The faltering mobile phone company may be having a hard time convincing the world that it knows what it’s doing with its smartphone strategy, but at least its mapping services are in demand. Guy Daniels reports.
Nokia has this week launched “Here”, the rather snappily named new mapping and location service that will be available for smartphone users on competitive platforms. In a not so subtle (but well deserved) dig at Apple and its stupendously under-developed new maps application, Michael Halbherr, EVP of Location & Commerce at Nokia, said:
“Maps are hard to get right – but location is revolutionizing how we use technology to engage with the real world. That’s why we have been investing and will continue to invest in building the world’s most powerful location offering, one that is unlike anything in the market today.”
Google would no doubt beg to differ about just who has the world’s most powerful location offering, but Nokia’s activities in this field have been very well received and deserve a wider audience (after all, who’s going to buy a Lumia?). Apple should keep out of the discussion for the next twelve months, until it improves its in-house service (and it will – the decision to ditch Google Maps was not a ridiculous one, as some have suggested, but rather a timely way to break further ties with an ever-more competitive Google. Shame its alternative is so woefully inadequate at the moment).
Nokia’s decision to acquire mapping firm NAVTEQ for $8.1bn in 2007 was regarded with some degree of bemusement at the time, but it’s paying off now. CEO at the time, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, said location-based services were “one of the cornerstones of Nokia’s Internet services strategy”. Thank goodness his replacement kept the faith. Nokia has continued to strengthen its location activities with the purchase of Earthmine – a provider of a solution for collecting, processing, managing, and hosting 3D street level imagery.
Nokia hasn’t just been using its location technology for its Maps application, it’s also used in other apps such as Nokia Drive, Nokia Transport, Nokia Pulse and Nokia City Lens. Nokia says it was the first company to build the world’s most accurate and comprehensive global digital map by sending teams to verify every street in every city. A rather excitable Pino Bonetti writes on the Nokia blog:
“The next step forward – sensing our world. Maps can be more than getting a person from point A to point B.
They should bring places to life and inspire us to sense our world.”
Which appears to be the justification behind Here – described as the world’s first “location cloud” that delivers a location-based platform, content and apps across any screen and any operating system. Yes, Here will be a feature of Nokia’s Lumia Windows Phone devices, but it will also be offered to Apple and Android users.
‘Here Maps’ will be available for iOS in the Apple App Store as a HTML5-based app and there will be a Here Maps API for Android. Nokia is also working with Mozilla to launch Here Maps for Firefox OS sometime in the new year.
The iOS app comes with offline capabilities. You can save an area to your phone, so you can explore it later without data coverage, still with access to four different zoom levels. There’s guided turn-by-turn voice navigation for journeys on foot. Public transportation and driving directions for over 500 cities is also included, with live traffic information and incident notices. You can tag favourite places by categories, sync them with the here.com website, and build personal maps. And there’s plenty of sharing options for social network junkies.
Let’s give CEO Stephen Elop space to talk about something positive for once:
“People want great maps, and with Here we can bring together Nokia’s location offering to deliver people a better way to explore, discover and share their world. Additionally, with Here we can extend our 20 years of location expertise to new devices and operating systems that reach beyond Nokia. As a result, we believe that more people benefit from and contribute to our leading mapping and location service.”
However, this statement raises another important question: why is Nokia actively offering one of its best solutions to its rivals? If you’ve got a killer app, you tend to keep it for your own purposes, to increase the appeal of your other products. Nokia Maps and the associated location services have been used heavily to demo the benefits of Windows Phone and the Nokia Lumia range. The thinking goes, “if you want this fantastic app, you have to buy our phone, on the operating system of our choice”. Not anymore.
So does Elop no longer believe that his Windows Phone strategy is working? If he does, he’ll never admit it. Are we seeing a change in direction at Nokia? Has there been a reality check?
Final note for disgruntled Apple users: if you can’t wait for the iOS Here Maps app, you can also take Apple CEO Tim Cook’s advice, which he gave in his written apology to iOS 6 users last month:
“You can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.”
There’s openness for you.
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