Feature Article

November 16, 2012

Nokia Reroutes Itself with Multi-Platform 3D Mapping and Location Services

When the mini-fallout and flap over Apple’s iOS 6 map app took place in early September, Nokia was among the first and the loudest to tout its own mapping services. Nokia has spent many years getting its map-related services pulled together into a cohesive whole, and in truth the Nokia services are actually rather well-designed and deliver what they promise.

Even so, as Nokia prepares to enter a new chapter of its life with its new Windows 8 devices about to hit the street for real, the company is now hard at work revamping its maps and location services branding (though not its overall strategy), and is making some moves to add new 3D technology capabilities to its suite of services as well through a new acquisition. Key to the overall rebranding effort is Nokia’s new goal of extending its services not only to its Windows 8 devices, but to the other major mobile platforms as well.

To achieve these goals, Nokia earlier this week made two related announcements. First, the company has indeed decided to take a big – and potentially dangerous – step in rebranding its mapping services. As with any branding, the first thing of course is to figure out what you are going to call yourself. In Nokia’s case the company has come up with now branding the mapping and location services “HERE.” Hmm.


Second, the company has also announced that it has acquired 3D mapping vendor Earthmine, a deal which Nokia expects will close before 2012 is over. Based in Berkeley, CA and founded in 2006, Earthmine is a company that is “indexing reality” as the company puts it. Through a set of unique technologies it has developed, Earthmine makes it possible to collect detailed and accurate 3D street level imagery of every street, ally or freeway in any metropolitan area. Together with a set of hosting and development tools the solution offers a complete way to collect, process and work with and within the 3D world.

Earthmine offers a complete geospatial solution for collecting, processing, managing and hosting 3D street level imagery, as well as developer tools for creating and distributing applications that benefit from this data. The company also has what it calls its Earthmine Partner Programs and MARS Collection System, which allow for rapid and coordinated collection of detailed and accurate 3D street level data for any sized geography. 

Finally, Earthmine Cloud and Earthmine Server provide two ways to host and deliver large volumes of 3D street level imagery across the Web. Earthmine developer tools that include the Earthmine API, Earthmine SDK for Flash and Earthmine SDK for iPhone, make it easy to for both people and machines to interact with Earthmine data.

"Maps are hard to get right - but location is revolutionizing how we use technology to engage with the real world," notes Michael Halbherr, Nokia’s EVP of location and commerce, who is now responsible for the HERE brand. "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."

Yes, all of Earthmine will now become Nokia’s technology to deploy in various ways – to enhance existing mapping and location products – especially with street level 3D views, to build out Earthmine’s already existing platforms, and to deliver new products over the next 12 to 24 months. Quite honestly, it’s amazing to us that Earthmine was still out there as an independent vendor. So Nokia is lucky – we’re not sure how Apple missed making the acquisition, but given its own level of internal mapping capabilities it may have done well to do so. Let’s give Nokia some credit then and chalk up an interesting win for it here.

HERE (There, and Everywhere)

So then, here we are with Here. Nokia introduced HERE just ahead of its acquisition of Earthmine. The need to rebrand looks to us to be driven by Nokia’s desire to significantly expand its maps and location services across multiple operating systems as well as across both mobile and desktop-based (wireless and wired) hardware. With the new brand Nokia wants to make a clear distinction between what it has delivered up until this week, and its next generation of mapping and location services.

The now ever present Stephen Elop, Nokia’s president and CEO, points out that "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 will both benefit from and contribute to our leading mapping and location service."

Nokia sees an opportunity here to drive its mapping and location services across a much wider swath of users than has previously been the case. Of course Nokia has tried this before. OVI was all about expanding its services beyond Nokia’s own mobile devices, and looked to push its capabilities out to desktop users as well. OVI has of course since shuttered its doors. Now we have a more targeted HERE, which will look to seamlessly cross a number of operating system platform boundaries to open up more opportunities for Nokia to sell into.

Pushing Location Beyond Nokia

To further extend its location services, Nokia is launching a new version of its maps application for iOS under the HERE brand. This new version will be based on HTML5 and will include offline capabilities, voice-guided walk navigation, and public transport directions (these should sound familiar to Nokia users). The application is scheduled to be available for free download from Apple's App Store in a few weeks.

Nokia has also announced a new strategic partnership with Mozilla to bring new location experiences to Mozilla’s new Firefox OS, which was announced back in September 2012. Nokia now plans to debut a mobile Web version of HERE Maps for Firefox OS sometime in 2013. The new partnership means that Nokia and Mozilla will work closely together to deliver a strong mapping experience and capability on Firefox OS. We doubt, however, that this will bring Nokia much in the way of any new revenue. Although Mozilla is clearly able to make money from its offerings, we’re not going to count this amount to the new driving forces that will save Nokia.

Nokia also demonstrated an Android OS-based reference application and announced plans for the availability of a HERE SDK for Android OEMs in early 2013. This is aimed at enabling partners to create location-based applications for Android devices while making full use of Nokia's content. This is a smart move on Nokia’s part as Android developers should be quite interested in making this happen.

LiveSight  - See More of the Real World

Finally, as part of its overall HERE announcement, Nokia also introduced LiveSight, a technology based on a highly accurate, 3D map of the world.  Nokia believes that LiveSight delivers the most precise and intuitive augmented reality experience and uses a phone's camera viewfinder to make discovering the world as easy as lifting up a phone. Nokia City Lens, which was developed exclusively for Nokia’s Lumia devices, is the first application that provides a LiveSight-enabled experience.

All of this does leave Nokia competing directly with both Google and Apple. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out though Nokia’s biggest play of course will be on its own new Windows Phone 8 Lumia devices.

To scope out the details about HERE and the complete list of services it offers, interested readers can go…Here and Here. Happy mapping!

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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