When you think of Nokia, you probably don’t think about maps. But Nokia has thought seriously about maps for a long time. It’s made a number of acquisitions in the area — most notably of map-data giant Navteq in 2008 — and has built a service that’s good enough that Microsoft uses it for all Windows Phone 8 handsets, including ones from Nokia competitors such as HTC.
And now, when you think of maps, Nokia would like you to think of…Here. That’s the new brand for Nokia’s cloud-based map and location services the company unveiled at an event in San Francisco on Tuesday.
It didn’t just unveil a brand. It also announced a dizzying array of Here products, services and initiatives, including, among other things:
- Here.com is a mapping site along the lines of Google Maps;
- A free Here app for iOS should show up in the App Store in a couple of weeks, Apple willing (it doesn”t have turn-by-turn driving directions, at least for now);
- A Here SDK for Android will let companies which partner with Nokia embed its maps;
- Nokia is working with Mozilla to build mapping and location features into the Firefox OS mobile software;
- It’s buying a company called Earthmine which uses roving camera-equipped trucks to capture Google StreetView-like photography;
- It’s also creating 3D maps of the real world which it’s using, at first, in City Lens, an app for its Lumia phones which lets you point the phone’s camera at the world around you and see an augmented-reality information overlay.
Why isn”t Nokia hogging all its data and technology for its own phones, in hopes of setting them apart from the pack? Well, it does say that they feature the best, most deeply integrated incarnation. But the company makes money by licensing its services to other companies, and will meld advertising into the offerings in some cases. And it says that much of its data is provided, anonymously, by users of its apps, giving it an incentive to get on as many devices as possible.
It all sounds pretty ambitious, but it’s a continuation and expansion of the mapping strategy Nokia has been working on for years, and Navtaq has been at even longer. Michael Halbherr, the Nokia executive VP in charge of location stuff, told me that it was like “baptizing a twenty-year-old.” It’ll be interesting to see if Here — which Nokia likens to Microsoft’s Bing brand-within-the-brand — takes off.