The Maps-Gate Debacle: Is Apple Losing Its Edge?

| About: Apple Inc. (AAPL)
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Ever since Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) released the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 with its new Maps app, everyone's talking about how Apple is stumbling, firing key staff and losing its edge. But let's look at some previous Apple stumbles.

The iPhone: A Previous Apple "Stumble"

Apple is known for releasing products that aren't perfect. Their best-known "imperfect" product is the original iPhone. The first generation iPhone had no cut and paste. It had no GPS. And, it had no video capabilities until the 3rd generation iPhone 3GS. There was no lack of complaints about these missing features. But did those features really have to be there?

The minimum viable product (MVP) is a term coined by Eric Ries, the author of The Lean Startup. The book and its methodology have developed a cult following in Silicon Valley as well as in startups around the world. It's based on the premise that if you wait until your product is perfect, you will lose your head start and your competitors will leave you in their dust.

Sure, Apple could have waited another year and released a "completed" iPhone. But it didn't. In doing so, it was the first one out with a touchscreen "phone, an iPod and an internet device", (words made famous during Steve Jobs' introduction of the iPhone).

The Apple Maps App

Was Apple's Maps an incomplete and flawed product? Yes. So was, which later became a better product called iCloud. The same goes for Ping, Apple's failed attempt at a social network within iTunes. Then way back, there was Apple's e-world, an online portal that was a little ahead of its time. But, despite these failures, Apple went on to make billions for its shareholders.

Grant it. For an app that's supposed to take you home safely, Maps was originally a little too flawed. As a result, Tim Cook went public to apologize for it and eventually fired the person responsible for Maps. Not much difference from when Steve Jobs fired the person responsible for in front of his whole team.

The stock market immediately reacted with stories about cracks in Apple's senior management issues at Apple. Frankly, I like seeing a CEO take action and hold people responsible for their actions. In a rational business environment, I see that as a sign of strength. Not so for the stock market, especially in Apple's case. But, then again, since when is the stock market rational?

Apple Builds Platforms, Not Applications

Is Apple known for the best software applications? Not really. Is Numbers the best spreadsheet on the Mac? No, Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Excel probably wins there.

Apple builds hardware and a software platform to run on that hardware. But you can't release a Mac OS or an iPhone without some basic apps. So, Apple developed MacWrite for the first Mac and iOs Pages app for the iPhone. Were they the best word processors? No. Does it matter? It doesn't appear to have mattered so far.

Apple creates a development environment, puts in some basic apps and leaves third parties to create the real jewels. Apple developers not only love the opportunity, but profit handsomely from it.

Who's The Winner in the Maps Debacle? Google or Apple?

What was Apple trying to achieve by dropping the original Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) powered Maps app? Did Apple just want to compete with Google or was it also playing its hand in order to get Google to pay attention to iOS mapping?

Google had released a Maps app with turn by turn instructions for Android a long time ago, but didn't seem to be in a rush to improve the iOS version. Why shouldn't Google make its Android version more enticing when it was still getting all of the maps traffic it needed from its neglected Apple version?

But, once it got booted off the iPhone, isn't it amazing how it didn't take long for Google to bring an improved version with turn by turn to the iPhone? So, who really won? The iPhone user was definitely one winner.

Google's Map App vs. Apple's Map app

As for the battle of the Map apps, I've done my personal side-by-side comparisons with Google's new iOS app and Apple's Map app. Google's app has shown me the traffic. But, it also charted a course right into that traffic. Whereas Apple's app routed me around it.

Google's Map app has taken me for senseless loops, just as Apple's Map app has done. Nevertheless, Apple's Map app is getting better by the day and there's something about saying "Siri, take me home", or "Siri, take me to Nik's lake-house" that makes Apple's Map app and Siri's familiar voice my navigators of choice.

Was the PR good for Apple? No. Neither was the PR good for the iPhone 4 which had what was dubbed "antenna gate", as it went on to smash all of the previous iPhones' sales records. Those were followed by stories about the "disappointing" 4S which again beat previous iPhone sales records.

Is Apple Finished Innovating?

The original iPhone team of about 1,000 employees was put together and started work on the "Project Purple" three years before the iPhone was released. The iPad was on the workbench even before the iPhone but Apple waited until the tablet could be produced at a cost allowing them to sell it at the right price point.

Apple has nurtured an internal culture of innovation. But, if you are one of those who believe that Apple can't innovate without Steve Jobs, do you really think that Steve wasn't pushing a few other projects that are currently sitting under a black cloth in Cupertino just waiting for the right price point or the right level of "incompletion"?

Is Apple finished innovating? Just watch.

Is, Apple Really Stumbling?

No more than it has stumbled in the past. Has Apple finished stumbling? Probably not. But, funny enough, it tends to stumble all the way to the bank.

Disclosure: I am long AAPL and will buy more on dips. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.