Apple's Top 20 Public Apologies

Apple Maps mea culpa continues a tradition of atonement. Here's a list of the company's top 20 promises to do better.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

September 28, 2012

11 Min Read


Apple iPhone 5 Teardown: Visual Tour

Apple iPhone 5 Teardown: Visual Tour (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Responding to criticism of Apple's iOS 6 Maps app, CEO Tim Cook issued an apology to Apple customers Friday.

Apple strives to make world-class products, but "fell short on this commitment" with last week's launch of the new Maps, Cook said in an open letter, adding that the company regrets any frustration users have experienced and is doing everything it can to improve Maps.

Apple's efforts in that regard can be seen in the eight software engineering positions on Apple's Maps team that have opened up in September alone.

Cook promises that Apple will keep working on Maps until it meets the company's "incredibly high standard."

This is not the first time Apple has expressed regret for an unanticipated or undesired outcome. Public apologies long been a way to dissipate public criticism, for Apple and other companies. But they appear to have become more common in the Internet age, perhaps because silencing online critics often requires answering them.

[ What will security look like in a post-password world? Read Mozilla Persona Aspires To Kill Passwords. ]

In Apple's case, more than half of the public apologies we could identify have occurred since 2010. This isn't necessarily evidence of an increasing rate of apologies. It could just as easily mean that evidence of Apple's contrition is easier to find in recent years than a decade ago or more, when less information existed online.

It may also be worth noting that CEO Tim Cook is off to an error-prone start, with four apologies coming from the company since his took over in August 2011 and one pending--see number 3 below. However, one year does not define a trend, and Cook could end up making fewer apologies after the inevitable regime change hiccups get ironed out. Also, apologies aren't necessarily a bad thing--they could reflect a growing willingness among Apple's leaders to engage with the public.

Beyond Cook's Maps apology, here are some other incidents that have elicited regret from Apple or a commitment to change.

2. For Reducing Apple Store Employee Hours, August 16, 2012
An Apple Store staffing plan put in place earlier in the year by John Browett, who became SVP of sales at Apple in April, led to the reduced hours for some Apple Store employees and understaffing at some locations. After reports began appearing that Apple was cutting employees amid ongoing strong sales, Apple reversed course. "We recently implemented some changes in retail staffing," Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet told the Los Angeles Times. "Making these changes was a mistake, and the changes are being reversed." Technically, this is an acknowledgement of error but not an apology.

3. To Samsung, For Name Calling (Maybe), July 19, 2012
British Judge Colin Birss in July ordered Apple to run ads for six months in British newspapers to apologize to Samsung and to disavow its claim that the South Korean company copied its iPad. Apple really does not want to do this and has appealed. So this apology may never happen, and even if it does, it probably shouldn't count because it would be issued under duress.

4. For Seeming To Be Less Green, July 13, 2012
In June 2012, Apple informed Robert Frisbee, CEO of Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) certification program, that it would no longer submit its products for EPEAT certification. When word reached the public, the ensuing criticism prompted Apple to reconsider. "We've recently heard from many loyal Apple customers who were disappointed to learn that we had removed our products from the EPEAT rating system," wrote Apple hardware senior VP Bob Mansfield in an open letter. "I recognize that this was a mistake." Mansfield said that " all eligible Apple products" would once again be submitted to EPEAT, leaving out the ineligible MacBook Pro Retina model, which was designed to be thin at the expense of being easy to disassemble--making it difficult to recycle.

5. For A Buggy Thunderbolt Software Update, June 19, 2012
After releasing Thunderbolt Update 1.2 on Monday, June 11, 2012, some Apple customers reported that their Macs were crashing or frozen. Eight days later, Apple responded contritely, noting that it had identified the problem and withdrawn the update. The company said that it had discovered "an installation compatibility issue with a previous Thunderbolt update applied by some customers" and apologized "for the disruption this caused for customers with affected Macs."

6. For Charging Some OS X Lion Buyers Multiple Times, July 30, 2011
Some Apple customers who bought OS X Lion from the Mac App Store last year got charged several times for the $20 operating system update. The company apologized to those affected in an email "for any inconvenience this situation may have caused." 7. For Siri's Purported Pro-Life Bias, December 1, 2011
Siri at one point responded to requests to find an abortion provider with directions to distant pro-life family planning centers rather than nearby medical clinics. Apple insisted it didn't intend any offense. "It simply means that as we bring Siri from beta to a final product, we find places where we can do better, and we will in the coming weeks," Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris told the New York Times. Like other course-change announcements, this one doesn't so much apologize as declare a different way of doing things, even if some publications characterized the statement as an apology.

8. For Causing Anxiety, July 2, 2010
When the iPhone 4 debuted in June 2010, users reported problems with call signal strength when holding their phones. Subsequent speculation suggested Apple's iPhone antenna design was faulty. Responding to an inquiry from Ars Technica, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple at the time, advised in an email, "All phones have sensitive areas. Just avoid holding it in this way." It later emerged that Apple's software was calculating signal strength incorrectly. The following month, Apple apologized in an open letter "for any anxiety we may have caused" and subsequently offered iPhone 4 buyers free cases so they could hold their phones however they wanted.

9. For Poorly Implemented Website Order Processing, June 16, 2010
When Apple began taking preorders for its iPhone 4 on June 15, 2010, its website couldn't deal with customer demand. This left many customers confused because their orders hadn't been processed or the order process was never completed. Apple issued a statement the following day: "Many customers were turned away or abandoned the process in frustration. We apologize to everyone who encountered difficulties, and hope that they will try again or visit an Apple or carrier store once the iPhone 4 is in stock."

