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Apple’s Tim Cook says sorry to Chinese consumers following criticism from news media

timcookIf the boss of a major company comes forward to issue an apology about a particular matter, you know the situation must be serious. Really serious.

For the second time since taking over from Steve Jobs as Apple CEO in August 2011, Tim Cook has said sorry. The first time, back in September, was for releasing its much-criticized Maps app before it was ready. This time, his apology is directed at consumers in a country he believes will – if the tech company doesn’t mess up – overtake the US to become its biggest market in the coming years.

The apology comes in the wake of some severe criticism from the state-run Chinese media in recent weeks accusing the Cupertino company of “incomparable arrogance” when it comes to the way it treats its customers in the Asian nation.

China Central Television, for example, last month said the tech giant’s after-sales service was less than satisfactory, accusing it of giving consumers a one-year warranty when the law stated a two-year warranty was necessary. It also said the company used refurbished parts instead of new components for repairs to iDevices. Apple stayed quiet on the situation, leading to further criticism from other media outlets. Some Chinese celebrities also voiced negative opinions on various social networks.

In the wake of the criticism, China Consumers’ Association (CCA) demanded that the iPhone maker “sincerely apologize to Chinese consumers” and “thoroughly correct its problems.”

Eager to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control, Cook issued an apology on Monday via the company’s Chinese website. In it he offered his “sincere apologies” for the confusion over its warranty and repair procedures, and promised to communicate better with not only consumers but also its authorized resellers.

“We are aware that a lack of communications….led to the perception Apple’s attitude was arrogant and that we do not care and attach importance to consumer feedback,” Cook said in the apology, adding, “We express our sincere apologies for any concerns or misunderstandings this gave consumers.”

Of course, there may be more to this than meets the eye. According to the NY Times, it’s been suggested that some of the celebrities who posted negative comments about the situation might not have done so spontaneously – one celebrity post, for example, ended with the words, “to publish around 8.20pm”.

Anna Han, an associate professor of law at Santa Clara University, told the NY Times the government may have used the media to attack Apple in an effort to support local companies operating in the same line of business. She added that from a cultural point of view, Apple had been wise to issue its apology.

Whether it’s enough to bring the media’s criticism to an end remains to be seen, but Apple will obviously be keen for this matter to be laid to rest as soon as possible. Apple has 11 stores in China and some 17,000 outlets selling its iDevices, with sales in the most recent quarter amounting to $6.8 billion, an increase of 67 percent on a year earlier.