“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” -- Henry Miller.
Nokia is battling back at Apple's [AAPL] weakest point, launching a superior location and mapping app for iOS, reaching a browser map deal with Google competitor Mozilla and promising reference systems for Android developers as it fights for a place in the smartphone biz.
Nokia is HERE for iPhone
Nokia is launching its maps application for iOS under the HERE brand. The app is based on HTML5 and boasts some cool offline capabilities you just won’t find on Apple Maps: voice-guided walk navigation, and public transport directions.
Announcing the app, Nokia’s head of user experience design, Peter Skillman, said the release was partially at least: “On the chance that there might be a few iPhone users that want a different map.”
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop said the move would let his firm: "...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 company has seen its marketshare slide in recent years, battered by the twin smartphone giants of Apple and Google.
Taking steps to proliferate its brand across other platforms may help it retain a connection with users, perhaps drawing them back to its products on strength of positive user experiences.
It doesn’t hurt that Nokia’s mapping services are widely seen as being better than Google’s offering or Apple’s attempt.
Digging the earthmine
One feature Nokia doesn’t yet have is Flyover -- the clever 3D city simulation Apple users enjoy on iOS 6. In order to overtake its Californian rival, Nokia will acquire earthmine, whose reality capture and processing technologies will become integral parts of HERE's 3D map making capabilities.
The company also took a bite at augmented reality with the release of Livesight, which is the tech behind Nokia City Lens as developed for the Nokia Lumia. “LiveSight provides the most precise and intuitive augmented reality experience and uses a phone's camera viewfinder to make discovering the world as easy as lifting up a phone,” the company said.
The company will next year introduce reference tools third party developers can use to pop Nokia Maps inside of Google’s mobile OS.
CCS Insight analyst, Martin Garner, told the Financial Times: “Nokia is now in head-on competition with Google across the major smartphone platforms. This is a logical extension of its strategy to make Maps a horizontal technology, similar to Google’s approach with search.”
Nokia’s move to take on Apple with an iOS app is pretty shrewd. The company recognizes Apple’s brand loyalty is teetering as consumers grow tired of the constant litigation and confused by the regularity with which the iconic company now attracts bad press.
iPhone losing luster?
A recent poll from Harris Interactive suggested young consumers and early adopters in the UK are now more willing than before to switch from iPhone to other brands. “25 per cent of current iPhone users are anticipating the release of other smartphones more.”
Nokia also knows that should Apple refuses to carry its mapping app on the App Store, then it should benefit from the inevitable outburst of criticism of such a step.
The company has had to go through painful internal reorganization to reach this point, following CEO Stephen Elop’s warning last year that: “The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.”
“This is Nokia finally realizing a vision they’ve been working on for a long time,” Gartner analyst, Van Baker, told Businessweek. “They’ve probably got the best maps on the market, and they’re a lot further down the road” in terms of delivering user-specific relevant information.
The move to offer up maps for competing platforms means the company is now playing to its strengths.
It’s open to question whether it will succeed in regaining momentum in the smartphone sector, but it’s pretty certain its mapping app will be firmly put through its paces by iPhone users, pending major improvements in Apple Maps.
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