Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft and Amazon are in talks to take a possible minority stake in HERE Maps, which is now owned by Audi, BMW and Daimler, the parent of Mercedes-Benz. After Nokia sold HERE to the German consortium for a little less than $3 billion, there was a question of how broadly and aggressively HERE would compete in the market.
HERE is either the mapping platform or a critical data provider to Yahoo, Facebook and Bing. Microsoft had wanted to buy HERE outright when it acquired the Nokia hardware/handset business for more than $7 billion. However, Nokia declined to sell the mapping unit at that time.
HERE has given numerous indications recently that it intends to remain a full-blown mapping platform and will continue to compete directly with Google and Apple in the market. Shortly after the acquisition, the automakers reportedly began seeking strategic investors to continue HERE’s mission. (HERE is like Switzerland for automakers paranoid about Google and Apple taking over the in-car digital experience.)
Microsoft and Amazon, as rivals of Google, are strategically aligned with HERE. In addition, the POI/location data, mapping and navigation are critical aspects of the mobile user experience, which extends beyond smartphones and traditional digital maps now. Indeed, accurate mapping and location data are essential to the proposition of autonomous vehicles.
A broader consortium of investors would allow HERE to continue to accelerate development of the product and make relevant acquisitions. The WSJ report makes the point that Microsoft and Amazon could bring huge cloud computing power to the consortium to enhance HERE’s current and further data processing needs.
After a long period of dominance by Google Maps, when it appeared competition was drying up, the improvement of Apple Maps, the relaunch of Mapquest, the growth of OpenStreetMap and its ecosystem, the continued existence of several European mappers (e.g., TomTom), as well as smaller players such as eeGeo, indicate that digital mapping (and associated use cases) may be entering a new period of competition and innovation.