updated 06:10 pm EDT, Wed April 10, 2013
Dealing with fallout from state-run smear campaign
According to a Chinese web site, Apple Senior VP for Operations Jeff Williams is currently in China as part of an effort to carry out warranty and training reforms promised by Tim Cook. Reacting to a badly-coordinated propaganda campaign against the company and other foreign presences in China, the Apple CEO issued an open letter reassuring customers that Apple treats Chinese warranty issues largely the same way it does in other countries, but promised more consistency and quality of service.
China's state-run media outlets began making incorrect insinuations about Apple last month, claiming that the company's Chinese warranties are only half as long as those in the US (which isn't true), and that Apple re-used parts such as the backing plate (which is often custom-engraved) when repairing iPhones under warranty. When Apple posted a simple statement on its website denying and dismissing the charges, the smear campaign expanded -- with newspaper and TV reports calling the company "arrogant" in its response.
Last week, an "open letter" response from CEO Tim Cook (that largely reiterated the denials, albeit with a more humble tone) was seen as more of an apology, and did include some acknowledgement that more training of Chinese reseller partners and more clarity on warranty issues was needed. Cook outlined several steps the company would take to make its policies clearer, and said the iPhone maker would strive for a more consistent warranty experience across its stores and partners. Williams is presumably in the country to oversee this effort, as well as inspect and discuss improvements with officials from the government and Apple's retail and manufacturing providers.
The presence of a senior Apple official in the country, combined with Cook's letter, seems to have mollified the state-run media assault. Several officials have now praised Apple's response to the manufactured crisis, implying the company is back in the government's good graces. Williams has been the executive primarily in charge of Apple's massive China-based operations since Cook became CEO, and has visited the country many times as well as led the efforts by Apple to improve the working conditions of Apple's manufacturing and supplier partners, which include more than a million employees.