How Steve Jobs Felt About Apple Getting Into Maps

Google (NAS: GOOG) is good at maps. Apple (NAS: AAPL) is not. Don't just take my word for it: CEO Tim Cook even suggested trying alternatives like Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) Bing, AOL's (NYS: AOL) MapQuest, or Nokia (NYS: NOK) in his open letter to customers.

Steve Jobs similarly penned open letters from time to time, such as when Apple dropped the retail price of the original iPhone just months after it was launched in 2007, or when the dispute over Adobe Flash reached epic proportions.

A trip down memory lane
Back in July 2007 at All Things D's D5 conference, Jobs and Bill Gates sat down for a historic joint interview. This was just weeks after the first iPhone launched with the inclusion of Google Maps as a first-party app, where Apple created the front-end app and Google provided the back-end data. These were Jobs' thoughts at the time on building a full-fledged maps service:

We're not trying to do a lot of this stuff, 'cause it's not what we do. We don't think one company can do everything, so you've got to partner with people that are really good at stuff. Like we're not, I mean, maybe Microsoft is great at search. We're not. We're not trying to be great at search so we partner with people that are great at search.

And we don't know how to do maps on the back end. We know how to do the best maps client in the world, but we don't know how to do the back end, so we partner with people that know how to do the back end.

He went on:

But in other cases there are other companies doing a way better job because we're not as good at this stuff as other people are and we love to partner with them. And so we selectively do that and I think it's really hard for one company to do everything. Life's complex.

Needless to say, at this point Apple has decided to get in the mapping game, a decision that's thus far been met with nothing but criticism over its real-world performance. Its back-end is sorely lacking compared to Google's sturdy database.

Actions speak louder than words
Despite Jobs' lack of confidence in building an in-house maps application, Apple would proceed to do just that within just a couple years. Google would launch the first Android device a year after the iPhone in October 2008, the HTC Dream, which was marketed as the T-Mobile G-1. The search giant's entry into the smartphone market was a pressure point, playing a part in Eric Schmidt's resignation from Apple's board in August 2009.

Apple made three acquisitions that would inevitably be integrated into its maps service, and the timeline speaks for itself.



Estimated price





Data set integration




Geolocation and 3-D mapping


C3 Technologies

$267 million

3-D mapping

Source: 9to5Mac.

That means that at the latest, Apple was exploring building its own mapping service just two years after Jobs' comments above, and probably even earlier than that. The first two of those purchases were made while Jobs was still CEO, while the last was shortly after his death.

Job to Cook: Don't ever ask "What would Steve do?"
You can't argue that Jobs wasn't interested in a maps app, because the plan to build Apple's maps was set into motion long ago while he was still at the helm. Jobs had told Cook to do what's right for Apple and to never ask, "What would Steve do?"

However, you could maintain that Jobs would have never released the service until it lived up to his perfectionist standards, and the blame for that may ultimately fall on Cook or even iOS chief Scott Forstall. Another relative underperformer recently has been Siri, another one of Forstall's big pushes. Investors could consider Siri (still in beta) and Maps two dings on Forstall's record, and some are even calling for his resignation.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek called Forstall a "mini-Steve" last year, but if these two missteps can be pinned on him, it's clear he's falling short of his mentor's high standards.

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Evan Niu, CFA, owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Adobe Systems, Apple, and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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