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Apple just won a billion-dollar lawsuit against its biggest competitor, Samsung. The iPhone 5 is selling well, despite overzealous analyst expectations. The company could, at some point in the not-too-distant future, be the world's first to be valued at one trillion dollars.
It can be easy to forget that Apple isn't perfect, but the high-flying company seems to be trying its best to remind us in the wake of its Maps fiasco.
With backlash against the company's less-than-satisfactory mapping app reaching a fever pitch, Apple CEO Tim Cook last week sought to reassure frustrated users. "Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. 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 wrote in a letter addressed to customers.
But it's clear that he doesn't have an immediate solution for the mess his company is in. "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," he advised.
That's a stunning recommendation given that Apple had previously referred to its Maps app as the "most powerful" on the market.
Putting users second?
In retrospect, it's clear that Apple's decision to drop Google Maps was a bad one. But why did Apple ditch Google?
According to Daring Fireball's Jon Gruber it was all an issue of timing:
But if the old agreement between Apple and Google expired in the first half of 2013 (which, again, my own sources familiar with the matter agree to be the case), that means the deal was set to expire halfway through the expected year-long life cycle for iOS 6. If Apple had stuck with Google Maps for another year they would have been forced to renegotiate with Google in a situation where both sides at the table would know that Apple either (a) had to agree to whatever terms Google demanded to extend the deal; or (b) would be forced to swap the mapping back-end of iOS 6 midway through its development cycle.1 However tumultuous a change this has been in iOS 6.0, it would have proven more tumultuous and controversial if Apple had been forced by failed contract negotiations to squeeze it into a 6.1 or 6.2 update come May. And, that would have forced Apple to devote significant engineering resources for an iOS 6 update that could otherwise have been applied to iOS 7. Big changes come in the major release; bug fixes, security updates, and minor improvements come in post-major-release .x updates.
Assuming that Gruber's information is accurate -- which isn't too far-fetched considering he's considered by many to be an unofficial mouthpiece for Apple -- it would appear that Apple decided to jeopardize user experience and customer satisfaction because it didn't want to make it look like it extended a deal with Google in a situation in which Google had the upper hand or, in the absence of a deal, make a change in a non-major-release of iOS.
On one hand, it's not difficult to see why Apple would prefer to avoid negotiating with Google from a position of weakness, but let's be honest: Apple is sitting on an unfathomable amount of cash. It could have decided to do right by iOS users without Peter Oppenheimer, the company's CFO, losing any sleep.
But it didn't, and while this shouldn't be taken as evidence that Apple has jumped the shark, it does highlight the risks Apple faces given its envious position.
Trust is hard to earn, but easy to lose
A big contributor to Apple's strength is the inherent trust consumers have placed in it. When Apple promises a great new product, consumers believe it will, and they prove it by ordering new Apple products by the millions upon release. In short, expectations are Apple's best friend.
When the company fails to deliver, however, and that failure is apparent to just about everybody, Apple doesn't just look bad. It looks like it might be slipping. That is a dangerous perception that the company must defeat, lest consumers start to question whether the Apple capable of delivering magical experiences has been replaced by an Apple more focused on continuing to deliver magical financial results.