SHANGHAI — Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, took the unusual step Monday of apologizing to Chinese customers for the company’s warranty policy and said he would improve customer service in the country.
Apple’s apology late Monday was the latest twist in a strange spectacle that has unfolded in recent weeks in China over Apple’s warranty policies, underscoring the challenges the company is facing as the country becomes an important market for its products.
Every year on International Consumers’ Day, China’s biggest state-run television network broadcasts an investigative report on how companies operating in China cheat or mistreat consumers. This year, on March 15, one of the targets was Apple.
China Central Television criticized the company’s after-sales iPhone customer service in China and described how Chinese consumers were forced to pay $75 to replace faulty back covers, though such a replacement comes at no cost in many other countries.
Apple did not immediately respond to some of the allegations, but other state media outlets stepped up their criticisms, raising the stakes for Apple in China, which is now the company’s second-biggest market after the United States. Soon after the segment aired, several Chinese celebrities piled on, posting harsh comments on China’s Twitter-like service called Weibo.
Then People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, published a series of editorials and articles, including one paper titled ‘‘Defeat Apple’s Incomparable Arrogance.’’
And in recent days, TV evening news broadcasts have included images of Chinese journalists being turned away from Apple’s offices in China.
Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., issued a statement Monday.
‘‘We realize that a lack of communication in this process has led the outside to believe that Apple is arrogant and doesn’t care or value consumers’ feedback,’’ Cook wrote in the open letter. ‘‘We sincerely apologize for any concern or misunderstanding this has brought to the customers.’’
Some media analysts and bloggers have called the media frenzy over Apple’s warranty policies bizarre because of the ferocity of it.