcement of a major new partnership. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty )

Apple Inc. has invited Chinese journalists to an event in Beijing next Wednesday, just hours after it is widely expected to unveil its newest iPhone models in the United States, Chinese media reported Wednesday.

The event would mark the first time that the company has held near-simultaneous briefings in the U.S. and in China, the world's biggest mobile phone market where Apple has been losing its star power to rivals like Samsung.

The event has fuelled speculation that Apple may announce a long-awaited deal with China Mobile, which is the world's biggest mobile phone company by customers and the only one of China's big carriers that does not have an agreement with the U.S. tech giant.

Apple and China Mobile did not immediately respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment. Apple CEO Tim Cook and China Mobile chairman Xi Guohua met in Beijing in late July, bolstering expectations that an agreement was near following years of negotiations.

Some analysts, however, said the Beijing event was more likely for Apple to unveil a new product and cut the months-long waiting time Chinese consumers have had for the latest iPhone.

"I think the primary purpose of the event will be for a new product launch," said Sandy Shen, a research director with consultancy Gartner in Shanghai. "Though an announcement with China Mobile is possible... I won't hold my breath."

Apple slipped to seventh place in smartphone sales in China in the second quarter of the year, according to research firm Canalys. Its China revenue for its fiscal quarter ended June 29 plummeted 43 per cent from the previous period and 14 percent from the same period last year.

A deal with China Mobile, which has 700 million subscribers, could massively boost the California company's revenues. Investment research firm ISI estimates iPhone sales in China could quickly rise to 40 million a year, or close to a third of Apple's global total for fiscal 2012.

Apple is expected to unveil a less-costly iPhone at an event at its Cupertino, Calif., headquarters on Tuesday. Analysts have said Apple needs a lower-priced device to drive growth in emerging markets such as China, where most consumers cannot afford its full-priced models.

With files from CBC News