Apple CEO: "We are extremely sorry" for Maps frustration

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- In a rare public apology, Apple CEO Tim Cook on Friday wrote an open letter to customers that acknowledged widespread complaints about the company's new Maps application.

"At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers," Cook wrote. "With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better." (Click here to view the full letter).

After using Google's mapping data for five years, Apple went in a new direction with the iOS 6 update to its mobile operating system, which rolled out to millions of iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices on Sept. 19. The new Apple Maps is also built into all iPhone 5s, which went on sale a week ago.

Apple Maps is powered by significantly less data than its predecessor. Google's enormous database of geographical points has been replaced by Yelp's far less substantial list, as well as Apple's own compiled "places of interest" database. In other words, good luck searching for your favorite off-the-beaten-path restaurant if it's not on Yelp. Spelling variations also seem to trip up the new Maps app.

Beyond search, iPhone users have already found some giant goofs in Apple's data. The info on some well-known landmarks is comically off target or woefully incomplete.

The tech giant partnered with TomTom, Waze, Yelp and others to create its own map, complete with turn-by-turn navigation, voice integration and a cool new 3D "Flyover" feature. In his letter of apology, Cook noted that Apple "had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up" in order to offer these new features. It has been widely reported that Google, which includes most of those features in its Android smartphone software, refused to hand those features over to Apple.

Apple has preached patience in its earlier comments about Maps. Cook reiterated that, noting that "the more our customers use our Maps the better it will get." He said more than 100 million Apple devices are using the new Maps, and customers have used the app to search for nearly 500 million locations so far. Apple engineers will continue "working non-stop" until Maps reaches the "high standard" Apple customers have grown to expect from the company, he said.

In the meantime, the CEO made a surprising move: He recommended alternatives to Apple's app, including Microsoft Bing, AOL's MapQuest, Nokia, Waze -- and yes, even Google.