Apple Apologizes Amid Media Backlash in China

Apple iPhone 4S Tim Cook

In a letter signed by CEO Tim Cook and posted online, the company cited “insufficient external communication” with Chinese consumers and promised changes in warranty policy.

HONG KONG – Apple has backtracked on its erstwhile stance on its smartphone warranty policy in China, as its CEO apologized to his Chinese consumers in a public letter and pledged to alter what he admitted to be a perception of the company as “arrogant and unconcerned” about public criticism of the brand in the country.

In a Chinese letter titled “To Our Respected Chinese Consumers” and posted on Apple’s Chinese portal April 1, Tim Cook said the company has received “much feedback about Apple’s repairs and warranty policies in China,” on which his team have “reflected deeply.”

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“We sensed that an insufficient external communication during the process [of dealing with criticism of the company’s policies] has led to a public perception of Apple being arrogant, unconcerned and placing no emphasis on consumers’ feedback. We offer our sincerest apologies for the anxiety and misunderstanding this has brought to consumers,” the letter read.

Cook said the company would revise the warranty policy for smartphones in the country, with customers receiving a brand-new set when they return their malfunctioning phone to the company within one year of purchase, with the new warranty starting from the day the new set was given to the consumer.

Effective from April, this new rule was aimed at resolving the one major complaint aired on state broadcaster China Central Television’s consumer rights’ show March 15. Previously, customers trading in their malfunctioning phones within the one-year warranty period would be issued a set with new innards covered by the back lid of the returned phone. Critics said this delivery of partially new phones is not in line with the brand’s practices elsewhere in the world.

Since then, Apple has come under persistent attack in mainland Chinese media, with state-backed publications like the People’s Daily running an article last week that attacked the brand as “ignoring Chinese consumers, substandard customer service, suspected tax evasion and a steadfast refusal to admit wrongdoing when it’s caught out.”

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Claiming the Chinese market contributed $7.3 billion to Apple’s coffers during the previous quarter, and that the country’s consumers made up 34 percent of the company's increase in revenue in December, the piece said China “should be regarded as Apple’s main financial backer. … It’s the Chinese market which propped up the brand’s remarkable results.”

Meanwhile, government departments have also promised tighter scrutiny of the company’s Chinese operations, with the State Administration of Industry and Commerce announcing Thursday that it is looking into public complaints of Apple not offering the two-year warranty as stipulated in Chinese law.

It’s a backlash that Cook and his team has taken to heart over in California: He ended the letter by saying how the company “has always held endless respect to China, and Chinese consumers have always been the most important in our hearts.” It remains to be seen whether this groveling apology would work as Beijing attempts to bolster the pedigree of domestic products at home in the face of what the officials see as a foreign invasion.