Nokia was prodded to take advantage of Apple's rare misstep with its bungled Maps app in iOS 6. With the introduction of Here, Nokia has.
Here, a cloud-based solution, will extend Nokia's considerable mapping expertise to multiple screens and operating systems. In the coming weeks, Here will be available as a free mapping and location service for iOS users, and in early 2013, Nokia plans to release a Here software development kit (SDK) for Android device makers.
"With Here, we can extend our 20 years of location expertise to new devices and operating systems that reach beyond Nokia," CEO Stephen Elop said in a Nov. 13 statement. "As a result, we believe that more people benefit from and contribute to our leading mapping and location service."
Nokia also announced Nov. 13 that is partnering with Mozilla to build a mobile Web version of Here Maps for the latest version of the company's Firefox browser, planned for 2013.
Nokia also announced that it is purchasing Earthmine, a Berkeley, Calif.-based company that makes "reality capture and processing technologies" that will become "integral parts of Here's 3D map-making capabilities," Nokia said in its statement.
"Maps are hard to get right—but location is revolutionizing how we use technology to engage with the real world," Michael Halbherr, executive vice president of location and commerce for the Here brand, said in the statement. "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."
While Nokia misjudged a few things in the early days of smartphones, it understood well the need for good mapping and navigation software on mobile devices. In 2007 it acquired Navteq, a navigational software company, for $8.1 billion. In 2010, in response to Google Maps on Android devices, it began offering its turn-by-turn navigation service—which it had been selling for a few dollars a day, and which offered driving as well as walking information, and maps with points of interest in hundreds of cities—for free to its users.
With the introduction of its newest Lumia phones in September, Nokia added to what has become a suite of mapping software, showing off City View, an application that works through the phone's camera. A user simply points the camera and is given real-time information regarding much that comes into the frame, from restaurants to bus stops.
When two weeks later Apple introduced the iPhone 5 with a Maps app that turned out to be not up to the task—quickly making clear just how hard maps are to get right—it seemed the universe was handing Nokia, which has lost considerable market share to Apple, an opportunity.
"Nokia should certainly be highlighting the quality of its maps and navigation services, which are arguably the best in the mobile industry," Ken Hyers, a senior analyst with Technology Business Research, told eWEEK at the time.
"Nokia's maps work whether or not the phone has a wireless signal, which is a huge benefit for customers who are outside of cellular coverage yet need to know where they are and how to get where they want to go," Hyers continued.
On the Nokia Conversations blog Nov. 13, marketing manager Pino Bonetti explained that with Here Maps for iOS, users will be able to save area to their phones and then refer to them later—even zooming in four times—even when they're without data coverage. Here Maps for iOS will also offer driving directions in more than 500 cities and voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation for walking (voice-guided driving navigation will come later).
"On an iPad you can also see the top 25 places nearby at a glance," Bonetti added. "HERE Maps automatically displays up to 25 best places near you in a scroll window at the bottom of the screen. Simply tap a place and get all the details or scroll down and filter your results by category (shopping, going out, sights and more)."
Hyers, discussing Nokia's golden opportunity, added that with the new Lumia 920 and 820, Nokia should make clear that it offers "the total package" in mapping.
With Here, Nokia's opportunity can be as large as its rivals' numbers of users.