On August 3rd, Nokia announced the long rumored sale of its digital mapping division HERE to a consortium of car brands consisting of Audi, BMW, and Daimler for $2.8 billion Euro. When all is said and done, it seems HERE has finally found a suitable home, after a long journey of being independent (NAVTEQ), failed integration attempts into Nokia’s location consumer business, and finally as a somewhat orphaned Nokia business unit representing few synergies with its much bigger network infrastructure business.
Car OEMs owning HERE makes sense: the native use case for maps is navigation and with the expected emergence of autonomous cars real-time maps will become a critical asset; however “live maps” and advanced analytics will also be critical in enabling future smart city approaches leveraging car sensor data for a wide range of use cases such as parking, weather, and traffic incidents. BMW has been particularly active in developing smart mobility applications such as multimodal navigation for its EV i brand.
It is nevertheless remarkable a consortium of 3 fiercely competing car OEMs are joining forces to collectively own HERE. Partnerships between car OEMs are far and few between and this instance illustrates increasing awareness about the need to collaborate across the individual car brands, not in the least because of the necessity to aggregate and leverage data from the widest possible base of connected cars, referred to as “swarm intelligence” by the consortium, which has clear links to collective cognitive intelligence and deep learning, something which no car brand can achieve on its own.
This acquisition also means German premium brands are now in pole position to take a lead in autonomous driving, despite the fact HERE explicitly confirms it will continue its life as an independent platform providers across the entire consumer, enterprise, location and automotive industries. However, it remains to be seen what the reaction of other car brands will be - buying maps from their competitors or moving their business to HERE rival TomTom, which has recently become very vocal about its own ambitions to create high accuracy maps for autonomous driving. Will we see a second consortium building around TomTom? Or even a second acquisition, mirroring events unfolding in 2008 when Tele Atlas and Navteq were acquired in quick succession by TomTom and Nokia respectively. But this is not a two horse race: Google is building its own high resolutions maps for its own autonomous vehicle technology. However, at the very least, HERE now being owned by powerful car brands, will be able to mount credible long term competition against its rival. This might actually have been one of the main reasons for the car OEM consortium to pick up HERE: ensure its survival as an (independent) alternative for ubiquitous Google.
On a more meta level, this announcement highlights the car industry is waking up to the reality they are increasingly operating in the digital as opposed to the physical arena, prompting them to invest, acquire, and own ICT assets; as a matter of fact this ICT acquisition spate had already started with the Porsche holding taking a stake in real-time traffic data analytics vendor INRIX in 2014.
The recent wave of cyber security vulnerability exposures will only hasten this industry’s transition into the 21st century, saying belatedly goodbye to more than a century of building mechanical systems. Actually, Daimler’s Zetsche recently stated the imperative to secure the mapping platform against cyber threats was a main incentive to acquire HERE. The car has now indeed become a computer on wheels!