Schmidt: Apple has to approve Google Maps app for iOS — if we build it

Google still won’t say definitively whether or not it is building a Google Maps(s GOOG) app for iOS 6. But the company’s chairman, Eric Schmidt, had plenty to say about the Apple Maps flap last night. In an on-stage interview in New York City with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher of AllThingsD Wednesday night, he opined that Apple’s decision to drop Google Maps in iOS 6(s AAPL) was a bad one, and said that he’s confident any Google Maps app would be approved for iOS.

“Apple should have kept our maps,” he told the pair. He ignored a comment from Mossberg that Apple had reasons for dropping them (i.e. Google’s refusal to give Apple turn-by-turn directions)  and indicated that Apple had always planned to do its own maps solution, saying Google saw it coming “for a long time.”

Unsurprisingly, Schmidt wasn’t about to break any news about a Google Maps app for iOS 6. But he did say this:

I don’t want to preannounce products, but I can tell you that were we to do that, Apple would have to approve it.

He didn’t explain why that would be. Historically, Apple has not automatically approved all Google apps for iOS — see Google Voice and Google Latitude. The FCC opened an inquiry into the rejection of Google Voice and Apple eventually accepted it.

Schmidt’s confidence in approval could be knowing that Apple prefers to avoid attracting the interest of any government agency should it block a high-profile competing app from its platform. It could be that he knows Apple would come off looking really dumb to its customers that know and love Google Maps. Or it could be that he’s already secured an agreement to approval. He also said that his company and Apple are in “constant communication.”

For his part, Apple CEO Tim Cook has already showed he’s not afraid of promoting competitors’ mapping apps: in his apology over Apple Maps’ poor quality he suggested using Google or Nokia(s NOK) web-based maps, or native mapping apps from Bing(s MSFT), MapQuest and Waze.