|[Updated to reflect actual release information] Just after 11PM Eastern Standard Time, Google unexpectedly released an Apple-approved iOS implementation of Google Maps to the App Store. The new app reinstates Google Maps to the latest version of Apple's mobile OS, purged in the migration to iOS 6. Google's new Maps application (free) implements Google local search, voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation, public transit directions, and Street View. Though many will view the release as a concession by Apple, it may in fact be a small victory for the company.
The news of the potential release was broken on AllThingsD earlier this evening. Electronista spoke with a Google engineer, who claims that the app has been in review by Apple for some time.
A Google spokesman previously said that "we believe Google Maps are the most comprehensive, accurate and easy-to-use maps in the world. Our goal is to make Google Maps available to everyone who wants to use it, regardless of device, browser, or operating system."
The new version for the iOS isn't universal -- meaning that the code is specifically for the iPhone. According to David Pogue, Google said "that goodies like those will be coming soon."
MacNN received confirmation that the company was working on an iOS 6-compatible version of the app, which was removed by Apple after a failure to get Google to implement features it reserved for its Android version such as turn-by-turn navigation, shortly after iOS 6 was announced -- despite later official denials from Google. The fact that Google was forced into bringing the iOS version up to par -- Apple's original goal -- gives Apple a popular alternative while its own Maps application continues to grow and improve.
Users of Apple's iOS 6 Maps have complained about inaccuracies, missing features, and instances of badly-rendered graphics, though complaints have receded as Apple has worked to upgrade the application through background updates. Apple yanked the Google-powered version of its own Maps app out of iOS 6, even though it supposedly had over a year left on its contract, and implemented its own mapping solution that features vector illustrations, better offline performance, turn-by-turn and (on the latest iPhone models) voice navigation and Siri integration.
Nonetheless, mapping errors, incomplete coverage and other issues caused users to feel that the Apple-provided feature was inadequate, with Google having more comprehensive coverage and a wider range of features. Apple CEO Tim Cook issued a rare apology over the state of the app shortly after the iOS 6 launch, and has promised continued improvements.
Update 2: Google has also released an SDK for third-party developers looking to hook into the app. Based on a URL system, the SDK allows launching into Google Maps to finish a search, show a map, open up Street View, or check walking, driving, or public transit directions. API keys can be used to integrate mapping and traffic content.