Some time after the big oil spill, we inevitably get the “open letter” from the oil company CEO. It’s a time-honored tradition in disaster management.
Following Apple’s maps lapse, Tim Cook has taken a page from the same playbook. His open letter appeared last week.
Tim’s apology was deep and sincere. He said that Maps fell short of Apple’s standards and pledged to make improvements quickly. He also suggested that customers download other mapping apps, implicitly saying that those apps are currently superior to Apple’s.
Many have reacted positively to Tim’s letter, finding it refreshingly honest.
Personally, it made me squirm a bit. Not because I prefer Apple to be untruthful, but because I want it to be even more truthful. Hold that thought for a minute.
The last time Apple had to deal with a public outcry of this magnitude was during the iPhone 4 “antennagate” controversy. Steve Jobs called a press conference, which in itself signaled the seriousness of the situation.
On stage, Steve acknowledged the issue, but he also put it in context. He talked about signal strength as an industry-wide issue. He noted that only a small percentage of iPhone users would have issues, but gave all iPhone 4 buyers a free bumper anyway. Antennagate fizzled.
When I say that I wish that Tim were more truthful, I mean that I wish that he would have put the Maps issue into context.
Apple has often stated that it can’t allow other companies to compromise its customers’ experience. (Remember Flash, may it rest in peace.) With Google Maps, Apple found itself in exactly that situation — at the mercy of its chief rival, no less. For two years, Google had made turn-by-turn directions available in Android phones, but not in iPhone.
So Apple certainly had valid reasons to replace Google Maps, but Tim’s letter made no mention of them. It read as if Apple had simply tried to make its own mapping app and shipped a flawed product. Sorry.
Of course, it would be a challenge to talk about Maps as a necessary business decision and well thought-out app when the end result is disappointing.
But that was the opportunity of this open letter — to put the issue in context, not to simply apologize. Tell us what it takes to build a mapping app and why Apple chose to make this move at this time.
One other problem. Though Maps are an iOS thing and not only an iPhone 5 thing, a huge number of potential Apple customers don’t get that distinction. For them, the news story is about the “flubbed launch” of iPhone 5. Those people need reassurance about Apple’s newest phone.
So I think Apple would have been better served if Tim’s letter touched on the positive as well. Like: “iPhone 5 continues to sell faster than any iPhone in history. It represents an improvement on every level. But yes, there are problems with the mapping feature in iOS 6. We’re sorry for that. Here’s why it happened, and here’s what we’re doing to fix it.”
I think most people appreciate an apology. But they appreciate information even more.