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Apple's Map mea culpa dings company's sterling image

Someone took a wrong turn in Cupertino.

Acknowledging a rare misstep, Apple CEO Tim Cook apologized Friday for the glitchy Maps app on the new version of iOS. Saying Apple “fell short,” he said “We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers” in a letter on the company’s website. 

“Steve Jobs never would have let this happen,” said Gerald C. Meyers, a professor at the University of Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Business. Correct or not, this sentiment is widespread, and it poses a potential problem for Cook that’s much bigger than an app that invents an airport in Dublin out of thin air.

Tech writers and ordinary users alike tend to expect perfection from Apple, an assumption cultivated under Jobs’ obsessive attention to even the smallest of details. Now, the Maps gaffe shows Apple with a literal as well as a figurative problem with direction, said Tony Costa, a senior analyst at Forrester Research

"The funny thing people are struggling to understand is, given how apparent the bugs are... how did they let it go out the door in the first place?" Costa said, calling some of the glitches "egregious." The misstep "brings in a whole lot of questions about Apple’s future and management team."

Cook’s apology was the right thing to do, said Meyers, but it came too late. Users started grumbling about the app’s shortcomings pretty much from the moment the new OS and the new iPhone were released.

The company’s mea culpa is only half the solution. The other component is actually fixing Maps. "They’ve still got to fix it, no matter how long it takes," Meyers said. "They should pour resources into getting it done right and getting it done quickly."

Some undecided consumers might defect to or stick with Android, and some iPhone customers with older hardware might delay upgrading to the new OS until the mistakes are sorted out, but overall, Costa said the Maps problem probably wouldn't have a significant impact on iPhone sales.  

In an unusual move, Cook recommended that users turn to competitors’ map products for now, even including a how-to link for people who wanted to put an icon for Google Maps’ web app. "I think the damage from the Maps rollout has been done and now they’re trying in some sense to repair some of that damage in good faith," Costa said.

Ceding ground to the competition means Apple is forfeiting access to valuable user data, but Meyers said that in terms of repairing its brand image, Apple didn’t have a choice. Encouraging customers to stick with a flawed Maps app would have only reminded them of Apple’s mistake literally at every turn.

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CNBC's Jon Fortt reports the tech giant's CEO made a rare apology for its map application. Also, the impact on the company's stock and customer loyalty, with Scott Sutherland, Wedbush Securities.