Friday, September 28, 2012

Tim Cook's Apple Apology

What’s your reaction to this letter?

First, Apple tried spin: “We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it,” a spokeswoman told AllThingsD. But the brush-off backfired, hard. One headline read: “The New Apple: It Doesn’t Just Work.”

Realizing that the story wasn’t dying down, the time came for the CEO to step up. Tim Cook needed to communicate two things—(1) an apology, and (2) a promise to do better—both of which he did with aplomb.

Indeed, his letter is refreshing and stunning. Apple has done apologies before, but Cook is carrying Cupertino into waters where Steve Jobs hesitated to tread: candor, contrition, and competition. That is, he acknowledges the problem upfront and doesn’t make excuses. 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).

This last point is especially interesting in that in order to improve, Apple Maps needs people to use it and submit feedback—which they can’t do if they’re availing themselves of Google Maps, Bing, Waze, or MapQuest. Wow!

My only quibble: Cook could have explained how customers can offer the feedback he cites. In fact, it’s curious that he didn’t he provide a link.

Enough to stem the PR problem?

Yes. Apple customers are savvy and forgiving. 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.

Apple has used this tactic before. Jobs released more than one open letter to deal with problems. What’s your opinion of such tactics? Do they work? Do they calm the waters?

Yes. Measured by hard numbers—namely, Apple’s stock price—these public apologies accomplish what they need to: damage control. Whether it’s an open letter on Flash, an email to a blogger about porn in the app store, or a news conference about antennagate, Cupertino knows how to contain a crisis.

Of course, given the company’s Teflon touch, what works for Apple will not work for everyone.

Is Tim Cook humbler than Steve Jobs?

Yes. Steve Jobs was an artist first and a businessman second. He loved to spar, to extol the beauty of Apple products and trash his competitors for “having no taste.” By contrast, Tim Cook is a businessman through and through. He’s pragmatic and low-key. He may not thrill you, but he won’t infuriate you.

Put another way, Cook doesn’t share his predecessor’s self-righteousness, which allowed him to see the value of a mea culpa.

Addendum: Success! Success! Success! Success! Success! Success!

Addendum (10/3/2012): I enjoyed this subject so much that I ended up turning these thoughts into an essay for Fast Company.

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