10. For Inadequate Product iPhone 4 Supply, June 28, 2010
The iPhone 4 sold 1.7 million units during its first three days. That's nowhere near the iPhone 5, which sold 5 million units during its first three days. But the iPhone 4 could have sold more, had Apple planned better. For that, Steve Jobs expressed regret. "This is the most successful product launch in Apple's history," said Jobs in a statement at the time. "Even so, we apologize to those customers who were turned away because we did not have enough supply."

11. For Refusing To Accept Cash For iPads, May 19, 2010
Two years ago, Apple responded to criticism of its refusal to allow people buy iPads with cash by changing its policy. It didn't apologize, but it did change course without acknowledging any fault. That's similar to the way it handled its 2012 retail store staffing controversy. "We made a decision today to change [that policy]," Apple SVP Ron Johnson told San Francisco's KGO-TV.

12. For iPhone Activation Problems, June 21, 2009
When Apple's iPhone 3GS launched on Friday, June 19, 2009, some customers experienced delays of up to two days in activating their iPhones. That weekend, Apple emailed apologies to affected customers for "for the inconvenience caused by the delay in your iPhone activation."

13. For Delaying Push Notification Apps, June 21, 2009
Push notifications were a new iOS feature when the iPhone 3GS began shipping. But Apple took longer than expected to get the technical infrastructure for push messages up and running. As a result, iOS apps upgraded to take advantage of the Push API had to be delayed. Dominik Balogh, developer of NotifyMe, reportedly the first app to integrate push notifications, told AppAdvice that Apple's App Store staff had emailed him to apologize for the delay.

14. For Approving An Offensive App, April 23, 2009
The iOS Baby Shaker app presented users with a crying baby, which could be quieted by shaking one's iOS device. Doing so created crosses over the animated infant's eyes, a sign denoting death. Facing protest threats from child-protection groups, Apple withdrew Baby Shaker from its App Store and then issued an apology. "This app is deeply offensive and should not have been approved for distribution on the App Store," an Apple spokeswoman told InformationWeek. "We sincerely apologize for this mistake." 15. For iMac Shipping Delays, December 13, 2009
Apple had trouble delivering its 27-inch iMac, introduced in October 2009. A report in Wired said some consumers had reported technical issues with the computer and speculated that the lack of timely delivery could be a consequence of these problems. Apple subsequently apologized to affected customer "for any inconvenience or delay." It did not acknowledge any manufacturing or technical issues.

16. For Mishandling The Launch Of MobileMe, July 16, 2008
Apple's .Mac service, launched in 2002, was discontinued in 2008 and .Mac customers were migrated to MobileMe, the predecessor to iCloud. Unfortunately, things didn't go so well. Some users were unable to log in, others reported synchronization issues. Apple promptly said it was sorry. Apple spokesman Bill Evans told Macworld that the "transition was a lot rockier than we had hoped." To make its apology more appealing, the company offered MobileMe subscribers a 30-day subscription extension at no charge.

17. For "Disappointing Some Of You" By Cutting iPhone Prices, September 6, 2007
When the iPhone went on sale in June 2007, it cost $499 for a 4-GB model and $599 for an 8-GB model. Two months later, Apple dropped the price by $200 and early adopters cried foul. Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO at the time, stood by the decision to cut prices but apologized nonetheless. "We want to do the right thing for our valued iPhone customers," he wrote in an open letter. "We apologize for disappointing some of you, and we are doing our best to live up to your high expectations of Apple."

18. For Financial Irregularities, October 4, 2006
From 1997 through 2002, Apple granted company stock options to some employees improperly. The shares were backdated--dated such that they were priced on a different date than they were granted. If the price of the stock on the set date is lower than it was on the actual grant date, the options recipient stands to gain by the difference in the share price when the options are exercised and the stock is then resold at a higher market price.

Apple concluded that there were irregularities, there was litigation, and Fred Anderson, Apple's former CFO, resigned from the company's board of directors. But Steve Jobs was cleared of wrongdoing.

"I apologize to Apple's shareholders and employees for these problems, which happened on my watch," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "They are completely out of character for Apple. We will now work to resolve the remaining issues as quickly as possible and to put the proper remedial measures in place to ensure that this never happens again."

19. For Concerns About Terrorism, September 17, 2001
Less than a week after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States, Apple cancelled its Apple Expo 2001 conference, which had been scheduled to open at the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles exhibition center on September 26, 2001. "We're canceling Apple Expo in the wake of last week's devastating and tragic events," said Steve Jobs in a statement. "We're sorry to disappoint our users and developers, but their safety is our primary concern."

20. To Bill Gates, For Saying Microsoft Made Mediocre Products, 1996
In the 1996 documentary Triumph of the Nerds, Steve Jobs dismissed Microsoft for its lack of taste. "The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste, they have absolutely no taste," he said. "... I have no problem with their success, they've earned their success for the most part. I have a problem with the fact that they just make really third-rate products." After the program aired, Jobs called Bill Gates, then CEO of Microsoft, to apologize. Sort of. According to Andy Hertzfeld an early Apple employee and present Google employee, Jobs called Gates to apologize for saying that publicly, not to apologize for mischaracterizing the company.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights