A Close Reading of Two Apple Apologies

Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers the keynote address during the Apple 2012 World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco, California. Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Today’s announcement from Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, in which he addressed dissatisfaction with Apple’s new Maps app in iOS 6, is not the first time Apple has apologized to its customers. The company gave free cases or rebates to iPhone customers during the “Antennagate” glitch in 2010 and issued $100 rebates to customers who bought the first iPhones in the summer of 2007, before Apple dropped the price by $200 only two months later, in September.

But how Jobs and Cook go about making amends is revealing. Fortunately, both put their names beneath written statements, Cook in today’s announcement and Jobs in his letter to Apple customers regarding the iPhone pricing issue. Let’s compare and contrast, yes?

There are differences right at the greeting. Jobs’s letter begins, “To all iPhone customers:” whereas Cook’s begins “To our customers,”. The first sounds like an announcement, the other like a letter. The first is officious, the second has a chummier “our.” The first ends in a formal colon; the second has a softer comma.

Cook: At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. 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.

Jobs: I have received hundreds of e-mails from iPhone customers who are upset about Apple dropping the price of iPhone by $200 two months after it went on sale. After reading every one of these e-mails, I have some observations and conclusions.

The first words out of Cook’s pen are “At Apple.” Jobs? “I.” La compagnie, c’est moi. In fact, Cook never uses the first person in his letter once; Jobs uses it four times.

Cook also gets the apology out front. Jobs has some throat-clearing to do first. There will be recompense, but first we must be schooled.

Cook: We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS. As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.

Jobs: First, I am sure that we are making the correct decision to lower the price of the 8GB iPhone from $599 to $399, and that now is the right time to do it. iPhone is a breakthrough product, and we have the chance to ‘go for it’ this holiday season. iPhone is so far ahead of the competition, and now it will be affordable by even more customers. It benefits both Apple and every iPhone user to get as many new customers as possible in the iPhone ‘tent.’ We strongly believe the $399 price will help us do just that this holiday season.

Both men are offering up a defense of how things got to where they are today, but doesn’t Jobs’s defense seem more full-throated? Cook’s is more, “Hey, we had this thing, we wanted to make it better [leaving out the blood feud Apple has been having with its former Maps provider, Google], so we had to redo it.” Jobs’s is, “I know this is right. Let me explain to you why I know that it is right. It’s even better for you if we do this. We’re doing this.”

Cook: There are already more than 100 million iOS devices using the new Apple Maps, with more and more joining us every day. In just over a week, iOS users with the new Maps have already searched for nearly half a billion locations. The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.

Jobs: Second, being in technology for 30+ years I can attest to the fact that the technology road is bumpy. There is always change and improvement, and there is always someone who bought a product before a particular cutoff date and misses the new price or the new operating system or the new whatever. This is life in the technology lane. If you always wait for the next price cut or to buy the new improved model, you’ll never buy any technology product because there is always something better and less expensive on the horizon. The good news is that if you buy products from companies that support them well, like Apple tries to do, you will receive years of useful and satisfying service from them even as newer models are introduced.

Cook takes an opportunity to get on message here, mentioning some impressive-sounding stats to remind people how popular the iPhone is. He holds out the promise that Maps will get better (particularly if people use it more), and he acknowledges that there has been “feedback” by greatly appreciating it.

Jobs is still in professor mode. “Being in technology for 30+ years …” is one of those false-modesty things people say. It’s like Buzz Aldrin saying, “I know a thing or two about long flights.” It can be charming, but it doesn’t come across that way here. Jobs later writes, “This is life in the technology lane.” Or, as the popular Internet meme says, “Deal with it.” Jobs continues his lecture by explaining the futility of waiting for the best price or the best product. He’s not wrong, but this is cold comfort to someone who just saw the price of his phone drop by a third.

Cook: 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.

Jobs: Third, even though we are making the right decision to lower the price of iPhone, and even though the technology road is bumpy, we need to do a better job taking care of our early iPhone customers as we aggressively go after new ones with a lower price. Our early customers trusted us, and we must live up to that trust with our actions in moments like these.

Cook makes a bold move here, suggesting that people use competing navigation apps and sites, while Apple makes Maps better. Of course, downloading apps from the App Store sends money to Apple, so there’s some upside for Apple if people do that. But including real competitors such as Nokia and Apple’s erstwhile partner, Google—who offer free, Web-based maps—can’t be called self-serving.

Jobs is still making his case. His double “even though” sentence construction betrays his frustration—don’t we all understand how the tech business works? Nevertheless, he is willing to acknowledge that people are unhappy and something should be done to rectify it (he still hasn’t said what that is, yet). Some of this has a whiff of the “I’m sorry if I offended anyone” nonapology. Jobs isn’t backing down from his multipart argument defending Apple’s pricing move, but given the kerfuffle this has generated, he will take some steps to defuse the situation.

Cook: 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 nonstop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.

Tim Cook
Apple’s CEO

Jobs: Therefore, we have decided to offer every iPhone customer who purchased an iPhone from either Apple or AT&T, and who is not receiving a rebate or any other consideration, a $100 store credit towards the purchase of any product at an Apple Retail Store or the Apple Online Store. Details are still being worked out and will be posted on Apple’s website next week. Stay tuned.

We want to do the right thing for our valued iPhone customers. We apologize for disappointing some of you, and we are doing our best to live up to your high expectations of Apple.

Steve Jobs
Apple CEO

Cook wraps it up neatly. He reasserts his first paragraph, while reminding people that Apple aims to make the best products in the world (by the way, from a corporate communications point of view, there’s nothing wrong with putting “Apple” and “the best in the world” in the same sentence.) By saying that Maps should and will live “up to the same incredibly high standard,” Cook is also leaving room that the standard in question is not only a goal, but already a reality for Apple’s other products and services.

Jobs finally comes to the payoff in his penultimate paragraph, laying out the terms of the rebate. He even includes some fine print about “who is not receiving a rebate or any other consideration,” which seems like it was added by some lawyers at the last minute. He uses the word “apologize” in his last sentence—his first expression of any contrition. Cook’s more conversational “extremely sorry” appears all the way up in his third sentence. Jobs also reminds people that Apple is awesome by referring to “your high expectations.” Mistakes have been made, but don’t doubt the overall excellence of the organization, both CEOs seem to say.

Last, note the different signatures. Again, Cook goes for the conversational, with “Apple’s CEO.” You don’t usually see CEOs use the possessive in their title. Jobs follows that more-traditional path with a simple “Apple CEO.” Nobody possessed Steve Jobs.