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Despite recent bickering, Apple and Google seem to be pretty good pals. Google’s Eric Schmidt, when asked about it, plainly said: “We love the iPhone.”

Questions were raised when it was discovered that Apple had acquired its own mapping company, given the iPhone’s close relationship with the search engine map technology. Some viewed the move as the beginning of the two companies estrangement. Three months ago, Google released Latitude as a web-based app at Apple’s request: “to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone.” Coincidentally, Google just announced that its Maps Navigation app would be released — on Verizon’s Droid.

Google and Apple’s relationship, especially when it pertains to the iPhone, is beginning to look like Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s marriage. Some good times, some great times, some rough patches, and some really not so great times. A Google spokesperson insisted that Apple “is a close partner, millions of users experience Google Maps on the iPhone.” The most interesting statement came next: “We will continue to work with Apple to bring innovation, including Latitude and Navigation, to users but you’ll have to speak to Apple about availability.”

Speak to Apple about availability? Why? Is Apple sitting on Google technology, once again, because they are afraid of users confusing one app for another (a flattering show of confidence in their customers, by the way), or is there more? Is Apple’s controlling spouse, AT&T, the cause for the pause over this app? Could it have to do with the other mobile navigation programs in the App Store that aren’t free, like Google’s? And speaking of the others, can Google really compete with serious mobile navigators like TomTom, MobileNavigator, and CoPilot Live? Or is Google’s free, ad supported, currently ambiguous app destined to just be a map with voice-guided directions.

Google has always licensed its map data from mapping companies like Tele Atlas and MapLink. Thanks to all the hard work by George Hotz and the other members of Google’s street team, Google has its own maps to use and can apparently afford to give them away. Apple requires developers to have licensed map data, which historically has been pretty high priced.
Free means a lot when it comes to apps, especially when the competition is priced from $35 – $100, even more with certain add-ons. Making mobile navigation free would certainly crush Google’s competitors — merely announcing the new navigation app sunk Nokia, who bought Navteq for more than eight billion, and TomTom, who bought Tele Atlas for around four billion, stock prices.

Unless Google’s app can cope with a loss of cell reception – maybe by allowing users to cache their directions for later use – there isn’t much of a chance of winning over the hardcore navigation users. Google will have to do much more than just add turn by turn directions and Latitude to its Maps app. Google Navigation will need to integrate features like route optimization, map displays, smart routes, and other dedicated navigation app bells and whistles. If it ever makes it to the iPhone, that is.

Google loves the iPhone, but does the iPhone love Google enough to let it take over mobile navigation?