Autonomous Vehicle Ambitions Behind HERE Suitors?

May 27, 2015  - By
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Kevin Dennehy

Kevin Dennehy

A number of large companies are making bids to acquire Nokia’s HERE digital mapping company. At least one analyst believes the interest is fueled by future autonomous ambitions. In other location industry news, a new location-based analytics product hits the market.

Signaling the need to control a major location industry segment, Nokia’s HERE digital mapping company is attracting big-name suitors for as much as $3 billion. According to published reports, the bidders include Uber, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Chinese search engine giant Baidu — and even Facebook.

However, at least one industry insider believes the hoopla for HERE, which is found in a majority of in-dash navigation units worldwide, is being driven by the continued interest in autonomous vehicles.

“Google has been openly working on the concepts required to support AVs for several years and Apple has a skunkworks where they are working on prototypes for an Apple AV. The German luxury car makers realize the bind they could find themselves in — as do all vehicle manufacturers — if Google is able to produce a popular AV-oriented OS that is preferred by owners of AVs over an OS produced by the vehicle manufacturers,” said Mike Dobson, TeleMapics principal, who writes about the topic at www.telemapics.com. “I suspect that Google is really focused on an operating system for autonomous vehicles that can help promote Google’s interest in advertising, but will produce a prototype car to show how the system should work, although avoiding large-scale production. Apple, on the other hand, may be considering producing a vehicle that runs on their OS. So while Google is regarded as a more immediate concern for the automobile industry, the company may also become the vehicle manufacturers’ best friend and trusted supplier, if Apple enters the autonomous vehicle market as a vehicle manufacturer.”

While Dobson believes Uber, which bought mapping company deCarta in March, is playing with fire by bidding for HERE, he says they are clearly concerned what the world of autonomous vehicles might mean for their business. “Within 10 years, Uber will be producing its own fleet of AVs. While owning a map company might be beneficial to them, they might be better off licensing map databases,” he said.

Facebook Not a Good Match

Dobson said that while Facebook, rumored to also be a bidder, can afford the billions to buy HERE, there does not appear to be a significant strategic advantage for them in doing so. “While (Facebook) is experimenting with geographical databases, it is unclear to me that they would significantly benefit from owning a spatial database, as opposed to licensing the data, although their concern may be driven by a fear that the data might not be freely licensed after the company is acquired, say, by a competitor,” he said.

The problem with the automotive consortium and Uber that have surfaced in the quest for HERE, the company once called Navteq — and acquired by Nokia for more than $8 billion in 2007 — is that none are data companies — with the background and nuances of creating spatial databases,” Dobson said.

“From my perspective, that means none of the current bidders are ideal candidates to manage the company. Like Nokia, these companies may not actually know what to do when they win the auction,” he said. “During the eight years that Nokia has owned HERE, the mapping asset has been devalued and improperly positioned for growth. I do not know how much more mismanagement the team at HERE can take before the company and its navigation databases becomes non-competitive.”

Dobson says that Uber, Facebook, Baidu, and the German car manufacturers do not yet understand the expense of upgrading and maintaining HERE’s mapping database for the demands of the autonomous vehicle market. “Buying HERE for ‘internal’ use only would be a significant mistake, so any potential buyer is going to need to continue to sell data to all channels, even those owned by potential competitors. This simple reality will cause any of the buyers who have surfaced so far a lot of heartburn in the future,” he said.

Dobson says the clear winner for the future of HERE is the German automotive consortium of Audi, BMW and Mercedes, with its reported alliance with Baidu. “I do not regard this combo as an optimal owner, but the mix of interest may help keep HERE at the forefront of producing high-accuracy navigation databases — although the extent of map coverage may be a casualty of this ownership team,” he said.

New Location Analytics Product Hits the Market

A new location analytics product is hitting the market in a more and more crowded indoor-positioning field. The differentiator, says Cloud4Wi about its new Fogsense product, is that the unit constitutes the location industry’s smallest Internet of Things Wi-Fi device that is tailored to retail outlets, coffee shops, restaurant chains and shopping malls with presence analytics and location-based services.

The device, which contains Broadcom’s WICED chip, will feature Bluetooth low-power technology in the new version in (the fourth quarter), said Elena Briola, Cloud4Wi’s chief marketing officer. The new BLE version will enable Apple iBeacon and location-aware mobile applications.

“We not only track the position of visitors and customers in the venue, we aggregate this data in valuable analytics and we provide applications to deliver targeted localized services based on these analytics,” she said.

The device is also USB-powered, allowing businesses to scale its integration with both single and small venues, where Fogsense receives power from laptops and point-of-sale (POS) devices, the company said.

“Customers increasingly expect Wi-Fi to be available wherever they go. Businesses can collect valuable data about their customers, better understand their behavior and deliver more personalized marketing initiatives,” Briola said.

Like many location analytics companies, Cloud4Wi believes the new product will enable businesses to design push-targeted, localized marketing and advertising messages based on an assessment of the customer’s behavior at the venue.

The company evokes the much-quoted ABI Research statistics that more than 1 million location retail deployments will occur by 2020.

 

About the Author:


Kevin Dennehy is GPS World’s editor for location-based services, writing a monthly column for the LBS Insider newsletter. Dennehy has been writing about the location industry for more than 20 years. He covered GPS and location technology for Global Positioning & Navigation News for seven years. His articles on the wireless industry have been published in both consumer and trade magazines and newspapers.

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