Today, Apple CEO Tim Cook posted an apology letter to its customers over the release of its mapping product in iOS6. It is direct and sincere. It also recommends partner (or potentially competitor) products to users. A link to the letter is here, and it is a clear sign of Cook’s leadership style and how this style differs from Jobs’ style.
One of BlueRun Ventures‘ portfolio companies, Waze, is specifically recommended to users. This is quite a turn of events, as just a few months ago, Apple’s announcement that it was launching its own mapping product had led many in the technorati sphere to pronounce Waze roadkill. What a difference solving a hard technical problem makes.
This is not a post that is negative to Apple at all. It is still the most amazing and most valuable company in the tech world, and rightly so. I am a big time Apple fanboy. At the same time, today’s development is actually great news for startups as a whole for several reasons.
There are no sure things. First, today’s note is evidence that just being the 800# Gorilla isn’t enough to guarantee winning a market. With some markets, even if you are the most valuable company on the planet and you can literally devote limitless resources to a technology, you are not guaranteed a win, at least straight out of the gate. In some market segments, like Maps, people depend on them and care about them greatly. And it turns out the technology solution is difficult and takes more than just money to solve–it’s going to take, in the estimation of some analysts “two or three years,” to for Apple to build a competitive offering.
Competition is good. The second observation that’s good for startups is that this is evidence of a healthy and competitive marketplace. Imagine that this happened in the PC ecosystem at the height of Microsoft’s dominance with Windows… Users would have complained and raised a fuss, and Microsoft would have stuck with the message that ‘as more users use our [crappy] maps, the maps will get better,’ but there wouldn’t have been the same ecosystem support and robustness. There’d also not have really been an alternative.
Today, not only is Apple recommending products like Waze, but analysts are wondering whether this will drive more users to Google’s Android platform, where Google Maps are happily distributed. This is the wonder of competition–the invisible hand is clearly at work. More competition at the platform level is good for startups and good for users, as it drives more diversity, more desire for offerings that each ecosystem can build upon.
Mobile is about local and real-time–maps here are key. The third observation that is that #MapGate and the customer uproar over it highlights things I’ve written about before. Namely, the Mobile Web 3.0 is upon us, and it offers the opportunity for real time commerce right here right now at the hyper local level. When you think about computing as being very local and real time, you realize that the map is the central locus point, that the map is extremely strategic in this world. This is great news, not just for Waze, but for the coming future of the Mobile Web 3.0.