Apple is in the midst of another public relations battle in China and is trying to clarify its warranty policies, as local-state controlled press continue to slam the U.S. company for allegedly offering subpar warranty services to Chinese customers.
On Saturday, Apple said its warranty policies for the country were roughly the same as those in the United States and other regions, but also meet Chinese laws. This came after state-run television network CCTV aired a segment on March 15 alleging that Apple's customers abroad received better warranty support than those in China.
[ Understand how to both manage and benefit from the consumerization of IT with InfoWorld's "Consumerization Digital Spotlight" PDF special report. | Subscribe to InfoWorld's Consumerization of IT newsletter today, then join our #CoIT discussion group at LinkedIn. ]
Much of the criticism has been directed at how Apple repairs faulty iPhones that are under warranty. Outside of China, according to CCTV, Apple will replace broken handsets covered under warranty. But for Chinese customers, Apple will only replace their phones' internal components.
Wang Hai, a consumer advocate in China, agreed with the criticism in CCTV's report. But he also said under Chinese law Apple is not required to replace the entire phone when repairs are needed.
The U.S. company said in most cases it will replace a faulty iPhone 5 with an entirely new handset due to its special design. A defective iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S, however, will in certain cases be repaired with a new screen, antenna, and other internal components, leaving the outer case intact. This is done to expedite service and ensure the handset can be returned to the customer on the same day, it said.
"Our group is always striving to exceed consumers' expectations, and show great attention to every consumer's opinions and recommendations," Apple added in its online statement.
CCTV's report also criticized Apple for not restarting the one-year warranty on phones that received extensive repairs. By only replacing the internal components of the phone rather than replacing the whole device, Apple also avoids a requirement in Chinese law that it restart the device's one-year warranty, CCTV alleged.
China's state-run press followed up by rejecting Apple's comments as self-serving. On Monday, an editorial in the People's Daily newspaper alleged that Apple had a "double standard" with its repair services, and had yet to make clear its warranty policies.
"In addressing the after-sales service double standard, Apple decided to only issue a 200-word statement that was full of empty talk and self-recognition, and furthermore offered no solution," the front-page editorial said.
It's not the first time Apple has faced PR troubles in China, now one of its largest markets. Last year the company wrestled with a legal dispute over the iPad trademark in the country that soon escalated into a war of words with a Chinese company. In addition, Apple has also faced negative publicity for its working conditions and environmental record at its various suppliers in the country, including Foxconn.
But this time, the criticism against Apple's repair policies has generated conspiracy theories over why China's state-run press is targeting the company so harshly. Following CCTV's initial report, local internet users pointed to evidence that one celebrity was possibly paid to write a negative Internet post about Apple's customer service.
Whatever the motive, the criticism risks hurting Apple's reputation in China at a time when rivals such as Samsung are also building up their corporate brand, said Nicole Peng, an analyst at research firm Canalys. In last year's fourth quarter, Samsung was China's largest smartphone vendor, followed by domestic companies Lenovo, Yulong Computer Telecommunication Scientific, Huawei, and ZTE.
"The public doesn't really know if the (CCTV) report is true or not, but they will probably believe it, because they don't know what is happening in other markets," she said. "I think in this case if Apple doesn't respond, their corporate image will be damaged."
Apple declined to comment.