The Wall Street Journal reports from a source with "direct knowledge of the matter" that Google has distributed a test build of Google Maps for iOS. It has not yet been submitted to Apple's App Store.
After Apple's iOS 6 upgrade kicked out Google Maps, users in some parts of the world were left stranded with bad directions given by Apple's own Maps app. When Google's new app is released, iPhone and iPad users will be able to go back to the best online maps in the business.
I say when, not if, because it's a ridiculous conspiracy theory to think that Apple will block the app from approval. It would be a PR nightmare, for one thing. But there's also no good reason for it. Apple allows all of Google's other services in the App Store, even when they compete with Apple's own offerings. Apple built its own Maps app to have control over the core features of the device, but it doesn't block third-party apps for no good reason.
That doesn't mean Apple won't take its sweet time, though. Apple waited months before finally approving Google's excellent Search app update that added Siri-like intelligent voice search, and it never offered an explanation for the delay. Apple doesn't comment on apps before they're approved in the App Store, so we'll still have to wait and see how long it takes for Google Maps to show up.
When Google Maps hits the app store, it won't be alone. Nokia, which actually has world-class maps of its own, launched Here yesterday, a mapping service that works on the mobile Web now and will have a native iOS app soon. And Apple has already taken to promoting alternative mapping apps from Bing, Mapquest and others in the App Store. In CEO Tim Cook's letter to Apple customers about Maps, he explicitly endorsed these alternatives.
Cook says Apple's goal is to give its customers the best experience, period, even if that means promoting alternative apps on its devices. If he's serious about that, Apple will approve Google Maps quickly even as it keeps making its own maps better.