Apple said to fire maps manager after flaws mar iPhone 5 debut

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple has fired the manager responsible for its troubled mapping software, seeking to win back the trust of users disappointed after the program debuted in September, according to people familiar with the move.

Richard Williamson, who oversaw the mapping team, was fired by Senior Vice President Eddy Cue, said the people, who asked not to be named because the information wasn’t yet public. Cue, who took over last month as part of a management shakeup, is seeking advice from outside mapping-technology experts and prodding digital maps provider TomTom to fix landmark and navigation data it shares with Apple.

Critics have faulted Apple’s new map software for unreliable landmark searches, routes that get users lost and lack of public transit directions. Cue is seeking to build confidence in the program amid a growing battle with Google, whose mapping application had been built into Apple’s iPhone since its introduction in 2007. Google is now preparing to unveil rival downloadable apps for Apple’s mobile devices.

While Apple’s map program doesn’t appear to have hurt sales of the iPhone 5, it was a rare public misstep that forced Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook to apologize to customers.

Trudy Muller, a spokeswoman for Apple, declined to comment on Cue’s moves. She referred to the statement Cook issued in September that said the mapping software will improve as more customers use it and more data can be gathered.

“We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make maps better,” Cook said in the statement.

In removing Williamson, Cue wants to install a new leadership team for the group, one person said. A replacement for Williamson wasn’t immediately known. Attempts to reach Williamson weren’t successful.

A team at Apple has been working to fix the mapping mistakes, focusing first on some of the most glaring problems, one person said. The satellite imagery over Britain has been improved and labels for popular U.S. landmarks such as the Washington Monument have been corrected.

The new version of Apple’s iOS mobile software removed Google’s built-in maps app in favor of its own, which added new features such as turn-by-turn navigation and fly-over views of landscapes. IOS software runs iPhones and iPads, which compete with smartphones and tablets that run Google’s Android operating system.

Apple, which also eliminated the preinstalled app for Google’s YouTube video service, built the replacement map program because it wanted to scale back its relationship with Google, two people familiar with Apple’s development of maps said in September.

The company’s bungled introduction of new mapping features contributed to the ouster of mobile-software chief Scott Forstall, whose departure was announced in October. As part of the management overhaul, Cue – who oversees Apple’s iTunes, App Store and iCloud services – was also put in charge of maps and the Siri voice-recognition tool, bringing all of the company’s online services under one group.

This isn’t the first time Cue has taken on a troubled product. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had him oversee the MobileMe Internet-storage service after a series of miscues, including a glitch that prevented customers from accessing their e-mail. That service was recently closed and replaced with iCloud.

Cue, who started his career at Apple in the company’s internal information-technology department, became a close confidant of Jobs. As head of iTunes, he spearheaded many of the negotiations with music, television and movie companies. He’s also leading the company’s effort to add more video content for a potential new television product, people familiar with the internal deliberations said earlier this year.

— With assistance from Peter Burrows and Brian Womack in San Francisco.


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