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Apple bows to pressure, apologizes in China

Apple CEO Tim Cook is seen in this 2011 file photo. On Monday, he apologized to the company’s Chinese customers for ‘misunderstandings’ over customer service.

Mark Lennihan/AP

Apple has given in to intense pressure from the Chinese state media about its customer service and apologized to consumers in its second-largest market.

In a notice posted to its Chinese homepage on Monday, Tim Cook, chief executive, admitted that a lack of external communication had led to a perception that Apple was "arrogant" and did not value consumer feedback. He made "sincere apologies" for these "misunderstandings" and stressed Apple's "immense respect" for China.

The attacks in Chinese media began in mid-March with a flagship news show on China Central Television in which the state broadcaster accused Apple of discriminating against Chinese customers with its after-sales service.

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A series of complaints by celebrities and other prominent users on Chinese social media accompanied the broadcast. Many have seen these as being co-ordinated by the broadcaster, however, prompting derision of CCTV online.

Apple denied that its warranties and customer service in China are any different than in other countries.

Yet a series of scathing reports in Chinese state media outlets followed, with front-page articles lambasting Apple for being "greedy" and "incomparably arrogant", including criticism for failing to grant interviews with its executives. China's quality inspection bureau said that Apple would faced "severe repercussions" if it did not improve its warranties for the iPhone.

Mr Cook, who has spent a considerable period of time in China overseeing Apple's manufacturing, said in Monday's letter that Apple was improving its repair policies and training for its service providers in the country and would make it easier for customers to provide feedback.

The web page set out in detail Apple's warranty and maintenance policies for all its products, which will be upgraded in China.

"We realized that there are people who think Apple has been arrogant and negligent in dealing with consumers' feedback," Mr Cook wrote in Chinese. "This is due to our insufficient communication with outside parties. We are profoundly sorry about any concerns or misunderstandings that this has brought to our consumers."

In an interview with Chinese news site Sina in January, Mr Cook said that China could overtake the US to become Apple's largest market. However, the iPhone, Apple's most popular product, is still not available through China Mobile, the country's largest mobile provider, despite long negotiations between the two companies.

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Last September, Mr Cook was forced to apologize for customers' "frustration" with Apple's new Maps application in the latest version of the iPhone's software.

Apple's shares were 2 per cent lower at $433.50 in midday trading in New York.

Additional reporting by Thomas Zhang in London

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