When it came, Tim Cook’s open letter offering a full mea culpa for Apple’s disastrous iOS Maps app was something of a shock.
A company renowned for its ‘never-apologise, never-explain’ approach was not only saying sorry for an app which has caused the biggest crisis for Cupertino in years, it was making it abundantly clear that the buck stopped with them. No ifs, no buts, this was Apple’s fault.
Compare that to the death-grip disaster surrounding the iPhone 4. It took Apple weeks to grasp hold of the problem (pardon the pun), and while then-CEO Steve Jobs told the press “we’re not perfect”, he then went on to trash rival phones which suffered from the same issue.
As a PR tactic, it worked brilliantly, diverting attention from the central issue and causing competitors to go apoplectic with rage. That was just how Jobs and co planned it. This time round, that option doesn’t exist.
The death-grip issue might have faded with memory, but everyone knows Apple hates saying sorry and rarely owns up to mistakes.
Just last week Phil Schiller took time to reply to an email from an irate user regarding bumps and scrapes appearing on his brand new iPhone 5. Schiller’s missive (or should that be dismissive?) read: “Any aluminum [sic] product may scratch or chip with use, exposing its natural silver color [sic]. That is normal.”
The fact is that Cook cannot afford to be so terse and dismissive. Maps has been a disaster, despite his apology for owners of the 100 million iOS devices already using the app. How many of those would happily go back to iOS 5 right now? Pretty much all of them, we’re guessing.
Cook is to be roundly applauded, though, for telling users to try other mapping apps like Bing or Waze and even explaining how iPhone owners can get Nokia or Google Maps onto their home screens via the web.
Sure, the apology could have come quicker, but let’s face it, it’s a marked improvement on Apple’s death-grip PR fail. The question is, where does this leave Maps? Well for one thing, the brand has been so badly damaged that Apple is going to have to make improvements over the next year a key focus.
That means that Maps will almost certainly be the central plank of iOS 7 when it’s revealed at WWDC next year.
In the meantime, Google can’t get a standalone app into the store fast enough. As for Apple, does this suggest a more refreshing, open approach to its customers? Don’t bank on it, especially if Schiller’s Jobs-esque email is anything to go by.
What it does show is that Apple is becoming more fallible and that its impressive array of smartphone rivals are now more primed than ever to pounce.
The apology is just the start. Apple can’t afford any more slip-ups with Android powering ahead and Windows Phone 8 gearing up for a renewed push.