Does Nokia's Here launch imagine a world without Nokia phones?

Does Nokia's Here launch imagine a world without Nokia phones?

Summary: Here is a solid mapping offering from Nokia - and one that looks like the Finnish handset maker is hatching a plan B in case its partnership with Microsoft runs aground.

TOPICS: Nokia, Mobility, EU

Nokia this week launched Here, its new mapping service now available on the web, soon on iOS in the form of a native HTML5 app, and coming to Android via third-party developers next year.  

It's the product of Nokia's location and commerce business, which is by far the company's smallest unit - bringing in just three percent of its total revenues in Q3 2012. Nevertheless, Nokia chief Stephen Elop says mapping is one of five key areas for the company, along with Windows smartphones, basic phones, Nokia Siemens Networks network infrastructure and patents.   

Elop has persistently pointed to location and commerce as part of Nokia's device differentiation strategy, although one overshadowed by the bigger question of whether Nokia would have any devices to differentiate in the near future. 

Nokia created the unit last June by merging its $8bn Navteq acquisition with its social and location services operations. Along with the wider cuts Nokia has made across its handset business, in October it trimmed 1,300 staff from the Navteq division's headcount of 7,200. 

The unit, which sells mapping services to the likes of BMW, Ford and Microsoft's Bing, earned $100m  less in Q3 2012 than it did a year ago. It's a low-light for the unit, yet Here indicates that it's not out for the count in the field.  Here is a decent mapping offering, albeit a product that is almost entirely disassociated from Nokia's Windows Phone mothership.

After playing with Here for a while my impression is that it's a solid mapping platform, nearly as good as Google Maps, but still playing catch-up to its better known rival. 

Google Maps and Nokia Here's view of the Golden Gate bridge. Image: Google, Nokia

The 3D version of Here on the web (via Chrome on a Mac) didn't require a plugin, and was impressive. It was as smooth to navigate as Google Maps with the Earth plugin and offered a detailed birds-eye view of major cities (although Google still trumps Here in smaller cities).

Its standard mapping interface quickly spits out road directions between cities, but fell short on public transport - one of the features Nokia claims it's on par with Google Maps and ahead of Apple. For example, mapping out a train trip between the Swedish capital Stockholm to nearby Uppsala was not possible, even though it's a direct line between Sweden's largest and fourth largest cities. Google Maps does. Meanwhile, Google Maps offers public transport routes between England's London and south-western city Bristol, while Here only offers road routes. 

On the surface of it, Here remains a confusing pitch – if mapping is so key to Nokia, why does Here, with its Facebook blue borders and font, contain only a single reference to Nokia in the form of a stamp noting it as the source of the maps? And if maps are such a differentiator, as Elop has said, why make them available on rival platforms, and give buyers another reason not to shift back to Nokia? 

Despite appearances, it may be that Here is a very clever move on Nokia's behalf.  While the likes of the City Lens augmented reality app, exclusive to Windows Phone 8, suggest it's still keen to keep its Microsoft bedfellows happy, the fact that it's released Here with so little Nokia branding paints a different picture.

Here seems to presage a future where the Nokia brand has disappeared, and its link to Windows is broken – perhaps one where Nokia is a mobile services, or software, company.  Should its Lumia range fail to catch consumers' imaginations, at least Here suggests Nokia has its eye on independent business units that will live on even if it's forced to hang up on handsets.

Topics: Nokia, Mobility, EU

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • To Keep Its Microsoft Bedfellows Happy?

    Pretty funny.
    One of the main "Here" feature, the in-browser 3D mapping, does not even work in IE, desktop or phone.
  • Or maybe...

    They simply knew that diversifying a large business is a good idea. Not everything has to be an either ... or.
  • Time for a merger/acquisition?

    Since Microsoft seems to have grasped the need to manufacture some of its own hardware to increase revenue, and since Nokia is struggling in the phone market, why don't Nokia and Microsoft merge or Microsoft buy Nokia at a reduced price to use it as a manufacturing arm for Windows hardware?
    Antaine O'Labhradha
  • NATIVE HTML5 iOS app

    Come one... That is silly.

    Only Chrome OS can currently claim that HTML5 is "native" to it. (Win8 have REAL native apps that are NOT made in HTML5).
  • Nokia Maps

    I moved to WP8 (Nokia Lumia) from Android. I do not like Nokia maps. At all. Have no idea why people praise them so much.

    I like Google Maps. Search on Google Maps is better - just search for what you need - say or type "electronics store" (or whatever), touch it on the map and either get directions or start navigation. Or look at direction to get a general idea and then switch to navigation.

    Nokia, on the other hand, has two separate apps - Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive. Search in Maps is not even close to Google's. Maps will not navigate, only give directions. No way to start navigation after you looked at the directions. Nokia Drive (navigation app) is totally useless unless you know exact address.

    Plus the actual maps in Nokia are less detailed and not as polished as Google's.
    • Totally agree

      I couldn't agree more. It's maddening that with Nokia Drive or Maps you can't bring up addresses from your contacts, for example. With all the otherwise excellent integration in WP with the People Hub, this is a major oversight.

      All the people commenting either fail to understand your gripes, or just haven't used Nokia mapping apps on WP yet.

      Another fail is Nokia Transit. It shows how to get from point A to point B, but only using a list of metro lines, it doesn't even show the stops on a map!!! Total joke.
  • Re: Why Make It Available On Rival Platforms?

    Because this is an independent business unit, tasked with making a profit on its own, not beholden to the (mis)fortunes of any other part of the company.

    This is how every rationally-managed company should operate.
  • Do you really maps everday?

    Daily travel from work to home and back. It's the same old routine schedule. Unless you are traveling to some new places like truck drivers or tourists going on the roads in some far away places. Imagine the shocking roaming charges when you don't have offline maps which you get at the end of the month? Can anybody knows why Google Maps are flickering and vibrating so much when I pinch in and zoom? Getting a GPS lock is a pain in the ass, considering my device can support the American and Russian satellites.
    • Re: Do you really maps everday?

      Yes we really everday.
  • Nokia

    I have a Nokia Lumia 800, just read that Windows Phone 7.8 are on its way.
    And it probably will be Another update after that:

    As a early adopter with Windows Phone I am happy Microsoft/Nokia is not abanding us.