Apple’s rare show of humility pleases China

A visitor talks to a staff member at Apple's store in Beijing, China.
A visitor talks to a staff member at Apple’s store in Beijing, China.

With its rare apology, Apple went from pariah to praiseworthy in the eyes of China’s state-controlled media, a lesson for other foreign firms not to underestimate the speed and power of the government press.

After coming under near-daily media assault for the past two weeks and facing the threat of penalties from two Chinese government bureaus, Apple apologized to Chinese consumers on Monday for poor communication over its warranty policy and said it will change the terms for some of its iPhones sold in China.

Greater China is Apple’s second-biggest and fastest-growing market, with sales up almost 40 percent to $6.8 billion in the final quarter of 2012.

The Chinese newspapers that threw brickbats at Apple a few days ago have since changed their tune.

“The company’s apology letter has eased the situation, softening the tense relationship between Apple and the Chinese market … Its reaction is worth respect compared with other American companies,” wrote popular tabloid the Global Times, published by Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily.

The Foreign Ministry praised Apple for “conscientiously” responding to consumers’ demands.

“We approve of what Apple said,” spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing this morning.

Only last week, the People’s Daily issued a scathing editorial on Apple’s return policy saying the popular smartphone maker was filled with “unparalleled arrogance”.

Apple was first targeted in mid-March by state broadcaster CCTV during its annual consumer day segment. Volkswagen AG, which was also criticized on the same show, plans to recall vehicles to fix a gearbox problem.

“That Timothy Cook had to step up and respond from the CEO’s chair shows the importance of China and how critical it is as a market not just for Apple but for every multinational company here,” said Kent Kedl, Shanghai-based head of Greater China and North Asia for risk consultancy firm Control Risks.

Foreign companies who are adept at managing media crises at home find it much tougher to navigate China where state media outlets, pandering to different audiences, often have opaque agendas and intentions. Analysts also said that foreign companies need to remember that the bigger the brand, the bigger a target it will be, especially in China.

“What foreign companies need to pay attention to, is that nobody operates in a vacuum, nobody operates only on the good graces of a brand name … Five to ten years ago a report on CCTV would have rippled a little bit, now it goes viral and has a life of its own,” Kedl said.

Apple’s acquiescence in this setting, where the world’s largest technology company by market value was ironically the David going up against China’s Goliath state media machinations, shows its wisdom in not challenging a more powerful enemy.

Although popular opinion on the Internet swayed in Apple’s favor, against state media and the reported threats of penalties from China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce as well as its quality and inspection bureau, it was not Apple’s fight to win, experts said.

Other foreign companies targeted by CCTV, such as fast food chain operator Yum Brands Inc, have also apologized and faced scrutiny from government agencies. Last December CCTV reported that two of Yum’s suppliers purchased chickens from farmers who used excessive levels of antibiotics in their animals. The report and subsequent investigations hurt sales at Yum’s KFC chain.

But Apple’s situation is somewhat different because CCTV’s claim was not completely new. Last July, a Chinese consumer rights group also slammed Apple for its after-sales policies. That time, however, Apple held its ground.

With the apology and warranty change, Apple’s mea culpa is significant not just because it comes from a tech firm that rarely apologizes, but also because Apple may be realizing that in China, it needs to be proactive.

“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,” said Michael Clendenin, managing director of technology consultancy RedTech Advisors.

“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,” he said.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Local

De Blasio, Bratton defend city's efforts after Eric…

Mayor Bill de Blasio justified the city's response to the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died while in police custody earlier this month.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.