What part did Google play in Apple’s Maps app soap opera?

September 26, 2012, 2:22 PM UTC

Apple’s Scott Forstall introducing the new Maps app

FORTUNE — The assumption behind much of the nonstop coverage of Apple’s (AAPL) cartographic crisis is that the damage was entirely self-inflicted. Apple rolled its new iOS Maps app out before it was ready and its mobile users — wandering the globe without a trustworthy electronic atlas — have paid the price.

But it takes two to screw up a relationship like the one Apple had for five years with Google (GOOG) — where Apple software engineers wrote and maintained the original iPhone Maps app while Google built up its mapping database. Sorting out what role Google played in the breakup has not been easy.

The first signal out of Google after Apple’s new Maps app was released came from Brian McClendon, Google’s maps VP, who told reporters that the company was committed to putting Google Maps on every available platform. That remark was interpreted to mean that Google had submitted a new mapping app for iOS 6 and that Apple’s reviewers were sitting on it — a rumor The Loop‘s Jim Dalrymple shot down with one word: “Nope.”

Meanwhile Google chairman Eric Schmidt, speaking to reporters in Tokyo Tuesday, was a study in deliberate obfuscation.

Under the headline “Google’s Schmidt Says Up to Apple to Decide on Maps App,” Bloomberg’s Teo Chian Wei reported Schmidt’s remarks like this:

“We haven’t done anything yet with Google Maps,” Schmidt told reporters in Tokyo today. Apple would “have to approve it. It’s their choice,” Schmidt said, declining to say if the Mountain View, California-based company submitted an application to Apple for sale through its App Store.

Google says Maps not waiting in wings for iPhone 5” was Reuters’ headline, based on Kevin Krolicki’s reporting from the same press conference:

Google Inc has made no move to provide Google Maps for the iPhone 5 after Apple Inc. dropped the application in favor of a home-grown but controversial alternative, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said… “We think it would have been better if they had kept ours. But what do I know?” Schmidt told a small group of reporters in Tokyo. “What were we going to do, force them not to change their mind? It’s their call.”

The picture of Google as a passive player in a drama staged by Apple was contradicted by a report Tuesday evening by The Verge‘s Chris Ziegler:

“Apple’s decision to ship its own mapping system in the iPhone 5 and iOS 6,” he wrote, “was made over a year before the company’s agreement to use Google Maps expired, according to two independent sources familiar with the matter. The decision, made sometime before Apple’s WWDC event in June, sent Google scrambling to develop an iOS Google Maps app — an app which both sources say is still incomplete and currently not scheduled to ship for several months…

“For its part, Apple apparently felt that the older Google Maps-powered Maps in iOS were falling behind Android — particularly since they didn’t have access to turn-by-turn navigation, which Google has shipped on Android phones for several years. The Wall Street Journal reported in June that Google also wanted more prominent branding and the ability to add features like Latitude, and executives at the search giant were unhappy with Apple’s renewal terms. But the existing deal between the two companies was still valid and didn’t have any additional requirements, according to our sources — Apple decided to simply end it and ship the new maps with turn-by-turn.”

Unlike Schmidt’s deliberately cagy remarks, Ziegler’s account of Google being taken by surprise and scrambling to respond has the ring of truth. And his version of events was confirmed early Wednesday by the
New York Times
‘ Nick Wingfield and Claire Cain Miller.

See also: Why Apple pulled the plug on Google Maps