Nokia Developing 'Here' Maps App for iOS, Android

Over the past few months, as rumors picked up for a Microsoft-made Surface smartphone, the fate of struggling Finnish phonemaker Nokia fell further into question. While the company's partnership with Microsoft appeared to tie it to the new Windows ecosystem, Microsoft's vendor deals with HTC and Samsung, in addition to its own rumored hardware plans, have made that a high-risk proposition for Nokia. 

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According to the New York Times' Bits blog, Nokia now plans to release a free version of its mapping suite, called 'Here', in Apple's app store, available to iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch owners. The company will also release a toolkit to Android programmers to develop a similar app and has formed a partnership with Mozilla to develop location features for a new operating system called Firefox OS. 

Nokia's mapping database has information on more than 200 countries, with offline maps, voice-guided walking navigation, and public transportation directions. The maps suite represents one of Nokia's best assets as it tries to recover via opportunities in the mobile market. With glitches and inaccuracies in Apple's own nascent maps application and a growing standoff between Apple and Google, Nokia has identified an area for growth and improvement to its already powerful service. 

“For the location platform to be at the highest quality, one needs scale, and you need as many different people contributing as possible,” Nokia CEO Stephen Elop said. “Of course, Nokia will build apps, some of them unique to Lumia devices, that gain a competitive advantage for Nokia.”

One feature favored for Lumia owners on Windows Phone 8 is City Lens, which pulls up information on real world objects scanned by users, such as restaurants and buildings. To improve this feature, Nokia has acquired Earthmine, a Berkeley, California-based mapping company specializing in three dimensional street view maps. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but it is expected to be finalized by the end of the year. 

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While Nokia's Elop has previously stated his commitment to Microsoft's Windows ecosystem and his enthusiasm for the Lumia model smartphones, the move to bring maps to rival operating systems is a clear sign that the company will not limit itself at a time when Microsoft's long-term intentions for hardware partnerships remain unclear.