Here Today, Here Tomorrow

Here Maps Is on the Road to Further Success

Here_logo_lI recently caught up with Here Maps in Berlin shortly after the company’s sale was announced by Nokia to Here’s new owners, the automotive consortium of Audi, BMW and Daimler. The deal has not yet closed.

The consortium is a better fit for Here than some of the other interested parties given the crucial nature of location assets to the future of cars. Automotive is one of the strongest industrial sectors in Europe, and Here is one of relatively few European Internet “unicorns” — players valued at over $1 billion. The members of the automotive consortium and Here are also good examples of Europe-based companies with truly global businesses. The consortium has committed to keep Here as an open and independent entity.

“Open” will mean that the new owners are clear on the distinction between their roles as investors and as customers. Here can only be successful if it maintains its relationships with customers in the automotive industry without its owners posing a competitive threat. The mapping firm has a strong position in the sector, and is used in 49 of the 54 new car models launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. “Independent” means that Here won’t be integrated with any of its owners’ operations, and that its management will be free from significant operational interference.

However, Here will be required to run as a profitable business despite still being in investment mode. This will involve continuing with all existing lines of business, namely automotive, enterprise and consumer.

The company highlighted that there should be rapid growth in demand for high-definition maps as the world moves toward self-driving cars and digital transportation systems (in which the different forms of transport are connected). These are the most demanding uses addressed by the company, and the quality of data required will benefit its other services, such as consumer apps.

Here said it was pleased with uptake of its Android and iOS consumer apps, released earlier in 2015. Over 1 million downloads were achieved on both platforms within 60 days, and 10 million downloads between January and June.

The company stresses that its consumer heritage is important for future apps and services, and that this will have high priority as Here develops. As an example, it cites the uncertainties about what the dashboard of self-driving cars should display to users while they’re travelling — something that the whole industry will need to learn as self-driving cars are progressively adopted. But Here would be less able to take a major role in that learning process if it was no longer a provider of consumer apps.

Here’s Smart Guidance is another example of the linkage between automotive and consumer interests. The feature allows the active route to be stored in the cloud, making it available to the car system and to a companion app that gives the user information as they leave their vehicle and walk the final part of their journey. Here hopes that this map information — together with its actual and predictive traffic information, launched in November 2014 and now live in 11 countries — will add value even when the user is on a route they know well, encouraging everyday use. Google Maps has already made significant strides in this direction, offering live rerouting suggestions depending on traffic conditions.

Ownership by car companies means that Here can take a more central role in the development of new global standards for transportation. In the past six months it

  • Published a proposed interface specification for car sensor data to be uploaded to the cloud, and set up an industry forum to support it.
  • Established the Open Mobile Ticketing Alliance to develop standards that enable consumers to buy tickets for public transport worldwide from a single app.
  • Run a trial of a cooperative intelligent transportation system in Helsinki to connect vehicles and traffic management centres to provide better information about road use and hazards. This uses the existing LTE network, rather than new infrastructure.

The company is in a long-term development race with Google and Apple, using its own and TomTom’s data for the future of digital mapping — though each has a lead in some aspects and is behind in others. We have previously described Here as the “anti-Google”, a mapping partner that’s not threatening disruption as a potential rival, but Here says it’s not in direct competition with the search giant (and Apple doesn’t licence its maps at present).

Digital mapping is such an expensive and difficult undertaking that there are few significant players. Here should benefit from its new owners’ collective wish not to be disrupted by Google or Apple, and we expect it will need their full backing in the coming years.

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