Apple stays silent on promised Maps improvements

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Roughly a month after launching its iPhone 5 and iOS 6 operating system update, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was back in the spotlight this week, unveiling its new iPad mini--a 7.9-inch tablet slated to reach retail early next month--along with the fourth-generation version of the full-size 9.7-inch iPad and a refreshed version of its iBooks e-reading application. Apple CEO Tim Cook also trumpeted the company's latest mobile metrics milestones: 700,000 iOS apps (including 275,000 for the iPad), App Store downloads in excess of 35 billion, and $6.5 billion in developer payouts. Perhaps most impressive of all, more than 200 million devices already run iOS 6 just five weeks since its commercial release: "This is phenomenal," Cook said. "This is the fastest upgrade rate of any software in history that we're aware of."

Two hundred million devices running iOS 6 translates to 200 million devices without access to Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Maps: iOS 6 famously dumped the service in favor of Apple's homegrown Maps platform, which arrived with a laundry list of inaccuracies including missing roads, misplaced landmarks and mislabeled businesses. Late last month, Cook even issued a public apology for the Maps debacle, admitting the company "fell short" on meeting customer expectations. "We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers, and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better," Cook wrote in a letter posted to Apple's website. "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 non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard."

Cook's mea culpa would have seemed unthinkable during Apple founder Steve Jobs' tenure at the helm. After all, it wasn't so long ago that Jobs responded to a consumer email complaining about iPhone 4 cellular signal strength degradation by calling it a "non-issue" and recommending the user "just avoid holding [the device] in that way." Cook's letter seemed to herald a new era in Apple honesty and humility, so it was disappointing that for all the subjects he addressed during Tuesday's media event, Maps never came up once--no new details, no status update on the overhaul, no nothin'. The cone of silence has descended once more. It's safe to assume we won't hear another word about Apple Maps until Apple is ready to push a completed upgrade to consumers--until then, 200 million iOS 6 users must play the waiting game.

No news on Apple Maps is good news for Waze, one of the native mapping applications recommended by Cook as a viable substitute. In the weeks following Cook's shout-out, Waze--which supplies crowd-sourced traffic and navigation data--increased its market share to 10 percent of U.S. iPhone users from 7 percent, according to a study from mobile data compression firm Onavo. Last month, Waze told Bloomberg Businessweek that downloads surged 25 percent in the wake of Apple Maps' Sept. 19 launch to 100,000 a day. Waze's success makes it clear Cook's words carry weight--it's a shame he leaves so much unsaid.--Jason

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