CEO Tim Cook apologizes for “falling short” on Apple Maps

After a week of parody social media accounts, jokes from late-night TV comedians and ribbing from competitors about its Maps app, Apple (s AAPL) CEO Tim Cook has spoken. The message? He’s “extremely sorry” that Apple’s new Maps app, which debuted with iOS 6, isn’t very good yet. In an open letter published to the web Friday morning, Cook apologized and promised to work harder.

Addressing customers, he wrote, “With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment” to world-class products. “We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better,” he said.

He also offered users an explanation of why Apple moved away from the original mapping product, made by Google(S GOOG), that most customers know was working just fine before Apple took it away.

“As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up,” Cook wrote.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the letter is when he points customers to other mapping products to use until Apple’s maps data gets better:

“While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing(s msft), MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.”

The open letter is a move we haven’t seen from Cook yet in his tenure as CEO of Apple. His predecessor, Steve Jobs, used the format to communicate with customers and fans on topics like digital rights management and music, and Adobe’s(s adbe) Flash and the mobile experience.

And it’s a good move — he needed to say something. Even if all he can offer is an apology, customers needed to know that Apple understands that the product is not up to par or what they’ve come to expect from Apple. Though he’s not exactly forthcoming about why the company felt it needed to build its own maps products with those new features: He doesn’t explain that this is really boils down to Apple putting its competition with a rival, Google, ahead of its customers’ needs. And the apology indicates that he knows that move has backfired.

Unfortunately for customers, this problem isn’t just going to go away. As Cook mentions, the maps data will get better, but not overnight.