Tim Cook’s apology was a strategic anomaly and opens up an attack vector for Android vendors

Yes, the Maps thing is still happening. In this week’s Monday note, Jean-Louis Gassée makes the case that most of the $30 billion or 4.5-percent of Apple’s value that has come off of the AAPL stock price is due to the Maps issue (AAPL is recovering today). He might be overstating the matter, but the opposite view is also not true: Farhad Manjoo’s gushing post, entitled “Mapgate Is Over. Apple Won. Customers Won. Google, Not So Much,” about CEO Tim Cook’s apology totally misses the bigger picture.

In a single succinct, sincere, and brilliant note, Tim Cook has put Apple’s Maps fiasco to bed. It was a beautiful thing.

It wasn’t. It was ugly. More importantly—it opens up a serious marketing hole.

Cook issued the apology and offered customers third-party alternatives not only because Maps is not as good as the Google version, but also because it is not going to be any time soon.

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.

Not weeks, not months. As we now know, mapping is a very hard problem to solve that is a long way from being behind Apple. It doesn’t just require money; it requires time, attention, and competence. I am not saying Apple will never get there. I am just saying it won’t get there this year.

Do not get me wrong: For most current and prospective iPhone users, Maps’ quality is not a deal-breaker. This will not affect iPhone sales drastically, if at all (I am unusually in agreement with analysts here).

But it most certainly is a competitive issue—not only for phones but also for tablets.

Google Maps’ backend, in almost every way, is superior to Apple’s Maps data (compared to the barely-updated-in-five-years Apple version that has been languishing on iOS). The disparity is even more drastic when you compare the Maps app that is updated every few weeks on Android. As someone who carries an iPhone and Android device with me at all times (because), I have long given up reaching for the iPhone when it is time for mapping. That is not going to change with the iPhone 5.

And this is the problem…Apple’s devices are premium devices. Apple’s customers pay a premium because they expect the best of everything—the fastest chips, the thinnest and lightest device, best browser, and on and on. The best overall experience.

However, they cannot get this experience in mapping. Cook’s apology eliminates any ambiguity; he recommended competitors’ services. The recommendation part of the apology at least seemed out of character and unprecedented for Apple leadership.

During the one-year life of the iPhone 5, Apple probably will not be able to declare itself the best mapping experience. Even if it somehow catches up to Google, the open letter produced a press marketing victory for Google.

The problem now: Apple has a big attack vector open to Android vendors. Apple had been closing down the big Android differentiators, like LTE, bigger screen, etc., in the iPhone 5, but now—and to the immediate future— Android still has a marketing advantage. Moreover, as you can see, the vendors already picked up on it. Motorola is running fake address ads, with Samsung and Nokia all over this too.

Make no mistake; this is a big public black eye. At my son’s birthday party this weekend, three different people, who know almost nothing about technology, telling me they are hesitant about going to the iPhone because they “need maps,” approached me.

While explaining to them that Apple’s Maps is a very capable solution and has features in Flyover and turn-by-turn that iOS 5 Maps lacked, the media message is clear: Apple is inferior to Google in Maps. The iPhone 5, which is a device far ahead of any other mobile device out there in almost every respect, now has its CEO-sanctioned Achilles Heel that could hurt Apple’s growth.

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Avatar for Seth Weintraub Seth Weintraub

Publisher and Editorial Director of the 9to5/Electrek sites.

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