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Cook's 'Mapology' doesn't explain premature Maps launch

What's missing from Apple CEO Tim Cook's letter is any explanation as to why Apple would publish a beta product it knew would frustrate customers.

A "word cloud" of Tim Cook's Apple Maps apology letter.

This morning, Tim Cook represented Apple in taking responsibility for the inauspicious beginning of Apple's new iOS 6 Maps. He said that "we," Apple, are "extremely sorry" for not "delivering the best experience possible" to customers. He offered alternatives, including Google Maps, so that customers wouldn't suffer as much while Apple is "working non-stop" to offer a Maps app that lives up to "an incredibly high standard."

Cook at the iPhone 5 launch. CNET

He expresses an appropriate level of contrition and hope, going from speaking of extreme sorriness for inflicting Maps on the users of 100 million-plus iOS 6 devices to promising to bring Maps up to the company's high standards. 

Cook went for some empathy in sharing that Maps is a major initiative that had to be created from the ground up. He also implied that iPhone users could help facilitate bringing Maps up to snuff, writing that Maps will get better as customers use it and provide feedback to Apple. 

He also noted, without glee, that despite the problems, Maps users have searched for nearly 500 million locations so far. That could be interpreted as "it's really not that bad," but if you want, use the alternatives. 

Of course, Maps isn't a complete disaster; it's a beta product. For most searches you will not be led astray, if you don't mind the absence of public transit data and a street view, and slow flyovers on 3G and poor location and landmark searches. (See CNET's Transit directions field test: Apple Maps vs. Google MapsTurn-by-turn field test: Apple Maps vs. Google Maps, and Local search field test: Apple Maps vs. Google Maps).

What's missing from Cook's letter is any explanation as to why Apple would knowingly publish a beta product that frustrates users and causes the company to send out a note to customers like the one below. The Apple CEO could have added something like, "We would have preferred to spend more time making Maps incredibly great, but we couldn't reach an agreement with Google to provide voice navigation for the Apple iOS app as it does on Android. We felt it was an important enough feature to end our agreement with Google and accelerate the deployment of our iOS 6 Maps app." (See AllThingsDigital: Apple-Google Maps Talks Crashed Over Voice-Guided Directions.)

Of course, corporations don't like disclosing backroom negotiations with the public, and Apple has a culture of secrecy and isn't know for its transparency. Instead, Cook asks for forgiveness, gives a shout-out to alternative maps apps, and basically promises customers that he won't rest until Maps is worthy of the Apple brand. It's a smart way to quell the unrest and buy some credibility, and some time to get Maps right. In the meantime, it would be great to have an iOS 6 Google Maps app

The full letter from Cook:

To our customers,

At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. 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.

We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS. As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover, and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.

There are already more than 100 million iOS devices using the new Apple Maps, with more and more joining us every day. In just over a week, iOS users with the new Maps have already searched for nearly half a billion locations. The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.

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.

Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.

Tim Cook
Apple's CEO