Apple CEO apologizes for Maps, pledges improvements

Apple CEO Tim Cook admitted today that the company's controversial new Maps application on iOS "fell short" of Apple's commitment to the "best experience possible" for users.

"We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better," he said in a brief letter posted on Apple's website

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The new application, actually a platform, was introduced with iOS 6 and replaces the Google Maps platform and APIs that had been the basis of iOS map and navigation features. With the release of iOS last week, Maps quickly sparked a flood of criticism for being inaccurate and flakey. Worst of all, it quickly became the butt of jokes, sarcasm and parody.

"We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS," Cook wrote. "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."

According to Cook, more than 100 million iOS devices are using the new Apple Maps, with nearly a half-billion location searches so far. "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," he wrote.

And in the meantime? "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," Cook advises.

"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," he concluded.

Apple has been forming its location-based platform since 2009, investing hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire three startups with specific expertise, with an eye to advancing far beyond basic location searches.

The first, in 2009 for an undisclosed amount, was Placebase, with a system that lets developers add or overlay additional customizable data and features on top of existing map platforms, blending public and private data sets. A year later, in a still-unconfirmed deal, was Poly9, a Canadian startup that according to an Inc.com story "powered map-based apps and programmed interfaces (APIs) for companies such as Microsoft, Apple, and MSNBC. It also powered the annual NORAD Santa Tracker."

The third and best known is Swedish-based C3 Technologies, acquired in August 2011 for $267 million. C3 uses camera-equipped planes and helicopters to create photo-realistic models of physical landscapes.

Location-based data is creating a host of emerging mobile apps and Web-based services. Nokia has made a comparable investment and is marketing its Nokia Maps as a key differentiator for its Lumia smartphones, powered by Microsoft's Windows Phone mobile OS, which in Version 8.0 will have Nokia Maps fully integrated.

Cook's letter indicates that Apple is fully committed to independence from Google's location platform.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnwwEmail: john_cox@nww.com

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