Apple’s Cook touring China to talk iPhone 5 with carriers (UPDATE: greater investment mulled)

Though Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs never visited China (so says the official biography), the new CEO Tim Cook has been spotted at the company’s Apple Store in Joy City, a shopping mall located in Xidan, Beijing. A local news article included pictures of Cook posing with fans, snapped at the store. However, the real purpose of the executives’s visit to China is shrouded in secrecy.

Remember, Cook also visited China last year and was photographed at China Mobile’s headquarters in Beijing. China Mobile, the nation’s largest wireless operator and the world’s largest carrier with more than 600 million subscribers, does not yet carry Apple’s handset. Nonetheless, they are already hosting some 15 million iPhones on their network, up from 10 million back in October.

Is Cook in China to cut that long-expected iPhone deal with China Mobile?

It’s interesting Cook chose not to visit the more prominent Sanitun store. The Joy City store, which opened for business in 2010 when Apple launched the iPhone 4 in China, has since become Apple’s top retail spot in terms of consumer traffic and transaction volume.

Conceivably, Cook would not take a flight to Beijing just to visit a high-grossing local store. Maybe he is touring China to fix Foxconn strikes ahead of the iPhone 5 production? Also viable: perhaps Cook is there to put an end to ProView’s iPad trademark lawsuit and negotiate an out-of-court settlement?

Another highly likely possibility, per the report by TechNode:

There’re speculations that Tim came here to talk to China Unicom and China Telecom about introducing the company’s next generation of iPhone – iPhone 5 (or the new iPhone, who knows), according to people familiar with the matter.

The Wall Street Journal reports (and Bloomberg concurs) that Cook “had a great time” discussing the possibilities of greater investment with Chinese officials:

Cook, who is on his first trip to China since becoming chief executive of the Cupertino, Calif.-based company, “had great meetings with Chinese officials today. China is very important to us and we look forward to even greater investment and growth here,” said spokeswoman Carolyn Wu. She declined to identify any of the Chinese officials or give further details on the meetings.

China Unicom and China Telecom are the only two carriers currently offering Apple’s handset in the 1.33 billion people market. Apple is now activating more iPhones in China than in the United States or any other market for that matter. The company is said to appeal to the local market by China’s leading search engine Baidu as the default searhc choice for Chinese customers in iOS.

Apple’s CEO found time to pose for a nice shot with a fan.

Last week, iDownloadBlog discovered code strings in iOS 5.1 strongly suggesting that a sixth-generation iPhone will feature fast 4G LTE networking and possibly FaceTime video calling over 4G. The new iPad is the first mobile device to feature 4G LTE networking, courtesy of a Qualcomm MDM9600 3G/4G wireless baseband chip paired with a Qualcomm RTR8600 multi-band/mode RF transceiver for LTE bands.

Apple could pursue the same combo with the iPhone 5 or opt for Qualcomm’s smaller, next-gen Gobi modem chips. Whichever the case, the inclusion of the fourth-generation Long-Term Evolution radio technology in the next iPhone seems to be a forgone conclusion at this point.

If the new iPad is anything to go by, 4G LTE and other improvements might pose a problem in terms of heat dissipation and battery life, both expected to be more pronounced on the iPhone where space is at a premium.

Are we in for another Heatgate with iPhone 5? Chime in with your thoughts down in the comments.

NOTE: Head over to Sina Weibo for more fan shots with Tim Cook.