Exploring Local
Mike Dobson of TeleMapics on Local Search and All Things Geospatial

What Are We Looking For In There? Is It News About Nokia And Yahoo?

May 27th, 2010 by MDob

I have been spending a lot of time in my office working on various client requests for TeleMapics and other business interests that I service. I have become something of a shut-in recently as I continue trying to get ahead of the workload, but without great success. Yesterday, I broke off for a lunch at Baja Fish Tacos with a business associate.

You know, Orange County can really be beautiful and the weather is often fabulous. Yesterday was one of those perfect days. Yet, as I drove along a beautiful stretch of road, almost everyone I saw was ignoring reality and looking at the screens of their cell phones, yep, even the drivers. People on the street were walking while staring at screens. As I drove into the parking lot, I had to be more cautious than usual, as most pedestrians were going to or from their cars staring into those tiny screens. Even my buddy was sitting in front of the restaurant, staring in to his screen. What are we looking for in there?

Obviously, this focus on the small screen has significance for evolution and the development of humped backs, increases in the population of beady-eyed people, and smaller, longer fingers, as well as the possibility of 360 degrees of movement in our thumb knuckle joints. But I don’t care about that. Inquiring minds are asking, “What are we looking for in there?”

Recently, when I was killing some time between appointments, I peered into the screen of my mobile and saw this article, “Yahoo Looking To Blow AOL’s Patch Out Of The Water”. Good for them. Who knew? Who cares? Have some patience; AOL will blow itself out of the water, just as it has done so many times before. Do you know how you spell AOL? Yep, that’s right “i-r-r-e-l-e-v-a-n-t.”

Next, I saw an article titled “Yahoo buys Koprol”. My initial reaction was “Save us, cut the electric grid now and dismantle the wireless towers.” Do you know how you spell Yahoo? Yep, that’s right “c-o-u-l-d-b-e-i-r-r-e-l-e-v-a-n-t-s-o-o-n.” Is this really the stuff we are looking to find in our phones? Or is our interest in what our recently found 3392 best friends have just posted on Facebook about their day? I’m not sure.

When I next stared into that small screen, I found out that Nokia and Yahoo seem to think we are looking for access to email, maps, messaging and local information. Hmm. Could this Nokia/Yahoo thing be important? And, in retrospect, could the two announcements above be important?

I thought that a Reuters report on the deal between these two titans seemed to have it right in that it downplayed the significance of the worldwide, strategic alliance between the companies. I reasoned that there has to be more to this partnership than meeting the consumer needs for mundane things like maps and email, but Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo, quashed my intuition by indicating that the relationship with Nokia is not an advertising-based partnership.

In addition, Bartz stated, “Yahoo lost its focus on maps a couple of years ago” and seemed to be using this as the motivation for switching to OVI Maps. I’ve got some bad news for Carol. Yahoo Maps may be better designed and more useable than the OVI maps that will replace them. The functionality in OVI maps is buggy (although I do like their 3D view), the service is slow and the maps appear even more out of date than the Yahoo maps, as they show a 2009 copyright (both use NAVTEQ data). In addition, the traffic warnings shown on the OVI maps are not as current as the traffic conditions shown for the same areas on the NAVTEQ website (same day, same time). (The combination of Nokia’s MetaCarta and Yahoo’s WhereOnEarth properties may be quite interesting – but not directly related to my interests here, so we will move on.)

Of course, the problems with serving and functionality mentioned above can be fixed, but I am not sure that Nokia or NAVTEQ are the companies to make these fixes, since the maps on the websites of both companies do not load as fast as the maps on Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, MapQuest or even Yahoo for that matter. Next, as I noted previously, the maps on OVI Maps and NAVTEQ’s website are not derived from NAVTEQ’s latest database release. Maybe they should take lessons from MapQuest who appears to be using NAVTEQ’s latest data!

On the other hand, perhaps Nokia and NAVTEQ need some deCarta? Maybe they need to purchase deCarta?

So, I think that we should conclude that “better” mapping is not the issue that sealed the deal. Free maps for Yahoo and free email access of Nokia users, now that might be more persuasive, but no financial information was released about the cross-licensing of maps, navigation, messaging or email functionality.

In order to appreciate this deal, I think you need to look under the covers, so I did a little research. During the press conference, the following image was shown and it contains some compelling information.

What each partner brings to the deal

(Click here to download a larger PDF version of this image.)

Although there may be some side-benefits from the deal to help Nokia with the unfamiliarity of the OVI brand in North America and with Nokia’s abysmal position in the North American phone market, I think this deal needs to be evaluated by its significance outside of North America and Western Europe.

It is my opinion that “infrastructure” may be an important reason behind the deal. Many countries around the world lack a well-developed wireline infrastructure either for their telephone systems or for their Internet services. In numerous “developing countries”, cellular phones are the device of choice for accessing the Internet and using email. In addition, it is my belief that, in these countries the focus of the use of messaging, email, Internet and maps is more likely to be local (as opposed to regional or national) than in the more “developed” economies. As a consequence, the users may gravitate to the platform that will advantaged them by providing access to quality local information (see, those first two news items mentioned at the start of this blog actually may be key to the success of this deal).

In other words, the Nokia/Yahoo deal is an example of the paradox that as the economies of the world become interlinked and globalized, societies seem to be becoming more “tribal” and tribal equates with local. The advent of Local-Social networking is a prime example of these trends and reflects the obvious interest that all of us have in knowing “what’s around me.”

It appears Yahoo could become a valid alternative to Google. Before this deal, Yahoo lacked the DISTRIBUTION to get its product to the masses. Similarly, while Nokia had distribution in the parts of the world coveted by Yahoo, it did not have an Internet presence that the masses would find relevant to their interests.

Perhaps the Nokia/Yahoo deal will work out to be significant. However, to “make it so” Nokia will have to show more flexibility and less “Finland-vision” than it appears to have been able to muster in the past. This deal is really about the balkanization of information and global publishing. While it is good to have companies like Reuters and AP, they are not where I turn when I want to find news about Laguna Hills or Orange country. I think the rest of the world will vote the same way and now Nokia and Yahoo may have forged a strategy that give them an opportunity to compete with Google around the world by providing local information or relevance to local populations.

Now for the real, but unpublished, news in the deal

As a side note, I was slightly surprised that it was OVI Maps that was mentioned in the deal and not NAVTEQ. Is Navteq on its way to being absorbed by the Borg of the north? Clearly, NAVTEQ is not a consumer-facing brand, so that may be the reason they are in the backseat on this one. However, they may be a significant beneficiary of the deal. What? How could that be?

Well, all of you (that’s all five of you) who use OVI Maps might be interested to know, at least according to my sources, that the 3.1 software license you signed with OVI sends probe data back to … Nokia and the amount of probe data may be on the verge of expanding exponentially with the Yahoo deal. Now OVI will be able to fix their traffic guidance and NAVTEQ will have another tool to use in its competition with Tele Atlas. How about that? Maybe that’s the kind of thing I am trying to find when I stare into that small screen.

For those of you in the U.S., I hope you have a terrific Memorial Day Weekend.

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Posted in crowdsourced map data, Mapping, Mike Dobson, Navteq, Nokia, Nokia Ovi Maps, routing and navigation, Yahoo

3 Responses

  1. Nick Bicanic

    solid summary. thanks mike 😉

    Thanks for you comment, Nick.


  2. Nick Bicanic

    your captcha is pretty funny also 😉

    I’m inclined to agree with you on the yahoo/nokia short to mid term strategy – (as in – it’s outside of North American markets)

    I sincerely hope Nokia has a solid performing touchscreen phone on the horizon…S60 5th edition is not really a big enough leap away from S60 3rd edition…for my liking.

    but yeah – this story is not over yet…

    Nick – thanks for you comments. It should be interesting.


  3. Jim Donahue

    How long before Nokia buys Yahoo?

    Thanks, Jim:
    Sorry for the delayed response. I had to move the blog to a new server and it seems that the comment system needed a tweak. I almost missed your comment – so I apologize.

    I am not sure that is in the cards since the Yahoo agreement with Microsoft (Bing) may make a potential acquisition less palatable to Nokia. I think Yahoo is hoping that Apple buys them, but that is, also, unlikely.