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Nokia debuts Here, cross-platform location service

The company will target competing handsets and platforms

Nokia plans an ambitious expansion of its mapping and location-based services platform beyond its own smartphones to competing devices running OSes other than Windows Phone 8, it said Tuesday.

The move is being backed with the acquisition by Nokia of Earthmine, a California-based provider of street-level 3D imaging data, and will see Nokia going head-to-head with Google, Apple and dedicated mapping companies like TomTom.

"We want to give everyone with any type of device to ability to use this, the best location platform in the industry," said Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia, speaking at an event in San Francisco.

Nokia will use the "Here" brand name across its location platform.

The company hopes that by expanding its platform beyond its own handsets, it will benefit from the greater scale of the service and in turn make its own service better.

Nokia's platform includes mapping and satellite data, 75 million searchable points of interest, car and foot navigation data, and public transport information.

Nokia has already taken some steps towards opening up its mapping database. It has worked with car navigation system makers and other IT companies including Amazon and Oracle to license its maps, said Elop.

"We will do much, much more of this," he said.

As a first step, Nokia will launch on Apple's iOS in the coming weeks, said Michael Halbherr, head of Nokia's location and commerce division. The iOS version will be based on HTML5 but will appear to users like a native application, he said. It will offer maps, navigation, live traffic, public transport information and more.

Nokia has already submitted it to Apple's App Store, where the company plans to offer it for free.

The iOS version will offer turn-by-turn navigation for pedestrians but not for car drivers.

"When we look at turn-by-turn, we look at it in a different way," said Thom Brenner, vice president of Nokia's location and commerce business, in an interview. "Safety is very important and we don't think HTML5 is good enough for what we want."

Brenner didn't say if Nokia was developing a native iOS app.

A Here SDK (software development kit) for Android will be available in the first quarter of 2013. That will allow developers to embed Here Maps and make use of Nokia's location information in their own applications.

However, while software makers will be able to develop Android apps that make use of the location services, the services will only be available on handsets from companies with which Nokia has a licensing agreement, said Brenner.

That means Nokia's platform will only expand to Android devices if other handset makers -- the company's rivals in the competitive smartphone market -- license the technology.

Nokia will also work with Mozilla to bring a Here Maps app to the Firefox OS.

"People today already own multiple connected devices, so to have a proper solution for the consumer we need to make sure it works everywhere," said Halbherr.

Internet users can check out Nokia's new platform by looking at here.com, a freshly launched website that offers maps, satellite images and data on landmarks and shops. In a demonstration, Nokia showed a map of San Francisco that included 3D buildings and allowed the user to zoom and rotate the map in a similar fashion to Google Earth.

A mobile version of the site is available for cellphones.

Nokia also said it will open up the augmented reality platform used in its Nokia City Lens software. Called LiveSight, the data and software engine allows cellphone users to hold up their phones to see a live view of the world around them through the phone's camera with locations marked and overlaid on the image.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is [email protected]


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