Apple: We Fell Short

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Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) flew too close to the sun. Apparently, being that close to a blistering-hot star was enough to warp terrain images and burn out map details and public-transit information.

And now Apple's Tim Cook is apologizing for Apple Maps.

"At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers," he wrote this morning. "With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better."

Apple has taken a lot of heat since last week's iOS 6 update that replaced Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) mapping platform with its in-house solution. Critics largely think Apple's product is vastly inferior, but Cook isn't just apologizing.

Selling maps to the stars' homes
Beyond merely suggesting that Apple Maps will get better over time, especially as owners of iOS 6 devices begin using it more, Cook isn't afraid of directing users to more seasoned solutions.

"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 offers.

Did you catch that?

The CEO of the world's most valuable company isn't afraid to name Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Bing, AOL's (NYSE: AOL  ) MapQuest, Google, and Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) as useful alternatives, even though Microsoft, Google, and Nokia are heated rivals in the smartphone space. Apple also isn't afraid to draw attention to Waze, the rapidly growing free app with more than 20 million users.

Is that cockiness in the face of humility? Is Apple simply that unafraid of shooing away the 100 million people who have already upgraded to iOS 6 since last week?

No. This is just Cook once again brandishing his brilliant ways.

Read between the lines
On the surface, yes, this is an apology. Apple isn't afraid to own up to its mistakes. It did so quickly with 2010's Antennagate, and it's taking the blame this time around, too.

However, this is no mere mea culpa. It's a tactical apology, and it's pretty smart. The paragraph offering five near-term alternatives is a work of art. It's deliberate. It's not an admission that Apple Maps is inferior to so many readily available mapping applications. Read it again. For starters, he's telling Apple fans how easy it is to solve the problem on iOS devices. Just download one of three popular free apps or turn website addresses of two other feasible options into icons.

The message is that just because Apple Maps isn't up to snuff while it's still in the crib, that doesn't mean the platform's toast. Users have access to the same alternatives offered on other smartphones, and the solutions are quick and seamless. In other words, don't return that iPhone 5 for a Samsung Android device.

However, Apple also manages to call out Google. Notice how Big G is the fourth of five names mentioned? That has to be intentional. Everyone's assuming that Google is the alternative, and rightfully so since Google Maps is pretty darn good and it was the default mapping solution on iOS devices until last week's update. However, Cook rattles off Google fourth in a list of five alternatives.

Heck, he even calls out Google for not having an App Store application ready to go. Why else would he point to Bing, MapQuest, and Waze as simple App Store downloads before turning to the slightly more detailed workarounds for users to get Google or Nokia solutions on their home screens?

Yes, the class act of Cupertino got it wrong with Apple Maps. It will learn. It will improve. However, you have to admire the brazenness of a company willing to take subtle jabs at its modern rival in the form of an apology letter.

I can't wait to see how Apple shines in its next mistake.

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The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google, as well as creating a bull call spread position in Apple and a synthetic covered call position in Microsoft. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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