Finnish Tech website IT Vikko recently reported that Nokia will turning over HERE Apps development to Microsoft. Though this may seem like a blow to the Windows Phone platform, especially when Nokia has recently developed an Android HERE maps application and plan to introduce HERE maps to iOS devices. However, looking at the bigger picture, the development of HERE maps by Microsoft is actually a good thing.
It is important to note how crucial HERE maps is to the Windows Phone platform. When Microsoft launched WP7 in October 2010, Maps were deeply integrated into the OS with a feature called Local Scout. This allowed users to quickly find points of interests that were around them (e.g. a Chinese restaurant).However, the Bing Mapping data was severely limited, covering only the United States and a few European Countries. In addition, since Google did not support Microsoft mobile platform, this left the majority of Windows Phone users outside the Unites States without any mapping solutions.
Nokia joined the Windows Phone platform in 2011 and brought with it a robust map solution. Nokia Maps, later rebranded to HERE had extensive global coverage and provided innovative solutions such as off line maps, live traffic data, turn by turn navigation, transit data and more. Windows Phone users across the word suddenly had class to a world class mapping solution. With the announcement of Windows Phone 8 in 2012, Microsoft licensed HERE map data and incorporated into their Bing Maps solution. In 2014, Microsoft completed the acquisition of Nokia’s Mobile hardware division while Nokia retained its Solutions and Network, HERE Mapping divisions and IP licensing. As part of the agreement, Microsoft will continue to license the HERE mapping data for the foreseeable future.
Thus announcement that Microsoft will take over development of mapping apps from the Nokia team makes sense on several levels:
- With reduced resources, Nokia needs to focus efforts on gaining more market share in the mobile space. This means HERE apps on Android and iOS.
- Microsoft can use the licensed HERE data to create integrated value add mapping solutions into its products.
Creating a global mapping geospatial data system is a Herculean task that requires both extensive resources in manpower but significant financial commitments. One only has to look at the fiasco of Apple Maps to understand the complexities involved. By licensing the geospatial data from HERE, Microsoft can use its resources more efficiently to creating value on top of that data layer. HERE on the hand, also improves their data aggregation by getting users on the two platforms that command 95% of the mobile market. This in turns leads to better data, which Microsoft is licensing. Thus all involved partners benefit from this arrangement.
POI (Point of Interest)
As good as HERE maps were on Windows Phone, they still lacked functionality that comes from being directly integrated into the operating system. Android’s tight integration with Google Maps and its use of Google Now as the main front end of geospatial data interaction, shows the gap with HERE on Windows Phone. With Microsoft’s control of the app development from henceforth, users across the world will be able to experience similar features via Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana that Windows Phone users in the United States currently have access to.
Why Are Maps Important
Though we all have maps on our phone, we don’t use them on a daily basis. We pull out our maps app when we are driving to a new location. For most people, this happens on a very infrequent basis. Thus it seems odd that all the mobile platforms show off maps as a key feature in their mobile ecosystems, when the apps are not used often. The simple truth is that mapping apps are not the most important piece of the puzzle. The collection and collation of geospatial data is the golden egg. With access to geospatial data as a background service, smartphones can do many more value adding tasks.
- For example, if you have a meeting in a location different from you current location, your phone could be aware of the traffic conditions on the route that you would take. If the traffic would cause a delay in the commute time, your phone would warn you to leave earlier and propose an alternative route so that you make it to the meeting on time (Google Now does this).
- You could also tell you phone to remind you that you need to buy milk on the way home. As the phone knows your route to get home, it can remind to buy milk when you pass a super market on this route (Cortana does this with Location based reminders).
- If you search for a specific item, the search app could not only tell you which shop has the item you are looking for, but also how to get there.
These examples show the real value that geospatial data can add to our everyday lives. This data moves from the forefront of a mapping app, to a much more powerful background service that adds value without you having to actively find that information.
I would expect to see the HERE apps on Windows Phone maintained in terms of functionality, but not to have any major features added. The majority of geospatial innovation will be integrated directly into the next version of Microsoft’s Operating System, Windows 10.
The concern that I have with this approach by Microsoft is the pace at which they will support emerging markets. Traditionally Microsoft has been very slow to add feature parity for their users in emerging markets. If the Windows Phone Team continues in this vein and does not roll out new features to emerging markets quickly, these users will move to a platform that does.