I know what you’re going to say. The “Would this have happened under Steve Jobs?” meme has jumped the shark. It is irrelevant, because Steve Jobs was Steve Jobs and Tim Cook is Tim Cook. Every CEO is different. Jobs even told his protege not to try to run Apple like he did, and instead to run it like Cook would. And yes, we have already seen that Cook is a very different CEO, and it hasn’t harmed Apple’s bottom line a bit. Quite the contrary.

Still, I think Cook’s apology for Apple’s shoddy iOS Maps is remarkable. Soon after publishing the story on the PandoTicker this morning, I tweeted “Would Jobs do this?”, knowing I was sinking into the “WTHHUSJ” meme-hole. And sure enough, someone fired back, “Who cares what Jobs would do? He’s dead”.

I get it. I read the Internet too. I know that we “in the know” types are supposed to stop asking that question. But there’s an important distinction between “Would Steve Jobs do this?” and “Would this have happened under Steve Jobs?” Because one refers to perceived product errors or misjudgments – replacing Google Maps with its own, for example – and the other refers to quality of character.

Take Antennagate. Overblown, for sure, but Apple was in the wrong. Did Steve Jobs apologize? Hell no. At least, not at first. In fact, he pushed the responsibility back on consumers. Try holding the phone a different way, he said.

Cook, on the other hand, is today apologetic almost to a fault. In his open letter, he says: “We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.” He also copped to Maps being a work in progress, and even suggested that users try alternatives from major competitors, including Google and Nokia, adding that they can add bookmark icons to the iOS homescreen when native apps aren’t available.

That’s a pretty huge and humble concession, and it reveals something of the mindset of a CEO who is responsive to consumers and willing to take the blame. It may be targeted at people like me who are unwilling to upgrade to iOS 6, and perhaps even to iPhone 5, because they’re unwilling to let go of Google Maps. It may be in response to lower-than-expected iPhone 5 sales in its opening week. Or it may be that Tim Cook is just a reasonable dude who doesn’t think conceding an error is ultimately going to harm his company.

Whatever the case, Apple’s move to kick off Google Maps as the default iOS option is ultimately a very positive one. Apple Maps certainly raises the bar on user interface, and even with its many faults, usefully documented in The Amazing iOS 6 Maps Tumblr, it is a pretty decent product for what is effectively a beta release. In a couple of years, it will no doubt be competitive with Google Maps on many fronts. As Cook suggests, it needs time to mature and user data to flow in.

But the best thing about the arrival of Apple Maps is that it appears to be pushing Google to greater heights. Google has just announced more high-resolution pictures and 45-degree angles on its satellite imagery, which comes on top of stunning underwater panoramas unveiled just a few days ago.

If this is the degree of map innovation within just two weeks of Apple releasing its product, we have a pretty damn exciting future of cartography ahead of us. Guillaume Delisle would approve.

[Image from The Amazing iOS 6 Maps]