Opinions Differ Widely On The Effectiveness of Apple’s Apology In China

Comment

Image Credits:

Tim Cook’s apology to Apple’s Chinese customers has divided observers, some of whom claim that the public mea culpa might undermine the Cupertino company by giving credence to government criticism. Cook’s letter was posted (link via Google Translate) on the Chinese Apple Web site on Monday after two weeks of heated attacks by China’s state-run media.

Cook focused on Apple’s communication over its warranty and said the company would change its repair policy for iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S devices sold in China. “We realize a lack of communication in this process has led to speculation that Apple is arrogant and doesn’t care about or value consumers’ feedback,” wrote Cook. “We sincerely apologize for any concern or misunderstanding this has brought to customers.

The wording of Cook’s apology made it seem like a direct response to an article published by People’s Daily, the Chinese government’s official newspaper, that called the company “arrogant,” as well as a China Central Television’s investigative program that claimed Apple’s warranty practices discriminates against Chinese iPhone owners. (Other recent attacks by state-run media agencies included a report by official government press agency Xinhua, which blamed Apple for an increase in high-interest loans taken out by students to buy “fancy electronic products.”)

At stake is Apple’s second-biggest and fastest-growing market: “Greater China” (the term used to describe the market including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan) accounted for 13 percent of Apple’s sales last year.

Cook’s apology earned the Cupertino company pats on the head by the state media and government officials. The Global Times, published by the People’s Daily, wrote, “the company’s apology letter has eased the situation, softening the tense relationship between Apple and the Chinese market.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei also told the press during a daily news briefing that “we approve of what Apple said.”

Despite the onslaught of highly critical articles, many Chinese netizens seemed dubious about the charges against Apple. In fact, the company may have undermined its positive image among consumers by issuing an apology, Shaun Rein, managing director and founder of China Market Research Group, told Bloomberg.

“After the criticism started taking place, my firm went out and interviewed about 30 Chinese consumers. The vast majority of them said ‘why is the media attacking Apple? Apple is known for great service,’” Rein said. “The consumers are saying the media should be attacking, say the pigs in the river, which is really disgusting.”

“The problem with Apple apologizing is that it gives credibility to the state media attacks,” Rein added. “We’ve gone out and interviewed consumers and they say ‘wait a minute. We supported Apple, but now they’re apologizing. Maybe there is something to all the criticisms by the state media.”

Analysts in favor of the apology said it was necessary because the company still needs to curry favor with the Chinese government. Apple’s hardware competes with domestic rivals like Huawei and Lenovo, and Chinese companies are beginning to develop OSes like Smartisan and Ubuntu Kylin that are meant to chip into the dominance of Western software.

Furthermore, after years of negotiations, Apple has yet to ink a deal with China Mobile, the Chinese state-owned telecom that is the world’s largest mobile phone operator with about 720 million subscribers–another reason why the company wants to stay on the Chinese government’s good side.

“They’re out of the woods and into the weeds. Things will rarely be smooth for Apple in China–even if consumers love it there will always be factions in and out of government that are trying to take it down,” Michael Clendenin, managing director of technology consultancy RedTech Advisors, told Reuters. “Apple made it easy this time, but they have learned to be more proactive. The next time they stumble, it will be easier to recover.”

But other observers say that Cook’s apology may actually be a sign that the Cupertino company is worried about its grip on the Chinese marketplace. Zhou Jiangong, the editor-in-chief of Forbes China, told Marketwatch that “Cook’s apology is not only a failure in the company’s public relations, but more importantly, it reflects the weakening position of Apple’s brand and innovation capacity. Apple still provides good products, but does not create demand by innovation anymore, like what it did before.” As its advantage in hardware is eroded, Apple will have to focus on localizing its software, which requires the support of local authorities, Zhou added.

Meanwhile, Zachary Keck at The Diplomat writes that Android’s continuing dominance in China may have underpinned Apple’s decision to apologize. Keck cites a report by Beijing-based mobile app analytics platform Umeng that shows that at the end of 2012, there were 160 million active Android users in China, compared to 85 million iOS users. Another report by Android phone management software startup Wandoujia found that there were even more Android users in China–224 million–than estimated by Umeng–and that by the end of this year, the number will increase to 300 million Android. “To be clear, the extraordinary growth of the Android OS in China is coming at Apple’s expense,” Keck said.

More TechCrunch

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

18 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

20 hours ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, launched an enterprise version of the prominent social network in 2015. It always seemed like a stretch for a company built on a consumer…

With the end of Workplace, it’s fair to wonder if Meta was ever serious about the enterprise

X, formerly Twitter, turned TweetDeck into X Pro and pushed it behind a paywall. But there is a new column-based social media tool in town, and it’s from Instagram Threads.…

Meta Threads is testing pinned columns on the web, similar to the old TweetDeck

As part of 2024’s Accessibility Awareness Day, Google is showing off some updates to Android that should be useful to folks with mobility or vision impairments. Project Gameface allows gamers…

Google expands hands-free and eyes-free interfaces on Android