Monday, February 14, 2011

Nokia & Microsoft - what now for maps?


Last week, Nokia and Microsoft formally announced a not-so-secret plan to leverage the two companies' technologies in the wireless marketspace.  Nokia will get much-need access to a modern (if not yet popular) mobile device OS, while Microsoft gets a still-major hardware vendor to dedicate itself to their platform.  I learned a great deal of background info from this post on the 'mobile opportunity blog' (thanks to Marc Piroleau for sharing).  And on Monday we learned as well from the Journal that Mr. Elop is getting significant aid from their friends in Redmond to implement this new OS.

So what does this mean for both Bing maps, and Ovi maps - surely only one of these technologies is really needed.  Microsoft has been developing its online map products for several years now, and it competes and shows well alongside the likes of both Google maps and Mapquest.  Nokia relies on Gate5 technology that it acquired through NAVTEQ a few years back, and has now integrated into it's free mobile navigation solution.  Evidently, Microsoft sees enough promise within the Gate5 technology, to bring some of that into Bing.  From a content perspective, and for access to content and services outside of the US, this may be a good thing for Bing.  I have my doubts however, that Ovi maps in its current form will win over customers in North America.  A few concerns I have:

- an online web platform that is not battle-tested:  currently you can see Ovi maps at work in their portal, and also at  I seriously doubt either portal has been tested to scale, the way Google, Mapquest and Bing have.

- a user experience that is still very European-centered:  go to Ovi maps, search for an address and invariably you'll still get results in the US that are StreetName-first and discount the US state  (Pennsylvania Avenue 1600, Washington, USA) - yick)

- a navigation experience that has great promise, but is also untested outside of Nokia's core market.  Nokia Gate5 has a big jump on google with their hybrid Nav (offline map data is easily updated via a PC) and I think this could be a boon in the US, where wireless service is spotty compared to many of Nokia's other markets.  If only there were more Nokia handsets involved to give me more peace of mind, that there solution is better-tested here.

And that frames up the larger problem for Nokia in the US - no relationship with the wireless carriers and no market presence to ensure a positive 'geo-experience' with their maps and navigation software.  Microsoft may help, but things aren't going to change overnight.

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