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Marketplace Morning Report

Nokia’s HERE maps drive a new battleground in tech

Amy Scott May 8, 2015
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A bidding war appears to be in the works for a digital mapping business owned by the Finnish telecom company Nokia. The New York Times reports that Uber, the taxi and ride-sharing company, has put in a bid for as much as $3 billion for Nokia’s HERE. Also reportedly in the running is a group of German carmakers, including Audi and BMW, working with the Chinese search engine Baidu.

That’s a lot of interest in a business that isn’t exactly a household name.

“Nobody outside of the mapping industry has ever heard of Here,” says Brady Forrest, who runs the hardware incubator Highway1. “It’s, in my opinion, kind of a failed attempt at consumer branding.”

Yet Here is the biggest rival to Google Maps. Amazon and Microsoft use it. And if you’ve ever driven a car with a built-in navigation system, some 80 percent of them use Here’s data.

“Chances are you’ve used, and depending on the year, perhaps cursed at the system,” says Bryant Walker Smith, who teaches technology law at the University of South Carolina.

Uber wouldn’t comment on reports of its interest in Here. The company collects an immense amount of data about driving in major cities, says Roger Lanctot with Strategy Analytics, and wants to use it to build a logistics and shipping business.

“It’s a very powerful batch of data, all of which revolves around location. So the more accurate location you have, the better,” he says.

Right now Uber uses Google Maps, leaving Uber dependent on a competitor. Not only is Google expanding its own logistics and delivery business, both companies are pursuing driverless car technology. So are the German automakers reported to be working on a bid for HERE.

“For driverless cars to work, they need to know where they’re going,” says Forrest. “For that, they need mapping data.”

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