Tim Cook 'did not have to write' Apple's apology, argues analyst

Necessary and just-plain-smart PR, counters another expert

Apple CEO Tim Cook's apology earlier was unnecessary, according to a Wall Street analyst said.

"Despite the chorus of negative media coverage around the new Apple maps, Tim Cook did not have to write this letter and bring even more attention to this issue," Brian White of Topeka Capital Markets, said in a note to clients Friday.

"However, we believe he made the right decision to protect and further enhance Apple's brand in the long run," White added.

White's take was at odds with most analysts and public relations experts, who as they applauded the mea culpa, said it was necessary to stem the rising tide of complaints and negative press.

Calling Cook's open letter "refreshing and stunning," Jonathan Rick, a public relations professional who operates a Washington, D.C.-based digital communications consultancy, said the missive met several important goals.

"He acknowledges the problem upfront and doesn't make excuses," said Rick in a email Friday that expanded on previous comments. "He apologizes directly and without qualification. And he takes the unprecedented step to name and promote competitors (not one, not two, but four of them)."

Earlier today, Cook issued a statement - and Apple promoted it on its website's home page - that apologised for the mapping misstep.

"We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better," Cook wrote. He promised that Apple's Maps app will improve over time, and in the interim urged customers to try alternatives, including Microsoft's Bing app and Google's Maps, which can be accessed through the iPhone's built-in Safari browser.

John Gruber, who writes the Daring Fireball blog, and is one of Apple's most vocal supporters, called the letter "humble and honest," but nothing more.

White, on the other hand, argued that although the apology wasn't needed, it will benefit Apple in the long run.

The Hoover Dam bypass bridge south of the dam appears to have melted in this 3D view of the area in Apple's new Maps app.

"Longer term, we believe this apology will help Apple further its brand of trust with customers, and it is only a matter of time before the company delivers a great map experience," White wrote.

Rick agreed, but put it very differently.

"Apple customers are savvy and forgiving," Rick said. "They realize that mapping the world is long-term drudgery, and as we saw with Siri and Lightning, neither half-baked products nor gouging will dampen their fervor."

By "gouging," Rick was referring to complaints that Apple has not included an adapter for the new "Lightning" connector on the iPhone 5 with each new smartphone. Instead, Apple will charge customers $19 to $39 for various Lightning adapters and cables.

White also went further than most in characterizing Apple's move.

"For the largest company on the planet and soon to be the most profitable in the history of the world, this letter shows courage and proves to skeptics that Apple is not too big to admit mistakes, nor forgetful of who made Apple the most valuable Company in the first place," White said.

Others, including Rick, did not see any "courage" in the step, but simply a smart PR move.

"[Apple's] public apologies accomplish what they need to: damage control," asserted Rick. "Whether it's an open letter, an email to a blogger, or a news conference, Cupertino knows how to contain a crisis. Of course, given the company's Teflon touch, what works for Apple will not work for everyone."

Dany Gaspar, director of digital strategy at Levick, a Washington, D.C. firm that helps companies deal with public relations emergencies, also viewed Cook's letter more pragmatically than White.

"An open letter from a company's CEO is typically an effective method of dealing with a PR mistake initially, but the actual letter needs to include specific steps that the company is making to solve the issue and not be general," said Gaspar in an email today.

Gaspar cited Cook's communique for failing to spell out exactly what Apple was doing to make its Maps app up-to-snuff. "[It should have mentioned] changes they are making internally to their mapping development team and [information about] adding the option of download[ing] the Google Maps application," he said, repeating unsolicited advice he gave Apple last week.

The Maps brouhaha -- some have termed it a debacle or disaster -- will not impact sales of Apple's new iPhone 5, White predicted. "Given the insatiable demand for the iPhone 5, we do not expect the map issue to impact this ramp," he said.

Earlier this week, Apple said it had sold more than 5 million iPhone 5 smartphones in the first three days of availability, a 20% increase over the number of iPhone 4S devices sold during a similar stretch in 2011.

Cook's apology not only made national news, but sparked more than its share of comedic responses.

"Until we get this straightened out, I strongly urge you to stay at home," humorist Andy Borowitz had Cook advising iPhone owners today in his New Yorker column. "This only impacts Apple customers who have someplace to go," Cook said in Borowitz's made-up mockery. "From what we can tell, most of our customers just go back and forth to the Apple Store and that's pretty much it."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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