Nokia maps out location services plan

14 Nov, 2012

Nokia is mapping out a strategy to beat Apple and Google with its location services – offering a maps app for the iPhone and encouraging Android developers to use its content in location-based apps.

The Finnish handset maker is capitalising on a misstep by Apple, which launched its own Maps app in September to replace Google Maps, but saw it criticised for inaccuracies.

Nokia said on Tuesday it was renaming its location and mapping services with a new brand called Here. The Here maps application would be available as a free download in Apple's App Store in the coming weeks.

The major mobile players see expertise in maps and location-based services as a key area in which they can differentiate themselves and win over consumers to their phones and operating systems.

"Nokia is now in head-on competition with Google across the major smartphone platforms. This is a logical extension of its strategy to make Maps a horizontal technology, similar to Google's approach with search," said Martin Garner, internet analyst with the CCS Insight research firm.

The maps launch comes, however, as Nokia has suffered a sharp fall in smartphone sales and has slid financially deeply into the red.

"Nokia has a huge advantage because of the years of investment and the work we have done and this announcement is taking things to the next level", said Stephen Elop, chief executive, in an FT interview.

In its biggest acquisition, Nokia bought Navteq for $8.1bn in 2007, soon after the launch of the iPhone. Its more than 20 years of mapping experience has formed the basis of Nokia Maps and Here.

Mr Elop said the decision to offer the services on other platforms was based on the need for scale, and Nokia was not giving away a key advantage.

"We continue to intend to deliver the best location experiences on Nokia devices," he said, citing features such as City Lens – an augmented reality navigation feature available on the latest smartphones.

The iOS app will have voice-guided walking directions and public transport ones, but not spoken directions for car drivers.

The company demonstrated an Android mapping application at a location conference in San Francisco on Tuesday and said it would release tools in early 2013 to enable partners to create location-based applications on Android that would use its content.

To compete better with the street-level images offered on Google Maps, Nokia said it was acquiring Earthmine, a San Francisco Bay Area company that can add 3D visualisations to such images.

Nokia is counting on services such as location, the new Windows Phone 8 operating system and better hardware, such as its PureView camera technology, to revive the fortunes of its handset business.

Its latest 820 and 920 Lumia smartphones went on sale last week in the US – a key market where it has yet to make serious inroads.

"It's early days, but we're pleased with what we're seeing in the first few days," said Mr Elop.

"I was in stores in a number of towns and cities over the weekend and there were lines through the stores and down the streets."

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