Nokia has taken a back seat in the digital mapping wars as Google and Apple have moved into the spotlight, but no longer. As of Tuesday, Nokia was ‘HERE’ — the name of a new cloud-based 3D digital mapping service launched by the company at an event in San Francisco.
And in a bid to out-maneuver both Google and Apple, Nokia announced that it would soon release a HERE maps app for Apple’s iOS mobile operating system, the software that powers the iPhone and the iPad.
“People want great maps, and with HERE we can bring together Nokia’s location offering to deliver people a better way to explore, discover and share their world,” said Nokia President and CEO Stephen Elop in a press release. “Additionally, with HERE we can extend our 20 years of location expertise to new devices and operating systems that reach beyond Nokia. As a result, we believe that more people benefit from and contribute to our leading mapping and location service.”
The web version of Nokia’s HERE map is already available online, and can be pinned as a shortcut link to an Apple iPhone or iPad’s home screen.
Even before the launch of here Nokia, based out of Finland, maintained one of the largest and most comprehensive geographic databases in the world — partially the product of its 2007 purchase of Navteq, a Chicago-based geographic information services (GIS) leader.
In fact, Nokia and Navteq provide map data not only for Nokia’s own devices and web services, but also for Microsoft Bing Maps and for Facebook’s Places Maps. It’s unclear for now just whether or not those companies will get Nokia HERE, and if so, when. TPM has reached out to Nokia for further information and will update when we receive a response.
But Nokia’s new HERE map product offers several major improvements over its predecessor, Nokia Maps. For one thing, it boasts “Street Level Areas,” Nokia’s version of Google’s “Street View,” or 360-degree panoramic photography of roads and locations.
For another thing, Nokia HERE has a 3D-maps view, again similar to those boasted by Google Maps and Apple Maps, though a quick test of Nokia HERE’s 3D view by TPM revealed some similar graphical rendering issues — warping buildings and roadways — as Apple Maps was criticized for when it was released publicly in September. Here’s a screenshot taken of the Times Square, New York 3D view in Nokia HERE:
Nokia HERE also offers the new ability for users to create “Collections,” or geolocation-specific lists of their favorite places, whether they be restaurants, stores or landmarks — anything that has an address. Users must sign-up for a free Nokia account to use that feature, though. Screenshot below:
Nokia said that HERE would help it offer augmented reality views of the world — that is, layering of digital information over a person’s view through a smartphone or device camera. Nokia said that this new trademarked technology, called “LiveSight,” was already in use in its Nokia City Lens app for Nokia Lumia smartphones.
Perhaps the most distinctive and interesting new feature, though, is HERE’s Map Creator, a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) live online editor that allows users to improve maps on their own, putting Nokia in direct competition with not only Google Map Maker but OpenStreetMap, a free world map that is entirely assembled by volunteer cartographers. It too, requiers users to sign-up for a free Nokia account.
The features come on top of those Nokia already offered through Nokia Maps — namely routing information, including directions, realtime public transit schedules, and live traffic information.
Most importantly for both Google and Apple, Nokia has stated that its mobile apps of Nokia HERE will include voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation, the GPS-like feature that was reportedly the final straw that led Apple to abandon Google for map data (Google Maps for Android offered turn-by-turn directions, never did so for the Apple default version of Google Maps).
Intriguingly, Nokia, which has entered into a joint-venture with Microsoft and seems to be pinning its smartphone manufacturing hopes on new Nokia phones running Windows 8, the Nokia Lumia 920 and Nokia Lumia 820, also appears to be betting on another up-and-coming smartphone line for safe measure: Mozilla’s.
Due to launch in 2013, Mozilla’s Firefox OS is a new mobile operating system that the Mozilla Corporation bills will be truly “open,” in contrast to Google’s Android — allowing users to download apps without any restrictions and tinker with the phone to a greater extent.
Nokia on Tuesday announced “a strategic partnership with Mozilla to bring new location experiences to the Firefox OS,” as Nokia’s press release put it, continuing:
“Nokia plans to debut a mobile Web version of HERE Maps for the new Firefox OS next year. The companies are working together to give people the best mapping experience on Firefox OS.”
Combined with the sudden rise of OpenStreetMap as a preferred alternative to Google Maps, Nokia’s new HERE just made 2013 the year to watch when it comes for digital mappings services, increasingly important to smartphone users, even those who don’t use the maps often, as other apps consistently rely on the build-in mapping options on mobile devices for location information.