Nokia maps out future with Here and Earthmine buy

OVUM VIEW

Summary

Nokia has rebranded its location-based services and mapping assets under the name Here. Nokia describes the relaunch as creating the “first location cloud to deliver the world’s best maps and location experiences across multiple screens and operating systems”. It marks a significant effort by the handset manufacturer to build even greater relevance for Here, following recent wins for the underlying technology with Microsoft, Oracle, Amazon, and others.

New additions in the pipeline include an HTML5-based Here Maps app for iOS devices, a reference application and Here SDK for Android, and an agreement to provide Here Maps to the Mozilla Foundation’s HTML5-powered Firefox OS. The company also announced it is acquiring California-based 3D mapping specialist Earthmine for an undisclosed amount.

Navteq starting to deliver real benefits to Nokia

Nokia’s $8.1 billion acquisition of Navteq raised many eyebrows in the investment and technology communities when announced in 2007. Despite considerable interest in location-based services at the time, it wasn’t obvious to many how owning a mapping platform designed for in-car personal navigation devices would benefit a handset OEM such as Nokia without undermining Navteq’s existing business and without considerable investment to “re-imagine” the technology for an expanded multi-screen future.

Nokia’s strategy for Navteq seemed to support this view, with the company continuing to run the business as a standalone entity until late 2011. Since then, however, things have been changing rapidly around Navteq. It is increasingly clear that Navteq’s assets will be of considerable value to Nokia in future as mapping and location become inherent parts of the online experience on any connected device and, potentially more importantly, provide a key piece of emerging cloud-based application platforms.

Maps are a key platform asset for SMART vendors moving forward

This latter functionality is highly valuable to Nokia at a time when its influence over third-party ecosystems of application developers and advertisers is extremely low, especially since Symbian fell from favor in the smartphone domain.

Ovum has written previously on the value of cloud-based developer platforms and assets in the longer term to true SMART players, as the need to create multi-platform, multi-screen applications will naturally draw developers towards centralized, cloud-based application development and distribution over time. Indeed, this supposition is a cornerstone of Ovum’s core Telecoms 2020 scenario.

Mapping and location service assets are set to be major components of any such future platform, in terms of attracting end users and third parties (as well as helping drive traffic to other associated services). Moreover, they are far from easy to do well. This is why strategic partnerships for core consumer technologies are so necessary for most smart vendors moving forwards.

Just ask Microsoft, which has in the past few months made Nokia Maps part of the core Windows Phone experience across all its OEM partners and an inherent part of Bing Maps, in the process replacing its homegrown version. This significantly strengthens Microsoft’s overall proposition to developers and end users and improves its positioning relative to other smart vendors, as outlined in Ovum’s Smart-Vendor Scorecard: 1H 2012.

For that matter, ask Apple, which has recognized the tactical and strategic importance that mapping represents to other major smart vendors. This is particularly true of the leverage Google was exerting over Apple’s user base via Google Maps, leading to the Cupertino company severing its ties to the search giant. However, the company appears, so far at least, to have underestimated the challenge. Apple Maps is currently very much a third-rate alternative to the leading platforms, driving iOS device users to continue to seek alternative ways to access Google Maps.

Expect much more from Here in future

Today only Google can claim a more comprehensive offering than Here, but Nokia’s greater neutrality looks to be a boon in terms of nurturing future third-party software and hardware partnerships.

This is not to say that Nokia’s Here is itself a complete proposition as yet. The acquisition of Earthmine is a necessary one in order to emulate Google’s Street View, something no other major provider has yet managed. But Nokia is certainly doing interesting things with augmented reality in the shape of its LiveSight technology and Google City Lens app, and also with its Destination Maps indoor mapping approach. These are sure to become important additions to the overall location-based services equation in future.

There has also been a noticeable improvement of late in the quality of results delivered by Nokia Maps on the Web or via Windows Phone devices although subjectively these are not yet at the level of utility as those from Google Maps, which is better integrated with Google’s other search applications, so there is still some way to go.

Nonetheless, it’s heartening to see some real competition emerge to Google Maps and increased hope that Microsoft’s third ecosystem will have all the components necessary to take on Apple and Google in the long run.

APPENDIX

Author

Tony Cripps, Principal Analyst, Devices & Platforms

tony.cripps@ovum.com

Further reading

Telecoms in 2020: Devices (December 2009)

Smart-Vendor Scorecard: 1H 2012 (July 2012)

OTT and Smart Device Vendor Roundup: Third Quarter 2012 (October 2012)

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