Apple apologises to China

"We recognize that some people may have viewed our lack of communication as arrogant".

After a two week long attack from China's media and regulators, Apple CEO Tim Cook has issued this apology to Chinese customers. He had little choice - China is Apple's second largest market after the US (making up 16 per cent of Apple's sales in 2012), and the attacks showed no sign of slowing.

Here's China Daily on Sunday:

The China Consumer's Association (CCA) has asked Apple Inc. to 'sincerely apologize to Chinese consumers' and 'thoroughly correct its problems,' after the US firm took little action to address waves of criticism. The CCA said that, in 2012, it twice urged Apple to properly handle the complaints but only received halfhearted replies, with the real problems unsolved.

And here's the People's Daily on Monday:

It remains to be seen whether this global tech giant will be pressurized to respond to the complaints, as China market becomes an ever-bigger part of its global operation.

On Tuesday, Apple gave in. Here are some extracts from the apology:

To our valued customers in China: In the past two weeks, we have received a significant amount of feedback about our repair and warranty practices in China. We have thoughtfully considered the feedback, carefully reviewed the return, repair and replacement policies with regulators, and examined how we communicate our hardware warranties as well as manage our service provider compliance. 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.

If a customer's iPhone cannot be repaired quickly by replacing a component, then Apple provides a repair subassembly, consisting of all-new parts attached to the back of the customer's existing iPhone 4 or 4S. However, it has been suggested that since the repair subassembly is nearly a full replacement, it would be better for our customers to receive a replacement unit instead. So, starting this month, Apple will upgrade our iPhone 4 and 4S service kits to full replacement units with all-new parts and a new one-year warranty starting from the date of replacement.

Customer satisfaction, which is our most important measure of success, has been exceptionally high for these repairs -- almost 90 percent on average.

It's clear this is mostly political - Apple's new repair and warranty policies in China will actually now be better than the US version.  As the Economist noted "It is not unusual for foreign companies to come under occasional attack in China. Sometimes, this is well deserved—as when, last year, KFC was exposed for supply-chain lapses that led chickens of dubious quality to be served in its restaurants. But the CCTV exposé, which discussed warranty-repair policies, did not find anything remotely as rotten at the core of Apple’s China business."

An Apple logo in Beijing. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty
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Here's what Theresa May could say to save the Brexit talks

The best option would be to invent a time machine, but unfortunately that's not on the table. 

One of my favourite types of joke is the logical impossibility: a statement that seems plausible but, on closer examination, is simply impossible and contradictory. “If you break both legs, don’t come running to me” is one. The most famous concerns a hapless tourist popping into a pub to ask for directions to London, or Manchester, or Belfast or wherever. “Well,” the barman replies, “I wouldn’t have started from here.”

That’s the trouble, too, with assessing what the government should do next in its approach to the Brexit talks: I wouldn’t have started from here.

I wouldn’t have started from a transient Leave campaign that offered a series of promises that can’t be reconciled with one another, but that’s the nature of a referendum in which the government isn’t supporting the change proposition. It’s always in the interest of the change proposition to be at best flexible and at worst outright disregarding of the truth.

Britain would be better off if it were leaving the European Union after a vote in which a pro-Brexit government had already had to prepare a white paper and an exit strategy before seeking popular consent. Now the government is tasked with negotiating the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union with a mandate that is contradictory and unclear. (Take immigration. It’s clear that a majority of people who voted to leave want control over Britain’s borders. But it’s also clear that a minority did not and if you take that minority away, there’s no majority for a Leave vote.

Does that then mean that the “democratic” option is a Brexit that prioritises minimising economic harm at the cost of continuing free movement of people? That option might command more support than the 52 per cent that Leave got but it also runs roughshod over the concerns that really drove Britain’s Leave vote.

You wouldn’t, having had a referendum in inauspicious circumstances, have a government that neglected to make a big and genuinely generous offer on the rights of the three million citizens of the European Union currently living in the United Kingdom.

In fact the government would have immediately done all it could to show that it wanted to approach exit in a constructive and co-operative manner. Why? Because the more difficult it looks like the departing nation is going to be, the greater the incentive the remaining nations of the European Union have to insist that you leave via Article 50. Why? Because the Article 50 process is designed to reduce the leverage of the departing state through its strict timetable. Its architect, British diplomat John Kerr, envisaged it being used after an increasingly authoritarian state on the bloc’s eastern periphery found its voting rights suspended and quit “in high dudgeon”.

The strict timeframe also hurts the European Union, as it increases the chances of an unsatisfactory or incomplete deal. The only incentive to use it is if the departing nation is going to behave in a unconstructive way.

Then if you were going to have to exit via the Article 50 process, you’d wait until the elections in France and Germany were over, and restructure Whitehall and the rest of the British state so it was fit to face the challenges of Brexit. And you wouldn’t behave so shabbily towards the heads of the devolved administrations that Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP and Carwyn Jones of the Welsh Labour Party have not become political allies.

So having neglected to do all of that, it’s hard to say: here’s what Theresa May should say in Florence, short of inventing time travel and starting the whole process again from scratch.

What she could do, though, is show flexibility on the question of British contributions to the European budget after we leave, and present a serious solution to the problem of how you ensure that the rights of three million EU citizens living in Britain have a legal backdrop that can’t simply be unpicked by 325 MPs in the House of Commons, and show some engagement in the question of what happens to the Irish border after Brexit.

There are solutions to all of these problems – but the trouble is that all of them are unacceptable to at least part of the Conservative Party. A reminder that, as far as the trouble with Brexit goes, Theresa May is the name of the monster – not the doctor. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.