Nokia to offer free maps app and service for rival handsets

Here Maps screenshot
Image caption Nokia intends to release its Here Maps app for iOS devices shortly

Nokia has unveiled plans to offer a free maps app on rivals' devices.

Here Maps will initially be released on Apple iOS devices offering downloadable street plans for offline use, and audio-based directions for pedestrians.

Nokia is also developing a version for Mozilla's forthcoming Firefox operating system, and will release software tools to allow third parties to make use of its data on Android devices.

The move is designed to help the firm compete against Google's rival product.

Nokia already powers maps available on Windows Phone handsets, Amazon's Kindle tablets, Yahoo services including Flickr, Garmin sat-nav kits, and about four out of five cars with in-built map displays. Last month Nokia also unveiled a deal with Oracle that will see the business software firm make use of its location services in its products.

Nokia claims more than 20 years of expertise in the area thanks to its acquisition of Navteq for $8.1bn (£5.1bn) in 2007.

Although it claims to offer the "world's most advanced location platform", Nokia acknowledges that Google's Ground Truth project - in which the search giant combines data gathered from satellites, its Street View cars and the public - is its "pre-eminent" challenger.

Data collection

Part of the way that both firms improve their services and offer facilities like traffic information is to draw on anonymised data provided from users' smartphones.

By extending its service beyond the relatively small number of Windows Phone users, Nokia is better placed to offset Google's advantage that Android devices featuring Google Maps as the default option are more popular.

Image caption Nokia's takeover of Earthmine will help it offer street-level 3D views of cities

One industry watcher said it was noteworthy that Nokia was marketing its offering as Here rather under its own brand, suggesting that it might make it easier to convince others to adopt the platform.

"With this new brand, Nokia aims to become the indisputable location cloud player," said Thomas Husson, a tech analyst at Forrester Research.

"There is tremendous value in knowing not just where customers are at a given moment in time but also where they are going and who they are in an aggregated and anonymous way.

"This new gold mine of information means opportunities to create new experiences based on location-aware services."

While extending its location services to other platforms offers an opportunity to improve the service, it also threatens to undermine one of the key advantages Nokia devices have in their favour.

Acknowledging the point, Nokia's chief executive, Stephen Elop, has stressed that mapping services such as its City Lens app - which overlays information about nearby points of interest, shops and restaurants over a view captured by a phone's camera - will remain exclusive to its own devices.

Apple's apology

The backlash over problems with Apple's own Maps app is likely to have contributed to the Finnish firm's decision to focus on iPhones and iPads first.

Apple's chief executive Tim Cook issued an apology in September after consumers had complained iOS 6 maps were hampered by mistakes and missing locations. In a letter posted to Apple's home page he had suggested that users create a web app for either Nokia or Google's maps - but a native app, such as Here Maps, should offer a superior experience.

Nokia has also announced that it was buying Earthmine - a Berkley-based firm that uses sensor-equipped cars to create 3D street-level views.

The move points towards it adding a facility to its app to rival Google's Street View panoramas or Apple's Flyover 3D representations of the world.

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