Apple CEO Tim Cook just did what some analysts say Steve Jobs would never have done: Cook just issued a five-paragraph apology to its customers for the performance of the new Apple Maps service, which has been roundly criticized by many users since its Sept. 19 launch as part of the new iOS 6 software.
"At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers," wrote Cook in a note posted on Apple's Website. "With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers, and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better."
Apple debuted its own Apple maps service in iOS 6, replacing Google Maps, which was included in every previous version of iOS since the arrival of the iPhone in 2007. Apple removed Google Maps after a five-year agreement with Google expired.
Cook's note continued:
We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS. As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.
There are already more than 100 million iOS devices using the new Apple Maps, with more and more joining us every day. In just over a week, iOS users with the new Maps have already searched for nearly half a billion locations. The more our customers use our Maps, the better it will get, and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.
And while those continuing map app adjustments are under way, Cook even pointed out several mapping alternatives that Apple users can install so they regain the mapping functions they had when Google Maps was part of the previous versions of iOS. "While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their Websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their Web app."
Bottom line, wrote Cook, Apple intends to sort out the map deficiencies in iOS 6 for its users. "Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working nonstop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard."
Two IT analysts interviewed by eWEEK said Cook's apology marks a huge difference from the past approach of his predecessor, the late Steve Jobs, when dealing with any missteps by Apple.
"This is the post-Steve Jobs era of Apple," said Dan Maycock of Slalom Consulting. "The shiny facade has faded. Apple is now a company like every other company. Steve Jobs would have never apologized, but this also would never have happened under his watch."
Instead, an iOS 6 version with mapping problems and shortcomings would not have been released by Jobs to the marketplace until it was truly ready and performing well, said Maycock.
At the same time, problems with past products weren't given apologies, but were sorted out as needed, said Maycock. "Even when Siri came out as a beta product, there were problems with it but Apple's response was 'we're still working on it' and that was that. But because Apple never admitted anything about it, Apple's reputation was still intact."
In the past, Jobs' abilities as the company's key spokesman protected Apple from powerful criticisms. "They've released bad products before, but they had Steve Jobs' ego to back them up and that ego really set the direction for Apple. The old belief was that Steve Jobs knew what he was talking about, and that he had a 'what could possibly go wrong attitude.'"
The cracks in those old patterns are apparently beginning to show, said Maycock. "Apple never used to have to apologize and now they did, so there it is right out there."
Another IT analyst, Rob Enderle, principal of The Enderle Group, said in an email reply that Cook's apology "showcases a growing weakness to the post-Jobs Apple. He personally assured quality, and when he was ill we had quality problems like 'Antennagate.'"
Since the death of Jobs, "the company needs a much stronger, more powerful quality control role to assure Apple can maintain the high level of quality customers have come to expect," wrote Enderle. "[Apple] appears to be resisting this, likely because the working groups like not having the oversight [that formerly came from Jobs]. Cook’s not seeing and addressing this problem showcases what may be a sustaining weakness in his management style."
Apple's pending removal of Google Maps in favor of Apple's own Maps application was announced in May.
The controversy over Apple's new service began almost immediately after the new iOS 6 operating system became available for download Sept. 19. Many users around the world began taking to the Internet to loudly vent their frustrations about the loss of Google Maps in the company's new mobile operating system for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The new Apple Maps app has been panned, based on dozens of posts on Twitter and other social media sites.
Among the loudest complaints are incorrect maps, its inability to display points of interest and a total lack of transit directions for mass transit systems in large cities, which Apple says it will be adding later.
The controversy has gotten even more heated as Google looks at building and offering a stand-alone Google Maps app that would work with iOS 6 and would be made available through Apple's App Store.
A recent report noted that a key reason for Apple heading into its own direction with a new maps app was that the company wanted to include voice-guided, turn-by-turn directions, which was lacking in the previous Google Maps version for iOS.
Skeptics, however, have always felt there was certainly more to the change, including the increasing competitive friction between Apple and Google as they battle more directly in the mobile marketplace.
The Apple-Google brouhaha over Google Maps isn't the only place where the two have been parting ways this year. Apple also announced in August that it was removing the YouTube player from iOS 6, which like Google Maps had been part of the operating system since the launch of the iPhone in 2007.