Why's Here here, and what's it doing there?

15th Nov 2012 | 15:10

Why's Here here, and what's it doing there?

Nokia's mapping platform could make Apple Maps irrelevant

Nokia's Here - the official name is just Here, but Nokia's Here (a) sounds better and (b) reminds me of that bit with the axe in The Shining - isn't a mapping app.

"Aha! I think you'll find that it is!" I hear you say, twirling your moustache and pointing out that Here will soon be There in the App Store. You're right, but you're also wrong. Here and the Here app are two different things, the latter a subset of the former.

Here is an iOS app, a web app and a Firefox feature, and Nokia's Android SDK means it'll be baked into all kinds of Android apps too.

Here promises Street View-style street views, 3D-style modelling, augmented reality, shareable bookmark collections, public transport details and live traffic information, and there's also a Map Creator that you can use to add your own data.

It's all very impressive, so why isn't Nokia keeping its maps to itself? Why give away what looks like a major competitive advantage?

Nokia isn't interested in winning a battle. It wants to win a war.

Here be treasure

Nokia is trying to do what other giants such as Facebook have so far tried and failed to do: it wants to make big money from mobile. To do that, you need to have the best possible service across the widest range of devices.

The more users you have, the more data you can process, the more likely you are to discover mistakes and the better your maps become. That's why Google Maps is great and Apple Maps is the butt of so many online jokes.

Here isn't exclusive to, say, Lumias because it has the potential to be much bigger than Nokia's phone business. If you think about all the different devices that could use a platform such as Here - PCs, tablets, phones, vehicles and as-yet-unimagined new bits of kit - limiting it to a single hardware platform, OS or network provider doesn't make any sense.

Why limit yourself to so few users, and so little money? The more customers you have, the better your service; the better your service, the more customers you attract. Step 3: profit!

There are lots of ways that Here can make money, er, here. There are royalty payments from firms who want to license the technology, or to use anonymised, aggregate data from Here users to better understand customers' and potential customers' behaviour. There are commission payments from firms whose sales come from Here referrals. And of course, there are ads.

Could those ads end up in iOS apps? It's possible: Here already has the scale and accuracy (Navteq, which is part of Here, powers most cars' sat-navs and much of Bing), and I'm finding it hard to imagine developers waiting for Apple to get its app together when both Google and Nokia have better, more accurate alternatives.

There are all kinds of variables here - Here could be a dud, developers may prefer OpenStreetMap, Apple Maps may suddenly, miraculously improve - but first impressions are really promising. Apple's weapon in the mapping wars turned out to be a rusty musket. Nokia appears to have brought a bazooka.

Apple maps Google maps Nokia Here Navteq TRBC
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