Apple supplier Foxconn has reportedly shipped about 1.4 million iPhone 5Ss handsets to China Mobile, ahead of the mobile operator's launch on Friday 17 January.
A person familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal's Digits blog that while the initial shipment volume does not represent the total sales at China Mobile for January, the figure helps to gauge early demand for iPhones from China Mobile, which has been taking pre-orders for the device since 25 December.
Apple announced the long-awaited distribution deal with China Mobile on 22 December. China Mobile is the world's largest mobile phone operator, with about 760 million subscribers, and it is thought that the deal could generate billions in revenue for Apple.
Demand for iPhones, once hugely popular in China, have slumped there as lower-priced rival smartphones from Samsung and Chinese companies entered the market. Apple had just 5 per cent of China's $80 billion smartphone market in September, according to figures from analysis firm IDC.
The tie-up with China Mobile had been rumoured for some months, with the launch of the iPhone 5C in September seen as a cheaper handset aimed at the Chinese markets. Both China Unicom and China Telecom have been offering the new iPhones since late September.
Speaking in a media briefing to Chinese media and The WSJ, Apple chief executive Tim Cook said he is “incredibly optimistic” about the outcome of the cooperation with China Mobile, hinting that the deal will extend beyond handsets.
“We’ve gotten to know each other ... today is a beginning, and I think there are lots more things our companies can do together in the future,” Cook said.
Neither Apple nor China Mobile have commented on the terms of the deal, but some analysts have predicted that it could help Apple sell an additional 10 million to 30 million iPhones this year.