Apple apologises for Maps switch 'frustration'

 
Amazing iOS6 Maps blog One 3D-rendered image appears to show cars melted into the road's tarmac

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Apple's chief executive has penned an apology following a barrage of criticism caused by its switch to a new maps system.

Tim Cook acknowledged that users had been frustrated by the move and repeated a pledge to improve the software.

In the meantime he suggested users download an alternative product from one of its rivals.

A link to the letter appears on the firm's home page.

Although the company has issued several apologies over recent months, this one is unusual for its prominence and the fact it was written by Mr Cook himself.

Other examples since July include a letter from the firm's former head of hardware engineering saying that ditching a green ratings scheme had been "a mistake"; a statement acknowledging that changes to its retail stores had been made in error; and emails to iCloud users apologising for an interruption to their email service.

'Frustration'

"At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customer," Mr Cook wrote in the latest case.

Rory Cellan-Jones: 'You only need to find a few mistakes and then you've got a big hoo-ha'

"With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better."

Apple screenshot Apple's apology features prominently on its homepage

He noted that more than 100 million mobile device users had upgraded to the new iOS software, replacing a Google-powered maps app with Apple's own software which relies on licensed navigation data.

"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," he added.

Bizarre images

The Amazing iOS 6 Maps blog has documented the many errors with Apple's new system.

Examples include satellite maps that only show cloud cover, towns located in the wrong place, missing bodies of water, absent roads, incorrectly spelt place names and suggested driving directions that would take users on odd routes.

In addition some of the 3D rendered images look bizarre including a flattened Eiffel Tower, cars that appear to have melted into roads and a road that looks like it has plunged into the US's Hoover Dam.

The product led the New York Times' tech columnist David Pogue, who is often complimentary about Apple's efforts, to write: "Maps is an appalling first release. It may be the most embarrassing, least usable piece of software Apple has ever unleashed."

John Gruber, a tech blogger who closely follows Apple, said his sources had confirmed that Apple had until midway through 2013 to run on its licence deal with Google.

He added that it had decided to act now in order to add turn-by-turn directions to its offering without having to concede extra branding rights or permission for further data collection to the search giant.

App Store screenshot Apple has started promoting a maps section in its iOS App Store
'Unusual move'

Although owners of older iOS devices have had the option to avoid the system upgrade - forfeiting other improvements - consumers buying the new iPhone 5 have had no option but to use the current Maps app as the device's default option.

One tech analyst said Apple's own users would now prove key to the product's improvement.

"This apology is definitely an unusual move for Apple and it shows that the current service isn't up to its usual standards," said Thomas Husson from Forrester.

"Strategically Apple had to provide a service on its own, not just because it is competing with Google's Android service and lacked turn-by-turn directions, but also because it had to build up its own proprietary data.

"The timing may not have been what it wanted it to be, but it will now be able to crowdsource improvements from the millions of customers who are using the service over the coming months."

Another company watcher suggested that Mr Cook's decision to highlight alternative mapping products was intended to prevent the issue from damaging sales of its new devices.

"This reads like not only an admission of poor quality but also that the product wasn't ready to go to market - Apple took a chance and it didn't pay off," Chris Green, principal technology analyst at Davies Murphy Group Europe, told the BBC.

"This is the worst possible time of year to potentially dampen iPhone 5 sales as the Christmas shopping months will be the most lucrative period in the product's lifecycle.

Screenshot comparing Google and Apple maps Users have complained that roads shown on Google's maps (left) are missing from Apple's (right)

"Apple has realised it is not worth damaging sales over something as trivial as maps and they won't lose any revenues by diverting people to products that work."

Apology appeal

Despite the number of recent public apologies Apple is proving resistant to issuing one to Samsung.

Lawyers from the companies attended the first day of a hearing at the Court of Appeal in London to discuss applications by both parties to challenge different parts of a recent design rights judgement.

Apple is resisting a demand that it should publish an advert in UK newspapers and on its website acknowledging that the South Korean firm had not infringed the registered design of the iPad.

A judge issued the original ruling after rejecting Apple's lawsuit on the grounds that Samsung's Galaxy Tab computer were "not as cool" as the US firm's.

Rory Cellan-Jones compares Apple's new map app with Google maps

 

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