By Patrick Lozada
On Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook released a statement apologizing for perceptions of ‘arrogance’ in its business practices in China and promising that Apple will work to improve warranty practices, more closely monitor resellers, and make it easier to get in touch with Apple if there are problems.
In the past two weeks, we have received a significant amount of feedback about our repair and warranty practices in China-In the process of studying the issues, we recognize that some people may have viewed our lack of communication as arrogant, or as a sign that we didn’t care about or value their feedback. We sincerely apologize to our customers for any concern or confusion we may have caused.
Cook’s statement (Chinese original here) comes after a coordinated attack by paid social media agents, private companies, and state media organizations. An article titled “Let’s strike away Apple’s unparalleled arrogance” in People’s Daily might give you an idea of the subtlety with which the attack on the tech giant was orchestrated.
Reactions to Cook’s apology have been mixed. The Global Times published an editorial saying that this was “the right step for Apple” and that it is moving away from the trend of “international companies [that] have not behaved well in China, and even treated Chinese customers differently to customers in other countries” (a certain fashion designer comes to mind).
Shaun Rein, CEO of China Market Research, disagrees. In an interview on Bloomberg Business News, Rein argued that “it was a mistake for Tim Cook to apologize,” noting that Chinese consumers had not responded to the government’s criticism of its China operations and that it consistently ranked toward the top in reviews of its customer service.
Indeed, the Atlantic points out that not only does it seem that Apple’s warranty practices (a key focus of criticism) in China were already at par with global standards, but that now consumers in China are protected to a higher standard than their counterparts in the US.
Cook’s apology was clearly a move pointed directly at appeasing the Chinese government, the corporate equivalent of the Cultural Revolution practice of kneeling on broken glass and confessing your transgressions. However while it may appease Party officials, Cook’s statements risks negatively affecting consumer confidence and confirming notions about Apple’s service that consumers had previously dismissed as government propaganda.
Overall, this is bad for Apple’s reputation, sets a bad precedent for foreign companies operating in China, and seems to only be good news for the Chinese government. Fortunately, there’s still time for Cook to play it all off as an elaborate April Fools gag and ride off into the sunset with dual middle finger cannons firing.