The launch of Amazon’s Fire phone today marks an important step for Nokia’s HERE location-technology business, which is supplying the underlying mapping platform used by the new smartphone. But it’s just part of a broader expansion strategy for the Nokia-owned company — including the planned release of new consumer services for iOS and Android later this year.
That’s one of the tidbits we learned during a recent interview with Nokia HERE CEO Michael Halbherr, who was in Seattle last week to huddle with the team from Medio Systems, the predictive analytics startup acquired by Here.
HERE is one of the three major businesses that remain part of Nokia following Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s smartphone business.
The company’s expected return to iOS is notable in part because HERE abandoned its iPhone app after Apple shifted to iOS 7 last year. Halbherr declined to go into detail about the company’s plans for iOS and Android, apart from saying the services will be released this year, serving as an example of the capabilities of the HERE location platform.
He described the consumer push as one piece of a broader strategy that includes expanding HERE’s platform for Internet companies and automotive makers, as well as further developing its capabilities in predictive analytics, fueled by the Medio acquisition.
“The idea is to create an incredible location cloud business,” Halbherr said, explaining how he sees HERE evolving over the next few years. “There’s a retail cloud, which is Amazon. There’s a social cloud, which is Facebook. And you have what we want to be, which is the location cloud. It’s the map for the 21st century. We want to build the map for the real digital age.”
Continue reading for edited excerpts from our interview.
What’s it been like working with Amazon on the Fire phone?
Halbherr: We’ve learned a lot from Amazon. I personally have deep respect for Amazon. I think the company has, for 20 years, pursued what they want to do. They have very strong leadership, and we’ve learned a lot. We’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a great cloud company. We like them as a customer because they really force us to be on our toes and to be a great supplier. We have deep respect for them, and it goes both ways. We are a supplier to them, but at the same time, they are a supplier to us, with Amazon Web Services.
That’s interesting, because when you’re supplying to the former Nokia smartphone business at Microsoft, you’re running through AWS, not Microsoft Azure. Does that bring up awkward conversations with the Microsoft teams?
Halbherr: No. The Azure discussion, of course, we’ve had. It’s nothing against Azure. It’s just that we had invested earlier because we had an open stack on the server when Azure was still very focused on the Microsoft stack. It’s not a strategic partnership we have with AWS, it’s a supplier relationship. Which I think is healthy. Today people tend to call everything a partnership. No, it’s a supplier. A customer relationship is healthy, because somebody pays and somebody gets paid.
What is the state of your Microsoft relationship right now? It’s a time of great transition. In what ways are you continuing to work with them, and is it as tight as when the smartphone business was part of Nokia?
Halbherr: Interestingly (before the acquisition) we worked a lot more with the Microsoft people than with the devices guys. Because we were a supplier to Bing, and actually Microsoft people co-located with us. At the end of the day, we worked very closely.
Of course, Microsoft has gone through a lot of change. Recently we had multi-day engineering sessions together with Microsoft. We work very, very closely with Microsoft. It’s a key customer for us. It’s a very important relationship for us. We feel quite proud of what we have done for the Windows ecosystem in terms of our apps.
Three years from now, where would you like the Here business to be?
Halbherr: The idea is to create an incredible location cloud business. There’s a retail cloud, which is Amazon. There’s a social cloud, which is Facebook. And you have what we want to be, which is the location cloud. It’s the map for the 21st century. We want to build the map for the real digital age.
Today most of the maps are a digital version of an analog business. The future is to build that location cloud, which is about location intelligence, understanding behavior, understanding places and routes and venues, and becoming predictive.
The automotive space is a very big anchor for us. What people want is an intelligent car. That’s a very important anchor for us. I personally do not believe that people will run car telematics through a phone. Cars will be connected.
In the consumer market, we want to become a modern location-cloud mapping supplier to the major Internet platforms. Microsoft is a platform, Amazon is a platform, and there are more out there that we want to work with. The only platform we obviously don’t work with is Google, which has its own maps.
We will also launch our own consumer services. You will see us go on iOS and Android. Really moving up the stack. We want to be known as the location cloud also from a consumer perspective, the way Spotify is known for music. We want to work everywhere.