Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s Eddy Cue, who took charge of map software last month, is racing to turn around the troubled service, firing a senior manager and urging partners to improve data amid an escalating rivalry with Google Inc. (GOOG)
Cue, 48, senior vice president overseeing Apple’s online services, pushed out maps supervisor Richard Williamson in a management shakeup soon after taking over the program, said people familiar with the situation, who asked not to be named because the information isn’t public. Cue is seeking advice from outside map-technology experts and prodding maps provider TomTom NV (TOM2) to fix landmark and navigation data it shares with Apple.
Apple is under pressure to remedy mapping software widely faulted for unreliable landmark searches, routes that get users lost and a lack of public-transit directions. Building confidence in the tools is crucial as Google prepares its own downloadable mapping application for the iPhone and iPad, threatening to lure users and ad dollars away from Apple.
“Maps are a mission-critical application, and consumers have to trust that what they are seeing is correct,” said Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research. “Apple will have to work really hard to re-earn that trust.”
The shares fell 1.8 percent to $574.24 at 9:34 a.m. in New York. Through yesterday, the stock had advanced 44 percent this year.
While flaws in Apple’s map program haven’t dented sales of the iPhone 5, which was introduced in September, the shortcomings were an unusual public misfire that forced Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook to apologize to customers. The bungled introduction of the new mapping features also contributed to the ouster of mobile-software chief Scott Forstall, whose departure was announced in October.
Trudy Muller, a spokeswoman for Apple, declined to comment on Cue’s moves. She referred to the statement Cook issued in September that said the mapping software will improve as more customers use it and more data can be gathered.
“We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make maps better,” Cook said in the statement.
In removing Williamson, Cue wants to install a new leadership team for the group, one person said. A replacement for Williamson wasn’t immediately known. Attempts to reach Williamson weren’t successful.
A team at Apple has been working to fix the mapping mistakes, focusing first on some of the most glaring flaws, one person said. The satellite imagery over the U.K. has been improved and labels for popular U.S. landmarks such as the Washington Monument have been corrected.
The new version of Apple’s iOS mobile software removed Google’s maps app, which had been built into iOS since the iPhone’s introduction in 2007, in favor of its own. Apple’s program added new features such as turn-by-turn navigation and fly-over views of landscapes. IOS software runs iPhones and iPads, which compete with smartphones and tablets that run Google’s Android operating system.
Apple, which also eliminated the preinstalled app for Google’s YouTube video service, built the replacement map program because it wanted to scale back its relationship with Google, two people familiar with Apple’s development of maps said in September.
The mapping missteps highlight Apple’s lack of experience building and maintaining Internet services that need constant upkeep. While Apple excels at designing hardware products like the iPhone and iPad, Google has built its businesses around services such as search, e-mail and mapping -- then selling advertising around that, said Noah Elkin, an analyst at researcher EMarketer Inc.
“It’s difficult to replicate the same level of experience that Google has achieved over a long period of time essentially overnight,” Elkin said.
A critical mistake for Apple was saying before the mapping product was released that it would be one of the best services on the market, Elkin said.
“That was the expectation when it launched,” he said. “It didn’t live up to that, and it was a rare stumble for Apple.”
Williamson, who had worked at Apple for more than a decade, was part of the group that built the software for the original iPhone and is named on several of the smartphone’s patents. In addition to Apple, he worked at NeXT Computer, the company founded by Steve Jobs before he returned to lead Apple in 1997.
As part of the management overhaul last month, Cue -- who oversees Apple’s iTunes, App Store and iCloud services -- was also put in charge of maps and the Siri voice-recognition tool, bringing all of the company’s online services under one group.
Cue’s role overseeing those sorts of services may help turn around the mapping program, said Forrester’s Epps.
“That experience could be a good thing for Apple,” she said.
This isn’t the first time Cue has taken on a troubled product. Jobs had him supervise the MobileMe Internet-storage service after a series of miscues, including a glitch that prevented customers from accessing their e-mail. That service was recently closed and replaced with iCloud.
Cue, who started his career at Apple in the company’s internal information-technology department, became a close confidant of Jobs. As head of iTunes, he spearheaded many of the negotiations with music, television and movie companies. He’s also leading the company’s effort to add more video content for a potential new television product, people familiar with the internal deliberations said earlier this year.
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