With all the backlash against the new Apple Maps app, a struggling Nokia smells opportunity. Nokia has spent billions of dollars over the past few years to fine-tune its mapping technology and hopes it will pay off with some iPhone users considering Nokia's Lumia phones.
Apple decided not to renew its deal for Google Maps when it developed iOS 6. Now, users who have upgraded to the new mobile operating system are complaining that Apple's Maps app doesn't hold a candle to Google's.
Nokia owns Navteq, which creates digital maps and map content that power location-based services solutions. Nokia bought the company about four years ago for $8.1 billion. Could Apple's misstep be Nokia's windfall? Or will Apple scramble to pick up the mapping pieces before Nokia can get a foothold?
Nokia Slaps Apple
"Unlike our competitors, which are financing their location assets with advertising or licensing mapping content from third parties, we completely own, build and distribute mapping content, platform and apps," said Pino Bonetti from Nokia's maps team.
"In other words, we truly understand that maps and location-based apps must be accurate, provide the best quality and be accessible basically anywhere. That's been standard practice at Nokia for the past six years, and we also understand that 'pretty' isn't enough. You expect excellence in your smartphone mapping experience."
That "pretty isn't enough" comment slaps Apple, which is known for its sleek and user-friendly user interfaces, right in the face. Bonetti pointed to the Navteq assets, the precise data, and the processing of core platform functionalities like routing, geocoding and traffic, as advantages. And he said those things can't be built overnight. Navteq has been in the business for 20 years.
Jabbing at Apple
Next, Bonetti offered a side-by-side analysis of the location experience on the Nokia Lumia 920, Samsung Galaxy S III and the Apple iPhone 5. Nokia wins hands down. Bonetti also pulled out the analyst guns for confirmation.
"Nokia's suite of location-aware apps and services on its new Lumia devices put it in a clear lead over its competitors in terms of the depth, breadth and integration of the mapping, navigation and transport experiences it can offer," said Tim Shepherd, senior analyst at Canalys. "It also leads in terms of the global coverage it provides."
That may be true, but that doesn't mean most people who ordered iPhone 5s are going to return the devices based on the mapping technology. Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis, told us the map flap does, however, give both Nokia and Android something to poke at Apple about.
"From what I've seen, there definitely seem to be a number of errors in the software and that gives Apple a bit of a black eye," Greengart said. "Apple may fix these problems and there may even be a version of Google Maps for iOS at some point. I don't know that this is really going to be something that Nokia, Samsung -- or other Android device makers -- can use to get people to move away from iOS, but it does help reinforce their own brands."
The bottom line: Nokia's flagship Lumia smartphone, which will run on the coming Windows Phone 8 platform, is not available and no one knows when it's coming, which carriers are getting it or how much it's gong to cost.
Nokia's flagship product may very well have a better mapping platform, Greengart said, but you can't buy it today and the version of maps on some of Nokia's previous U.S. products lack core features like text-to-speech.
"I don't know that Nokia is actually gong to be able to take full advantage of this," Greengart said. "And I don't think the maps will hurt Apple's sales."