While Apple’s new products are generally met with fawning praise and long lines, its first map app inspired nothing but complaints. It mislabeled cities, flattened the Statue of Liberty, didn’t include public transportation and is, by one estimate, three-times more likely to get you lost than Google Maps.
The company at first defended its work. “We are continuously improving it,” a spokesperson argued, “and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get.”
But the problem was not necessarily that Apple Maps was a terrible product. It just wasn’t as good as Google Maps. “What Apple has learned is that maps are really hard,” Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt told AllThingsDigital in an on-stage interview shortly after Apple Maps went live. “We invested hundreds of millions of dollars in satellite work, airplane work, drive-by work, to get the maps accurate.”
From a business perspective, cutting Google out of the iOS home screen makes sense. While the companies once happily played in different industries (with Schmidt even serving on Apple’s board at one point), the rise of Android makes them competitors with diverging interests. From a product perspective, however, Apple’s maps app replaced an important feature with an inferior one, and that was not a good move.
Apple CEO Tim Cook acknowledged his mistake in a public apology letter. It’s not the first time Apple has apologized. Steve Jobs made a similar concession regarding problems with syncing system MobileMe (Apple has also apologized for antennagate and other mishaps). But it was the first time the apology read like a sincere admission of a mistake rather than a response to a customer service complaint. Cook went as far as to recommend using competitor map products while Apple gets its own up to par. Not only did his apology calm the uproar, but it demonstrated a kinder, humbler Apple.
[Image: Flickr user StudioTempura]