Skip to main content

Apple seems to have gotten a little bit lost

By Nilay Patel, Special to CNN
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Sun September 30, 2012
Journalists and attendees line up outside of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco to attend Apple's special media event to introduce the iPhone 5 on Wednesday, September 12. The phone goes on sale in stores Friday. Journalists and attendees line up outside of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco to attend Apple's special media event to introduce the iPhone 5 on Wednesday, September 12. The phone goes on sale in stores Friday.
HIDE CAPTION
Unveiling the iPhone 5
Unveiling the iPhone 5
Unveiling the iPhone 5
Unveiling the iPhone 5
Unveiling the iPhone 5
Unveiling the iPhone 5
Unveiling the iPhone 5
Unveiling the iPhone 5
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook had to apologize for new Maps app on iPhone 5 and iOS 6
  • Nilay Patel: In its competition with Google, Apple seems to have gotten a bit lost
  • He says it's more than a little strange for Apple to tell customers to try other products
  • Patel: No company wants to be praised for its apologies; Apple needs to get it right

Editor's note: Nilay Patel is the managing editor of The Verge, an online website that covers technology, science, art and culture. Follow him on Twitter: @reckless

(CNN) -- Apple CEO Tim Cook had to apologize for the buggy new Maps app in the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 on Friday, saying that his company "fell short" of making a "world-class product." It was a gracious and humble admission of a major mistake -- a sign that Apple takes its customers seriously and conducts itself with integrity.

"We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused," Cook said in a letter posted on the company's website. "We are doing everything we can to make Maps better." That relentless focus on treating customers right is why Apple has been the undisputed leader of the technology business for the past decade. But while the apology is commendable, the maps mistake was entirely Apple's fault.

Previous versions of the iPhone and iOS used Google Maps, which are the industry standard. No one was complaining about Google Maps. Sure, they're not perfect, but we're all used to their errors and gaps. But Apple broke its contract to use Google Maps a year earlier than expected because of corporate politics. Google is a competitor, and Apple wanted to break ties and control its own maps. That's an extra year in which Apple could have improved its own maps — an extra year which was apparently sorely needed.

Opinion: Maps app is not the only Apple misstep

Nilay Patel
Nilay Patel

The timing of the move surprised even Google, which is scrambling to build its own maps app for the iPhone and iPad. It reportedly won't be ready until the end of the year. Until then, Apple is stuck telling unhappy customers that they can visit Google Maps in the iPhone's Web browser or download other map apps like MapQuest or Bing. Needless to say, it's more than a little strange for Apple to suggest customers to try a Microsoft product.

To be fair, Apple's new maps add important features Google wasn't willing to share. The iPhone 5 has built-in, turn-by-turn directions, and the maps are faster and prettier. But for most people, the drawbacks far outweigh the benefits.

What good is voice navigation if it gets you lost? Who cares if the 3-D map is prettier when it thinks the Brooklyn Bridge has been demolished and the Statue of Liberty destroyed? These aren't questions anyone is used to asking about Apple products, because Apple doesn't usually ship broken products. Apple's failures are magnified by the company's track record of perfectionism — perfectionism that comes from putting customers first.

Apple CEO: "We are extremely sorry" for Maps frustration

It's understandable why Apple felt it needed to switch away from Google. Being dependent on a competitor isn't great for any company. Apple likes to control its own destiny. Cook has said the company needs to "own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make."

Perhaps you've heard of it. The sixth version of Apple's pioneering phone went on sale in stores Friday and boasts a larger screen, more powerful processor, better camera and the ability to run on faster 4G LTE wireless networks. Apple took 2 million pre-orders for the phone in the first 24 hours. Perhaps you've heard of it. The sixth version of Apple's pioneering phone went on sale in stores Friday and boasts a larger screen, more powerful processor, better camera and the ability to run on faster 4G LTE wireless networks. Apple took 2 million pre-orders for the phone in the first 24 hours.
iPhone 5
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>

Maps are without question a critical feature for smartphones and tablets, and it makes sense for Apple to build its own. But it doesn't make sense to switch away from Google before Apple's own product is ready, and it's doubtful iPhone 5 sales would have been even slightly affected because the Google Maps app on Android is slightly better. Now it's fair to wonder if potential upgraders and switchers aren't holding back because they don't want to be forced into using inferior maps.

Google: No plans 'yet' for iOS 6 mapping app

Apple deserves praise for being forthright and direct in its apology, but no company wants to be praised for its apologies. It's more important for Apple to understand its mistake and try to prevent it from happening again. Apple is the most valuable company in the world because it has always fought battles for the consumer, not for the company. But in its race to win a corporate victory over Google, Apple seems to have gotten a little bit lost.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nilay Patel.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:50 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT