Apple Inc chief executive Tim Cook apologized on Friday to customers frustrated with glaring errors in its new Maps service and, in an unusual move for the consumer giant, directed them to rival services such as Google Inc’s Maps instead.
The rare apology follows Apple’s launch of its own mapping service earlier this month, when it began selling the iPhone 5 and rolled out iOS 6, the highly anticipated update to its mobile software platform.
Users complained that the new Maps service — based on Dutch navigation equipment and digital map maker TomTom NV’s data — contained geographical errors and gaps in information, and that it lacked features that made Google Maps so popular from public transit directions to traffic data and street-view pictures.
“We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better,” Cook said in a letter to customers released on its Web site, adding that the company “fell short” of its commitment to deliver “the best experience possible to our customers.”
Unusually, he suggested that customers download rival mapping services available in Apple’s App Store while the company improves the product.
“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 Web sites and creating an icon on your home screen to their Web app,” he said in the letter.
Apple is typically loath to tout rival services and the contrite apology by Cook is an indication of how Apple is changing under the chief executive who took over last year from co-founder Steve Jobs just before his death.
“It is a bit unusual but at the same time, Tim is keeping Apple’s commitment to provide the best user experience for customers,” Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu said. “A key reason for Apple’s success is keeping customers happy so we think this is a good move.”
“People forget that Google Maps started out inferior to Mapquest and Yahoo Maps,” he added.
Apple’s home-grown Maps feature — stitched together by acquiring mapping companies and data from many providers including Waze, Intermap, DigitalGlobe and Urban Mapping — was introduced with much fanfare in June by software chief Scott Forstall. It was billed as one of the key highlights of the updated iOS 6 software.
The last time Apple faced such widespread criticism was in 2010, when users complained of signal reception issues on the then-new iPhone 4 model.
A defiant Jobs at the time rejected any suggestion the iPhone 4’s design was flawed, but offered consumers free phone cases at a rare, 90-minute press conference called to address those complaints.
While Apple fixed the issue, Jobs had apologized to users only after he was specifically asked if he was sorry.