By all indications, Apple's apology is enough to satisfy most Chinese consumers, even if the letter is less than perfectly sincere. It's also undoubtedly
the right move for the company to make, because the apology's target audience is in fact wider than the consumers to which it is formally addressed.
As with so many events in contemporary China, the country's social Web gives the best available gauge of what citizens -- and, in this case, consumers -- think
of all the high-level wrangling. For analytical purposes here, it does not hurt that there is substantial overlap between Apple consumers and heavy
Internet users; a recent search for "Apple" on Sina Weibo, a major micro-blogging platform, calls up 297 million recent mentions.Most of those are not
Chinese state media seemed to land the first punch it took at Apple in mid-March, when a widely-watched consumer protection television show on CCTV accused
Apple of discriminating against Chinese customers, and Web users
responded by calling for a boycott of the company
. But the campaign faltered quickly thereafter when one prominent Web commenter
that his own Apple critique had been pre-written, and the time of its posting pre-ordained. Chinese social media users are a cynical and usually savvy
group, and once they sensed they were being manipulated, the media offensive against Apple lost some of its momentum.
That is partly why Apple was able to issue an apology that was less than fulsome. On one hand, the apology letter focused on the company's failure to
communicate, not its conduct, and it wasn't lost on some of the more nationalistic commentators that the apology was published on April 1st, as April Fool's
Day is widely "celebrated" in China. On the other hand, China is a target-rich environment for crusaders against corporate malfeasance, and Apple's
relatively minor infractions register lightly among more pressing concerns like food safety. In addition, the government has
recently thought out loud about requiring red-hot social network Weixin to charge a potentially ruinous fee
, which has struck many as a shameless effort to protect the government-owned telecom companies against even domestic competition. These rumbles reinforce
the perception that the playing field in China tilts toward state-owned enterprises, making it harder to demonize Apple with a straight face.
But in issuing its apology, Apple nonetheless made the right decision for its shareholders. China and the U.S. stand alone as Apple's two major markets,
and while China is still far behind the U.S. in terms of Apple's net sales, the
growth of Chinese revenue has been explosive
. Apple cannot afford to fight a war on multiple fronts -- legal, regulatory, and media -- with a determined Chinese government. And while Apple may have
emerged from this latest PR battle bruised but standing, Chinese authorities could likely win a PR war of attrition. A constant drumbeat of state media
criticism, keyed to play up nationalist sentiment against an "arrogant" American company, would inevitably dull the sheen that still distinguishes Apple