Nokia Maps: coming to iOS, Firefox OS and Android
Today, Nokia introduced a new brand for its location and mapping services: HERE. HERE applications will be available for several operating systems:
- iOS: based on HTML5(!), with an offline mode, voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation (including for walking) and public transport directions.
Free, available within a few weeks.
- Firefox OS: Nokia has announced a strategic partnership with Mozilla and will bring a HERE app to Firefox OS sometime in 2013.
- Android: Nokia demonstrated a “reference application” and an SDK that will be available for Android OEMs in early 2013.
To better compete with Google and Apple, Nokia is in the process of acquiring the company earthmine
whose technology would help with bringing 3D mapping to HERE. Furthermore, Nokia announced LiveSight
a brand for technologies (present and future) for augmented reality. For example, in one envisioned LiveSight application, you would look at your surroundings through your phone’s display and labels would be overlaid telling you about businesses and points of interests.
- Who came up with the name HERE? Not a good choice: it’s awfully generic and impossible to search for on the web. But the name Nokia Maps probably didn’t cut it any more, because they want to emphasize and develop their location services. Any name other than HERE would have been better: Nokia Locations, Nokations, Lokia, you name it.
- You can try out Nokia’s maps online at maps.nokia.com. Two features I liked were the inclusion of public transport information and a ruler for measuring distances. Google’s maps still look a bit better and visualize public transport lines better (you can click on a stop and only the lines through that stop are displayed). However, in a quick test, Nokia did better for walking directions that included Munich’s public transport. And Nokia’s maps are certainly more functional than Apple’s, especially in Munich.
- Why make the apps available for free? Because the more users they have, the better the service will get. That’s the conundrum that Apple was in: they had to make their maps public if they wanted them to get better. Nokia is already expending significant effort to ensure the quality of their maps. For example, they use FedEx data to do so. Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop mentioned to the New York Times
Nokia will build apps, some of them unique to Lumia devices, that gain a competitive advantage for Nokia.
- Maintaining location data is a huge undertaking. To be complete, many services need to be combined: mapping, finding addresses, yellow pages, nightlife guide, hotel guide, local panoramas (StreetView etc.), 3D views, live traffic information, weather, etc. Additional challenges are internationalization and intelligent search.
- Interestingly, all HERE apps are based on HTML5. That helps them with quickly going cross-platform. It won’t be easy to ensure a good user experience on mobile devices, especially if Nokia wants to display its maps via vector graphics (necessary for free rotation). But I’m always glad when companies push the boundaries of the platform.