Nokia has pretty much died in the smart phone market, having failed to really make itself stand out amongst some stiff competition. But the company has another idea – one that can help both its phones as well as insinuate it into the competition’s phones too: offer its map service on other platforms.
Nokia plans to offer a maps app for both the iOS (iPhone, iPad, etc) and Android-based devices. It will be free to download and there will be a toolkit that developers can use to integrate it with other apps on those devices. It’s also developing a partnership with Mozilla (Firefox, Netscape) to integrate geo-location features to use in the new Firefox OS (operating system).
So far, this mapping and direction-finding feature in Nokia’s map database are its biggest single selling point for its own smart phones, specifically the Lumia line. So isn’t offering those maps to others kind of slitting its own throat?
Well, not really. First, though the Lumia phones haven’t sold very well, Nokia does think they can help sell more of them by offering the maps database to others. The idea is to get people used to the maps and then show them that they can do even more with them if they have a Nokia device.
The idea might work, but more importantly, offering the maps database on other, more popular platforms, will make the database more valuable for another big reason: mapping software, just like Web search and similar applications, require lots of uses (user hits) to grow. The more users utilize them, the more the app learns and the more connections the database creates within itself, thus making everything work better, smarter.
So by putting the database onto other devices and gaining much more use, the maps system Nokia has will become more and more robust and useful.
Wait, isn’t Google Maps better?
Well, yes and no. Google’s mapping database is more comprehensive than Nokia’s in many ways, especially at street level and satellite overviews. It is not, however, as good at one important thing on mobile: showing up quickly on-screen when the connection is poor.
Nokia’s maps can be downloaded ahead of time so that users can utilize them without needing a connection. This is great for those who travel (think aircraft, tunnels) and those who live in areas where service can become spotty (Toronto, anyone?). Further, Nokia’s software realizes when a user spends a lot of time in one particular area and will pre-load those maps to the phone and save them in this offline configuration, making map loading for places you visit often much faster than otherwise – the data is already there.
With the company’s pending acquisition of Earthmine, a mapping company in California specializing in 3-D maps of street views, Nokia is poising itself to be a world leader in mobile maps. Spreading out to other devices could make them a threat to Google. Even if Nokia doesn’t win out, competition is always a good thing.