Nokia Excels Where Apple Blundered, Now to Make People Care

ANALYSIS: Struggling Nokia excels in the one area that Apple, with Maps, exhibited a rare misstep. When the Lumia 920 goes on sale, Nokia needs to find a loud, effective way of saying so.

Nokia is trying to use Apple's rare misstep—the release of a far-from-ready Maps app in iOS 6, intended to help keep software by rival Google off its iPhones—to remind the world, or at least readers of the Nokia blog, that mapping is an area at which it excels.

"We understand that 'pretty' isn’t enough. You expect excellence in your smartphone mapping experience," Nokia's Adam Fraser blogged on the Nokia Conversations site.

"Our superior apps are built on the most accurate, automotive-grade Navteq maps, meticulously developed by over 20 years of know-how," Fraser continued. "We believe that the best user experience comes indeed from precise data, robust processing of core platform functionalities like routing, geocoding and traffic, and by user-friendly apps. All this cannot be built overnight."

With the Sept. 5 introduction of the Lumia 920, Nokia added City Lens—which via the camera offers detailed information on all that a user can see, from restaurants to bus stops—to its suite of mapping applications. The app complements Nokia Drive, which offers driving directions with even offline search capabilities and offline routing; Nokia Transport, which offers directions using public transportation; and Nokia Maps, which offers turn-by-turn pedestrian navigation, venue maps, a link to Nokia Drive for voice-guided driving navigation and even access to maps when offline. Arguably also a part of the suite is Nokia Pulse, a sort of smarter messaging solution that can know where you are and suggest places, with directions, to meet friends nearby.

As a brand desperately struggling for a comeback, an Apple blunder in a Nokia wheelhouse is an opportunity it shouldn't squander. Particularly since any kind words about the 920 were drowned out by talk of Nokia's own gaffe—an advertisement for its camera technology that didn't actually show its cameras' technology. Apple Maps offers Nokia an opportunity to remind the world of what it does do well—or even exceptionally well.

Fraser, in his post, offered some compiled "location experience" data comparing the Lumia 920 to the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S III.

Works when offline? Nokia, yes; Samsung, "not really" (it offers cached maps, which can't be searched and don't offer routing); Apple, no.

Turn-by-turn navigation? Nokia offers it in more than 110 countries, Samsung in 39, Apple in 56.

Public transportation information? Nokia and Samsung offer it in 500-plus cities and urban areas, Apple in 0.

Live traffic information? Nokia offers it in 26 countries, via the My Commute app; Samsung in 47 countries, through Google Now; Apple offers it in 23 countries.

Venue maps? Nokia offers these in 38 countries, Samsung in four, Apple has yet to offer any.

"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. "Nokia’s maps and navigation technology is a result of its more than $8 billion investment in NAVTEQ, which it made several years ago. 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 added that, when Nokia begins selling its new Lumia phones in the coming weeks, it can and should emphasize that it offers "the total package" in mapping.

Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, in a blog post on what she playfully calls "Mapplegate," notes that with Nokia maps in nine out of 10 in-car GPS systems, it's able to continuously mine information and improve its maps.

Still, she adds, "[Apple customers] who claim they won't download iOS 6 are overreacting—Google is planning to release its maps application in the App Store, and consumers can just download that app if they prefer."

For now, it would seem too many aren't holding out. On Sept. 24, Apple announced that it sold more than 5 million iPhone 5 handsets within three days of its launch and that "more than 100 million iOS devices have been updated with iOS 6, the world's most advanced mobile operating system."

Apple CEO Tim Cook offered no comment on Maps—to which the public has seemingly reacted with more humor than ire—but noted that iPhone 5 demand has outpaced supply, and the company is working hard "to get an iPhone 5 into the hands of every customers who wants one as quickly as possible."