A man looks at his Apple iPad in front an Apple logo outside an Apple store in downtown Shanghai in this March 16, 2012 file photo. (ALY SONG/REUTERS)

Apple chief executive Tim Cook issued an apology to Chinese customers Monday with a rare message on the company’s Web site in that country, saying that Apple will be changing its warranty policy.

The company has been under fire in the Chinese media for weeks, with state-controlled media outlets criticizing the company’s policies and saying that Apple’s policies in China compared unfairly with policies in other parts of the world. The company had previously said that the Chinese policies were similar to those around the world and denied that it was treating Chinese customers any differently.

According to a translated version of the apology — which is signed by Cook — Apple will now be providing Chinese customers with a clearer version of its repair and warranty policy on its Web site, improve training for its Apple store associates and provide new replacement devices for users under its 1-year warranty rather than simply replacing bad parts.

Cook also encouraged users to provide Apple with feedback on its policies through the company Web site.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the changes to its policy.

The move underscores just how important the Chinese market is to Apple, which has targeted China as its market for potential growth. The company has been expanding its marketing and sales efforts in China, with plans to drastically expand the number of retail stores it has there. The company’s iPhones are currently available on the country’s third- and second-largest carriers, but is not yet an option for customers of the largest carrier, China Mobile.

China is perhaps the most competitive area of the smartphone market, as analysts expect that a larger percent of China’s enormous population will be making the move from older cellphones to smartphones in the next few years. Apple faces fierce competition in China from smartphone makers like Samsung, which make a wider portfolio of phones that could appeal to first-time smartphone buyers with lower prices, and also from growing Chinese smartphone makers like Huawei and ZTE.

In its last earnings report, Apple reported that its fourth-quarter revenue in China had jumped 67 percent from the previous year. The company also announced that it would begin breaking China out as its own region in its earnings releases moving forward.

Public apologies from chief executives are rare in any case, but this marks the second such apology from the normally reticent company in less than a year. Cook also apologized to all Apple customers for the company’s launch of Apple Maps, which drew swift criticism — particularly because Apple put its error-ridden program in place of the more developed and popular Google Maps.

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