China Mobile has started selling iPhones today after the world’s largest mobile carrier struck up a multi-year deal with Apple in December.
According to CNN, Apple CEO Tim Cook made an appearance at the China Mobile store in Beijing where he and China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua gave out autographed iPhones to customers.
“China is a very, very important geography for Apple, not only for its size, but for many other reasons as well,” Cook said to reporters in Beijing on Wednesday.
The company has long tried to tap into China’s market and the much-anticipated deal benefits not only the customers clutching signed iPhones: it has been estimated that the new arrangement will generate at least $8.3 billion in revenue and add 4.5 percent to Apple’s revenue growth in its first year.
China Mobile received its 4G license from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology last month, and now plans on rolling out the world’s biggest 4G network by expanding it to at least 340 cities by the end of this year.
The companies have received more than one million pre-orders for the iPhone, and analysts have predicted that Apple could sell as many as 24 million iPhones through China Mobile in 2014.
Of course, Apple must still face the giant hurdle that is The Great Firewall.
Apple also lacks the app store advantage in China that it has in most other countries, as the government censors many offerings on Apple’s iTunes App Store, andChinese customers haven’t proven willing to spend money on top-tier apps when they can get free knockoffs.
That has pushed Apple into fifth place in China with just 6% smartphone market share in China, falling behind Samsung (SSNLF), Lenovo (LNVGF), Yulong and Huawei, according to Canalys.
The power couple remains confident. “China Mobile and Apple are newly wedded after six years of courtship,” said Xi, “our married life just begins.”
[Image via Tim Cook]