What Would Jobs Do?
The killer feature in mobile mapping is turn-by-turn directions; Google for Android has had it for three years(1). This issue has been brewing ever since and Jobs didn't magically fix it when he was at the helm. In the fall of 2009 as Google was releasing turn by turn on Android, Apple bought a mapping company(2). It's pretty clear why Apple bought the company at this point, they bought a company to build maps from the ground up because the terms to get turn-by-turn into iOS were not acceptable to Steve Jobs.
Fast forward three years later. Apple has been working on maps for 3 years solid, their contract with Google is expiring sometime this year. Terms for extending the contract are discussed and not surprisingly, the terms which Steve Jobs found unacceptable three years ago, Tim Cook finds unacceptable. The maps app is good but the data has issues. What is Cook supposed to do? Cave to Google on the same issue Jobs stood fast on?
Take a moment here to realistically assess this from Google's point of view. They have a killer product which is essential to iOS. They know Apple is working on a replacement (Apple bought two fairly large mapping companies... it's not as if this were a secret) for the existing Maps App. Google executives *know* there is no chance Apple's replacement is ready (Google has had a lot of PhD's working no their for 12 years, they know maps) and Google management also has a long list of things they need from Apple. Essentially, Google has Apple in a very uncomfortable place(3) and they have the opportunity to force a major competitor to agree to some tough terms or release a 'half-baked' mapping app. To suggest that Google executives didn't force this choice is to assume they are incompetent (or maybe people forget that Apple and Google are competitors?).
Tim Cook is taking a ridiculous amount of flack for essentially acting in the best interests of Apple with the resources he had. He's executing the plan Jobs put together 3 years ago about as well as can be expected. Would Steve Jobs have caved on terms to Google or would he have released the Maps App as it is? My bet is he'd have made the same call Cook did. Jobs has shown repeatedly that he is capable of inflicting short term pain on customers for the long term benefit of the company(4) and that is exactly what is going on here.
Portraying this as if it's some colosal mistake Cook made last week is ignoring the history of the event, the involvement of Jobs from go, the competence of the opposition, and the fact that maps are a *really* hard problem to solve. Cook is still playing the hand he was dealt and it's unlikely things would have played out too differently if Jobs were at the helm... Well maybe a little differently, it's unlikely Jobs would have ever issued an apology for this. The only way this could have ended significantly differently is if Apple had never agreed to use Google Maps to begin with and that decision was made 5 years ago.
3) Not in the back of a Volkswagon