Apple CEO Tim Cook issues apology to Chinese customers

How important is the Chinese market to Apple? Enough to apologize to.


Apple chief executive Tim Cook made a formal, public apology on the company's Chinese website last week for a less-than-adequate repair and warranty policy on its products.

The text of the actual message is in Chinese; a portion of it roughly translates to the following: 

We are aware that a lack of external communication in this process has lead to the speculation that Apple is arrogant, does not care or does not attach importance to consumer feedback. We express our sincere apologies for any concerns or misunderstandings this gives consumers.

The note -- and the "profound reflection" that led to it -- comes in response to two weeks' worth of feedback, Cook writes.

As a result, there are four changes to the company's policy. It plans to improve the repair policy for iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S devices; provide "concise and clear" language about the policy on its website; improve supervision and training of Apple Authorized Service Providers; and make it easier for customers to contact Apple with feedback.

Previously, the company would replace parts -- up to all but the back cover -- of customers' iPhone 4 or 4S devices. The new policy allows for a complete device replacement, in line with the policy for the iPhone 5. In addition, in the past the company's website did not include warranty information for various products; that has been remedied. Furthermore, the company promised to be more rigorous with its representatives and introduced a proper, direct customer feedback channel.

The company has reportedly been the target of criticism by the country's political leadership, who have argued that the American company treats Chinese customers different than it does others. The People's Daily newspaper and CCTV television network, considered mouthpieces of the government, lobbed accusations in a series of critical articles and broadcasts that Apple violated Chinese law on warranties, evaded corporate taxes around the world and harbored "unparalleled arrogance" in its dealings.

An early response from Apple that failed to address the criticism with specificity (Apple "is always making an effort to exceed customers' expectations," it said in part) seemed to fan the flames of discontent with the company.

It is unclear where the controversy began. Some early reports speculate that it is the result of a tit-for-tat scenario between the U.S. and China after American officials recommended that U.S. companies resist deals with Chinese technology firms Huawei and ZTE, calling them untrustworthy. Actual proof of this accusation remains elusive.

In his note, Cook wrote, translated, that Apple has the same "commitment" and "enthusiasm" for Chinese customers as others around the world. "We will make unremitting efforts to achieve this goal," he added, again in rough translation.

The company's revenue for the greater Chinese region -- which comprises China, Taiwan and Hong Kong -- was $6.83 billion last quarter, a 67 percent increase from the same time period a year ago, making it the company's third largest market after the United States and Europe and its fastest growing market worldwide.

Photo based on the original by Ivan Walsh/Flickr.

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