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Nokia Rebrands Maps To HERE; Acquires 3D Mapping Company Earthmine

Nokia has rebranded its Maps as HERE, making it a cloud based mapping and location service, accessible across multiple operating systems and devices. Nokia also announced the acquisition of Berkeley (CA, US) based 3D mobile mapping solutions company, Earthmine, and said that the company’s reality capture and processing technologies will become integral parts of HERE’s 3D map making capabilities. The exact monetary details of the acquisition were not disclosed but Nokia expects the transaction to close by the end of 2012.

The company wants to extend its mapping solutions to other platforms, to extend their reach ‘beyond Nokia’. Note that Nokia already offers web based mobile maps apps. However, it has now announced a new HTML5 based native app for iOS under the HERE brand, which will also feature offline capabilities, voice-guided walk navigation, and public transport directions. The app (after an approval from Apple) is scheduled to be available for free download from Apple’s App Store in the coming weeks. 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 will allow developers to create location-based applications for Android devices with Nokia’s map content.

Nokia also announced a strategic partnership with Mozilla to bring new location experiences to the latter’s Firefox OS. Nokia plans to debut a mobile Web version of HERE Maps for the new Firefox OS, next year.

Our Take

While the rebranding appears to be a move to make Nokia’s mapping solutions relevant beyond the Nokia landscape, we’re wondering if this is in order to make it easy to sell the maps division, whether to Microsoft or to some other bidder. Note that starting Windows Phone 8, Microsoft’s maps and navigation apps are powered by Nokia Maps on all WP8 devices. This move also comes at a time when Nokia is struggling with Smartphones, with sales not picking up. So focusing on the location assets is a sensible move. Nokia had acquired NAVTEQ in 2007 for $8 billion, and had merged the company into a new Location and Commerce division in 2011.

It’s also interesting to note that Nokia will compete directly with Google and Apple on their own turfs, through native apps and the SDK. While Google’s maps are richer, and widely used, Apple’s maps are new and have been panned for inaccuracies, but are expected to evolve gradually. In our experience, we’ve observed that Nokia’s maps also offer a good navigation experience, but at times miss out on details. With apps on all platforms, Nokia will also be able to collect more data, including real time traffic data, since the maps would not just be limited to its own devices.

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