Did Tim Cook’s Apology Hurt Apple’s Brand Value?

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Much has been made of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) chief executive Tim Cook apologizing for the company’s new maps app and his suggestions to customers that they use rival programs while the iPhone maker fixes the issues in it software. But most analysts agree that while the very public acceptance of failure was probably unnecessary, the move will strengthen the company’s brand in the longer term.

“Despite the chorus of negative media coverage around the new Apple maps, Tim Cook did not have to write this letter and bring even more attention to this issue,” Topeka Capital analyst Brian White wrote in a note to clients on Friday. “However, we believe he made the right decision to protect and further enhance Apple’s brand in the long run.”

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Cook’s open letter to users, posted on the Apple website’s home page, apologized for the company’s move to replace Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Maps with its own-home grown navigation application in the latest version of its mobile operating system. Google Maps had been part of iOS devices since the first iPhone was launched in 2007, but talks between the two smartphone software rivals reportedly broke down on the issue of the inclusion of a voice-enabled turn-by-turn navigation feature. However, Apple’s new maps app did not receive great initial reviews from either users or tech reviewers, who complained about the lack of public transit options as well its several data errors.

“We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better,” Cook wrote in his letter, promising that Apple was working on improving the app and suggesting that customers use alternatives such as Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Bing app or Google or Nokia’s (NYSE:NOK) web-based maps in the interim.

White said Apple’s acceptance that it failed its users will add to its “brand of trust with customers” and called the move courageous. “For the largest company on the planet and soon to be the most profitable in the history of the world, this letter shows courage and proves to skeptics that Apple is not too big to admit mistakes, nor forgetful of who made Apple the most valuable company in the first place,” White said.

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber was also impressed by Cook’s letter, but kept his reaction more understated in simply calling the move “humble and honest.”

Jonathan Rick, a public relations professional, told Computerworld that the letter was “refreshing and stunning” and said it was good “damage control” from the company. “He acknowledges the problem upfront and doesn’t make excuses,” Rick said of CEO Cook. “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).”

Both White and Rick agreed that Apple’s misstep was not likely to hurt sales. “Given the insatiable demand for the iPhone 5, we do not expect the map issue to impact this ramp,” White wrote.

“Apple customers are savvy and forgiving,” Rick told Computerworld. “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.”

Shares of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) closed Friday over 2% at $652.59.

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