Apple’s Maps snafu nothing new – just bigger
By Richard Beales
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has apologized for leaving customers frustrated – and lost. The problem is a new mapping application, rife with both errors and omissions. Launch problems arenāt new. Steve Jobs flubbed pricing of the original iPhone, went too early with a flawed MobileMe cloud service, and had to deal with the iPhone 4ās imperfect antenna. But Appleās increased size and rising competition make avoiding slip-ups increasingly important.
Consider, for instance, Jobsā decision to cut the price of the original iPhone by $200 soon after its appearance five years ago. That risked angering early buyers. But the scale of any Apple snafu has changed dramatically. Back then, the company sold 270,000 of its revolutionary new handsets in the first two days. Following last Fridayās launch of the iPhone 5, it clocked more than 5 million sales over the weekend.
The new handset has been mostly well received, so the Maps glitch in the new iOS 6 operating system has arguably cost Apple some $20 billion in market capitalization in recent days. Thatās not a huge deal for the most valuable company in the world, worth well over $600 billion. But itās a reminder that the omnipresence of iPhones and other Apple products makes any kind of problem a bigger one than it used to be.
Then thereās the competitive element. Appleās premature release of its own mapping app stemmed at least partly from a desire to end its reliance on Googleās service, which was built into all prior versions of the iPhone and iPad operating system. Google produces the Android platform which now powers the vast majority of smartphones made by Apple rivals like Samsung. Android and iOS together accounted for 85 percent of the smartphone market in the second quarter, according to IDC, though Appleās share slipped from a year earlier as users awaited the iPhone 5.
The closed ecosystem in which Appleās elegant hardware and easy-to-use software co-exist has always been a big selling point. Now Cook has had to suggest users turn to rival map services until Appleās improves. Though the Maps app trouble is only a hiccup for now, it calls that user experience into question. If competitors can capitalize on that while improving their own hardware and software, it will make Cookās job a lot harder.