For Nokia, helping the competition find its way is good business

Financially, Nokia is in bad shape. It lost a billion dollars last quarter, which is only good news when you look at the quarter before that, which shows a $1.7 billion loss. Despite all this, Christof Hellmis, VP Location Platform at Nokia, doesn't seem to be the least bit concerned. In fact, he's rather chipper as he sits down with us at this year's Mondial de l'Automobile in Paris.

Perhaps that's because his division, Location & Commerce, is doing quite well indeed. Containing the remains of Navteq, L&C pulled down nearly €100 million profits in each of the past two quarters. It's a healthy golden goose in Nokia's rapidly shrinking barn. So why, then, is the company helping its competition improve their own offerings by providing more comprehensive navigation services baked right into Windows Phone 8? And, why is it that Apple's own attempt at mapping has gone oh so poorly? Those are just a few of the questions we asked of Mr. Hellmis, all detailed for you after the break.

"We are able to perform worldwide because of our auto partnerships... We innovate because we go deep."


Navteq's experience in the mapping industry dates back nearly 30 years, experience that Nokia consumed in an incredibly fruitful 2007 acquisition. Those decades of digital cartography helped the company build a thoroughly comprehensive set of data, but it wasn't all self-motivated development. "We are able to perform worldwide because of our auto partnerships," says Hellmis. "We innovate because we go deep."

Going deep, in this sense, is doing everything required to keep partners like BMW, Mercedes, VW and dozens more happy. Navteq data is present on four out of five in-car navigation systems today and it's the constant push by those clients that's helped the company get as good as it is -- and also helped provide a much-needed boost to Nokia's bottom line.

Why, then, help the competition by giving away that Navteq map data and technology? Well, first of all, Nokia isn't giving it away.

So why, then, help a company like HTC to make its Windows Phone 8X handset better by giving away that Navteq map data and technology? Well, first of all, Nokia isn't giving it away. Hellmis declined to shed any light on the deal that saw Nokia including its latest and greatest mapping technology into Microsoft's latest mobile OS, but this non-response should give you a pretty good idea: "We are a licensing business and there are traditional economics."

In other words, they're getting paid, but he was quick to point out Nokia isn't just in it for the financial incentive. He echoed his boss Stephen Elop's battle cry that they're now embroiled in a "war of ecosystems" and, when you're in the middle of a war, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. By elevating Windows Phone as a whole, Nokia is helping to raise its own business case higher.

"What we are doing on a global scale is difficult. It's difficult and expensive. Everybody who wants to get into that should understand what they are getting themselves into."

And what about Apple's recent missteps? Hellmis resisted the opportunity to jab at his foe, instead taking the chance to relay the incredible difficulty of what they do. "What we are doing on a global scale is difficult. It's difficult and expensive. Everybody who wants to get into that should understand what they are getting themselves into." Apple, in other words, is in for a hell of a marathon if it wants to deliver something as comprehensive as the petabytes of data Navteq has acquired, and catching up on 30 years of expertise won't be easy.

So what's next? Nokia is currently building out Navteq True, a 3D-scanned database of positional information that is making traditional, two-dimensional maps obsolete. "What we're building is a digital representation of the world," says Hellmis, a representation so accurate that cars of the not-too-distant future will be able to use this vectorized map data to run more efficient cruise control. They could, for example, proactively downshift or upshift when approaching cresting hills or soften the suspension when nearing a pothole.

And what about Nokia's other big push on the automotive front? MirrorLink (neé Terminal Mode)? When will Microsoft implement this system that could finally create a standard enabling in-car connectivity for all phones? "Not yet," said Hellmis, adding a wry smile that said it all.

Steve Dent contributed to this report.