Apple opens up: Tim Cook says sorry for iPhone 5 Maps, promises world class improvement

Apple [AAPL] opened up today, responding to critics of its mapping services with a public statement from company CEO, Tim Cook. The statement, published on the Apple Website, offers an apology to customers along with the promise that the company won’t stop improving Maps until that product becomes one of the best in the world.


[ABOVE: Apple's Tim Cook says sorry, promises much improvement.]

Aiming for the best

“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 non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard,” Cook wrote.

Apple’s response should be welcomed by the critics for two reasons:

  1. The company is showing it has the commitment to continue to improve the service, while making a public declaration that it knows it hasn’t hit the mark so far: that public apology is a big deal from such a secretive company, and reflects its continued commitment to be open to customers and responsive to their needs. 
  2. The company has the money, the intelligence and the clout to improve its services. It’s in position to purchase mapping databases and to make other major investments in order to improve the service. Cook’s statement suggests Apple will be doing just that, and rapidly too.

Apple also made another big step in this public statement: it moved away from its fabled “Not Invented Here” mindset and nodded toward third party developers and services.

"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," Cook explains.

As I wrote last week, when criticizing the service, I urged Apple to go public with its promise to improve.

Philosophically, being open about its need to improve its maps app will require a shift in thinking by the company. You need people to believe in a map and at present this “feature” is a weakness in the Apple armory,” I wrote.

An open Apple

This new spirit of openness should be welcomed. It is exactly what Apple should do as it moves to address the problem. It means that, rather than appearing isolationist and remote while pretending criticism doesn’t exist, the company is taking it to heart, listening to its customers, and making a public promise to improve its services to all of its customers.

This should reassure anyone, as a company with the strength and track record of Apple will certainly be able to implement improvements at rapid pace. Further, because Maps is a server-based solution, there should be no need for users to upgrade their iOS software in order to access new data. It will simply be made available.

Apple’s statement may also be bad news for former Maps partner, Google. Google arguably offers the world’s best mapping service. This position is subject to change. As Cook points out “Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world.

The statement means that iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and -- certainly in future -- Mac users -- can look forward to rapidly improving Maps applications and services from Cupertino. It also means Apple is making a big public commitment to improving its services until they become as good as, or better, than those offered by Google.

In that context, Apple’s recent attempts to hire staff across from Google’s Maps team makes a lot more sense. The company isn’t just preparing to make its services better, it’s aiming to make its services the best in the world.

An investor might now choose to look toward the world’s list of mapping data providers as potential investments, given that it is now much more likely both Google and Apple will be competing to acquire or hire their services.

There is no doubt at all that Cook’s Apple will not now rest until its stated target -- to deliver the “best” mapping product in the world -- is met.

iPhone 5 and iOS 6 users may feel some disappointment in the service so far, but Apple’s very public promise should provide some reassurance that the company is in no way half-hearted in this attempt.

Things are going to get interesting. 

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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