Apple CEO Tim Cook paid a visit to the headquarters of Ofo in Beijing on Tuesday morning, triggering speculation that the U.S.-based smartphone maker may make a strategic investment into the bike-sharing start-up.
Cook not only talked with Ofo CEO Dai Wei, but also tried out a yellow Ofo bicycle, as seen in photos obtained by the Global Times.
Ofo's PR representative confirmed the visit to the Global Times in the morning, but declined to give further details.
Cook thanked Ofo for its welcome via his official Weibo account. "Great energy behind your mission to make commuting greener, more efficient and fun," read the Weibo post.
The visit aroused speculation among analysts. "Tim Cook is the strategic investor of Didi Chuxing [China's leading car-hailing company]. Does he want to also make a strategic investment in Ofo?" Qian Hao, a Shanghai-based IT independent expert, asked on his official Weibo.
Didi Chuxing bought U.S. rival Uber's China unit soon after Apple poured a $1 billion investment into Didi in May last year.
Cook also visited another Chinese start-up that runs the popular fitness app Keep.
Cook's visit to Ofo was just a part of his trip to China.
He expressed his support for globalization while attending the 18th China Development Forum in Beijing on Saturday.
Wang Chenxi, an industry analyst with Beijing-based market research firm Analysys International, did not think Cook's visit to Ofo would bring any substantial changes to the development of the yellow bicycles.
"Cook's visit to Ofo is more like a publicity stunt," Wang told the Global Times Tuesday.
She questioned whether and how Apple would make an investment in Ofo, as the US company is already an indirect investor of the start-up via Didi. Didi invested tens of millions of dollars in Ofo last year.
Investors appear to favor China's bike-sharing sector despite its lack of profitability.
On March 1, Ofo announced that it had received $450 million from a consortium led by a Moscow-based investment firm DST Global. Prior to this, rival Mobike, backed by Tencent Holdings, closed its own Series D round, worth more than $300 million.
The yellow Ofo bicycles dominated the Chinese bike-sharing market in 2016 with a 51.2 percent share, followed by Mobike with 40.1 percent, according to BigData-Research.
"Other start-ups may also have the chance to become king of the fledgling bike-sharing industry, as the two major players mainly target the first- and second-tier cities, leaving massive opportunities for latecomers to explore," said Wang.
The two major players are not only focusing on the home market.
On Tuesday, Mobike announced its official entry into Singapore, where Ofo has also ventured.
Ofo, which found acceptance mainly among students, now has more than 20 million registered users in nearly 40 cities at home and abroad, according to information the company sent to the Global Times.