By Jonathan Weber
SAN FRANCISCO, Nov 13 (Reuters) - Nokia announced a mapping application for the iPhone and other devices on Tuesday and rebranded its location services under the “Here” umbrella as it sought to exploit a bright spot in its product mix.
Nokia also said it would acquire a Bay Area start-up called Earthmine to provide 3-D street views for its maps, and announced a partnership with Mozilla, maker of the Firefox web browser, to bring maps to the Firefox mobile operating system set to launch next year.
Mapping has emerged as a critical application in the emerging mobile computing economy, and Nokia’s mapping services - built on its 2007 acquisition of map pioneer Navteq - are seen as a strong point for the company even as it has struggled to compete in the smartphone business.
Nokia Chief Executive Stephen Elop said in an interview that the sales of the company’s new Lumia smartphones, based on the Microsoft’s Windows Phone software, would benefit from the devices having “location-based services that are better than anything else.”
Elop said he was “pleased” with Lumia sales so far and noted record pre-order volume in Russia, one of the company’s more important markets.
But Elop also stressed the effort to make the “Here” services available to a wide variety of vendors, including smartphone competitors.
“A bit part of what is new is how we are pushing this horizontally,” he said, adding that the new branding was partly an effort to make it more palatable for competitors to use the services.
The mapping data generates licensing revenues for Nokia, and Elop said location-oriented advertising would also be part of the mix for the Here.com website and the mobile services.
“Raising the profile of the unit should make its value clearer, but brand-building will take time without a huge ad budget,” said Martin Garner, analyst at British research firm CCS Insight.
The new IPhone app, created in the HTML 5 language that works on many different types of computers and smartphones and set to be released in the coming weeks, is a clear effort to capitalize on the much-publicized weaknesses of Apple Inc’s new mapping product.
Michael Halbherr, Nokia’s executive vice president for location and commerce services, joked at the San Francisco launch event that the iPhone app was created “on the off chance that there are some iPhone users who want a different map.”
Nokia also said it would release an Android mapping app early next year.
Under the agreement with Mozilla, the two companies will work together on location services and mobile maps for the new Firefox OS software, set to be released next year.
Nokia executives stressed the “computational mapping” technology behind Here.com that would allow users to generate a wide range of different types of maps from the service. The acquisition of Earthmine will enable 3D features in the maps, and user input will help to continually enhance the offerings, executives said.