Apple CEO or Apple’s CEO?

When Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote an apology to customers for the lamentable state of the iOS 6 Maps app last week, most of the coverage focused on the unusual circumstance of Apple actually admitting it stuffed up. Here at Mind Your Language, we want to talk about a smaller issue: how an apostrophe was used at the very end of the letter.

Picture by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Cook’s apology signs off with ‘Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO’. In most business writing contexts, ‘Apple CEO’ would be the form used, with no possessive apostrophe. It isn’t inaccurate to say that Tim Cook is Apple’s CEO, but it’s an unusual way to finish a letter. In that context either ‘Tim Cook/Apple CEO’ or ‘Tim Cook/CEO/Apple Inc’ would be the usual format.

Rules about language and grammar often boil down to consistency. If more than one approach is possible, sticking with the same choice is a wise idea. That hasn’t happened here. Apple doesn’t make a habit of issuing apology letters, and its approach has varied almost every time.

When Steve Jobs wrote a similar open letter criticising Flash in April 2010, he simply signed his name; perhaps no title seemed necessary for the most famous man in technology. When he wrote a letter in September 2007 discussing a recent iPhone price cut, he went with the standard ‘Apple CEO’.

When hardware engineering SVP Bob Mansfield apologised in July 2012 for Apple withdrawing from the EPEAT standard, his title ran at the top of the letter and he signed off simply as ‘Bob’. And when Apple revealed that its method for calculating signal strength was erroneous in July 2010, the letter was simply signed ‘Apple’, with no single individual taking responsibility.

That last example is perhaps the most instructive in Cook’s case. The use of an apostrophe can be seen as a subtle linguistic trick, a way of reinforcing that Cook is a mere servant of Apple. The Apple experience belongs to everyone; he shares your pain, he is working to improve the joy of your favourite brand.

Alternatively, it may simply have been a glitch in an apology that was written hastily. The letter also contains this clanger, which is far too long and finishes by suggesting Google and Nokia have a combined standalone app:

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, 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.

This would work better as two separate sentences:

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store such as Bing, MapQuest and Waze. You can also use Google or Nokia Maps by visiting either of their web sites and creating an icon for your preferred web app on your home screen.

So the real lesson is this: everything benefits from proofreading.

Lifehacker’s Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.

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