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Nokia Here and now: a conversation with Nokia's Peter Skillman on the company's big new venture for location

News by Andrew Kameka on Friday November 16, 2012.

industry news · andrew kameka

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Nokia is Here. Not 'here' in the physical sense but 'Here' as in the name of the rebranded location platform that the company announced earlier this week at its Directions Summit in San Francisco. Nokia used the Summit to announce quite a bit of news about how it plans to deliver mapping solutions across operating systems, and Here is the defining characteristic of it all. Though it initially appeared that Here is a new name for Nokia Maps that is coming to Windows Phone, Android, and iOS, it's actually the backbone of all of Nokia's location and commerce efforts.

Here is how Nokia incorporates its many location products and delivers a better map experience than it has in the past. Following the Directions Summit, I sat down with Peter Skillman, VP of Mobile Phones UX at Nokia, to discuss the direction Nokia is taking with Here. Below is a transcript of our conversation discussing the initiative's size, purpose, and goals.

That was a lot to digest in your presentation. Can you give me a core summary that encapsulates what Nokia is trying to accomplish with Here?

[Nokia CEO] Stephen Elop's core strategy is to go horizontal, so let's look at what we announced. We announced on Windows Phone some new experiences, Livesight; Here.com, an entirely new WebGL 3D experience leveraging directions, collections, and places; and the iOS HTML5 application that has a native wrapper around it and brings some advantages over than just a pure HTML5 website. We also have, and we didn't really talk about this today, but we have an HTML5 version effectively for Android that goes on any browser or any screen resolution...and we announced the acquisition of earthmine, which is really how about how we double down and make our collection of data better.

Ultimately, all of these things are about building the best experience on any mobile device. That's really what we're doing. Going horizontal like that makes the experience better for everybody, in part because of the way we capture all these data probes. The more that we scale, the more that we make this better for everybody. [Here] is a whole suite of products of everything that we announced. There are so many products in our history of what we've released to date, and it all came together with Here.

You mentioned the acquisition of earthmine. What did they bring to the table that you couldn't get on your own or just deliver through a licensing deal?

It's a strategic investment; we believe in the importance of street level data. What they brought was not just the technology that happened to mate really nicely with our compute engine that can take all the data to bring into that single cloud model, but we also have a great team. In the end, it's really all about people, and they're a great team. The beauty of what they had given us is that it's really scalable. One of the benefits that they bring is that the solutions that they have in cars are at a lot lower cost. It's a really intelligent structure of camera sensors much lower than a lot of other systems. Our ability to scale that up and build a great number of cars and expand our street level imagery and 3D data is really enabled by that.

A lot of what you're doing is being done by other competitors like Apple and Google, who have acquired smaller companies to improve their maps, so how would you say Here differentiates from other products?

I'd say that it's the same - except in every detail. We're trying to deliver the best mobile experience on every platform, and we have a long history. We're the only ones that are delivering the true offline local machine [that offers] the tile data, the rendering speed, and the ability to zoom flexibly. You can't get an experience like this - [quickly zooms in and out of multiple detailed areas across the globe] - with 60 frames per second on other systems. Are you going to get this in a tile-based system? Absolutely not. It's a better experience.

Exactly how much data does Here bring in together to form your maps?

I think it's like 1,800 different sources that we bring in all the way from reviews to place data that has phone numbers and photos of the taco that you're going to eat a restaurant. we also bring in the LIDAR data, the 3D data, and community data, like Yelp reviews or user feedback, which is a really important part in the growth economies to build and expand our map data.

How much data does that translate to what's stored on a phone?

[On Windows Phone], it's 2.5GB for the entire United States in vector form. That means right now I have Beijing, all of the UK, all of the United States on my phone. You can pick whatever you want. Sometimes it's just states, like California, but places like China have a lot of individual cities because it's so huge.

Considering all the space required for quality maps, can you give me a little more clarity on how the cloud factors into Here?

We basically have the MOS, or Map Operating System, on the phone. It's an engine that renders the map information that's stored in vector form on the phone and is also tied into the cloud. the cloud includes the components that the community is adding, the entire captured data that we're continually adding, and it also includes your favorites or collections. When we talk about the cloud, we think of the Here cloud as an integration of both the client experience and the cloud data - we're using that term kind of broadly.

On the client, there's a very specific piece of code that is set up to render and manage all of that vector data and display it efficiently, which is why it's 2.5 gigs in vector form. That would be 122TB in tile-based form, which is why this solution is so much better than any tile-based solution. You get faster rendering, 60 frames per second, and if you're on the Tube or out of coverage, you can still do routing. With tiles, you're only going to cache a very tiny area. What we're doing shows the power of having a hybrid engine that does a true offline experience.

You also showcased the signals that you were able to get from users...

Yes, we call it probe data. That's one of the benefits of the scale that we bring because all those probes allow us to find out [how users travel] and make maps better.

How soon from the time that you notice how users are diverging from normal roads and are able to update your map to deliver it to consumers?

I'm not quite sure.

*A Nokia rep who is aware of the answer jumps in and says the following: It depends. The example that we showed today was in Russia and you see volume of people taking a new road that we don't have in our map yet. You see that there's an outlier and you start to investigate that outlier, so it depends on volume. We were talking to someone today in San Francisco who commutes with a new ferry from where he lives, but that's not mapped. The outlier is that either Jesus lives in Oakland or we better investigate.

Nokia powers 4 of 5 automobile navigation systems? Do those vehicles send back live traffic data?

No, they don't...today. Not today.

Here is integrated with everything that you guys are doing. Are there plans to integrate it into one single app or leave it as multiple products?

This is a bit of a philosophical divide around those that want to build separate vertical applications and those who want to build the mother of all applications that have everything in it. There is no exclusive yes or no answer to that. There are cases where the separate apps like City Lens just make sense because you're looking for something and bang! You exit and go out. There's also a view where we want the single map experience that includes Livesight and Places with deep links, that's what i use to describe when I get a Place page that I can actually launch another application from that and it delivers a single horizontal space across applications. It doesn't even feel like it's a separate app; it feels like a single app because of the way that we handle the experience.

What was the reason you decided to go cross-platform?

We've actually been doing that for a while. Smart for a business model, wouldn't you think? Deliver the best mobile solution on every platform. You're going to make the best maps better by adding more data and more probe data means better maps for everyone.

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About the author

Andrew Kameka
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.

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