Samsung licenses HERE maps, still trying to escape the Google ecosystem

Samsung logoSamsung and Nokia have signed an agreement to bring Nokia's HERE mapping service to just about every Samsung device imaginable. Nokia announced that HERE for Android will be exclusive to Samsung's Galaxy smartphone line, and it will also be bringing a mini version of HERE to Samsung's Tizen-based smartwatches, including the newly-announced Samsung Gear S.

Nokia HERE's origins lie in Nokia's Ovi mapping service and the company's 2007 purchase of Navteq. HERE data is one of the main competitors to Google Maps—besides the in-house app, the data also powers Yahoo Maps, Bing Maps, Amazon Maps, and Garmin GPS devices. This Nokia has nothing to do with Microsoft, which only bought Nokia's "Devices & Services" division. The remaining parts of the company deal with maps, cellular networking technology, and R&D.

Samsung licenses HERE maps, still trying to escape the Google ecosystem

The move is Samsung's latest attempt to distance itself from the Google ecosystem. "What will you do without Google Maps" is one of the biggest questions any company (or customer) needs to answer if it wants to ask itself how it could survive a Google-free existence. While it's not very difficult to dump the Play Store or Gmail for a different client, Google Maps is much harder to replace.

Mapping the entire world is not an easy prospect. Maps is the product of the largest division within Google, a 7,100-strong team of employees and contractors in a company of only 48,000 employees. Running an operation like that naturally costs a lot of money, but Google can afford it because Maps is really a big local ad platform. Competing with this is a bit of a nightmare for other companies, especially when there is a lack of an equally lucrative business model.

Nokia's business model is to charge for access to the map data, which presumably is what Samsung is doing, plus a little more to get HERE for Android as an exclusive. This gives Samsung an alternative to leaving the Google ecosystem, but it also puts the company in the terrible position of paying to compete with a Google revenue source. Samsung loses money for every user of its map app, while Google makes money from its maps users.

Google's other competitors are at a similar disadvantage. Apple was ambitious enough to start up its own mapping division, an even more expensive proposition than licensing data. For now, Apple Maps shows no ads, so it's a money loser for the company, but at least ownership of the product puts Apple in a position to eventually turn it into a money-maker. Amazon and Microsoft are both doing the same thing as Samsung: paying Nokia for maps.

HERE maps are the latest weapon to Samsung's growing arsenal of Google-free applications. We last covered Samsung's "Plan B" a year ago. Since then the number of Samsung apps that compete with Google's ecosystem has almost doubled. Samsung has spent a ton of time, money, and resources duplicating Google functionality, but we've yet to really see what Samsung's end game is. All this duplication gives Samsung a way out if it gets tired of Google bossing it around, and while that's good protection for the company, for end users it just means a confusing experience with a ridiculous amount of duplicated apps.

For now, Samsung and Google are in an ecosystem cold war. Samsung still licenses the Google apps while building an app arsenal on the side. It experiments with Tizen on phones and prefers to use it for its wearable devices. Google brings more and more apps under the "Google Play" umbrella, bans OEMs from skinning its newest Android form factors, tries to undermine Samsung in the developing world with Android One, and builds its own locked-in hardware ecosystem with Android Wear, Auto, and TV.

If Samsung does ever want to break free of Google, the biggest missing piece of the puzzle is what to do about Google Play Services. Google has woven itself into the app ecosystem by pushing third-party adoption of proprietary APIs for Maps, location, Play Games, push messaging, in-app purchases, and Android Wear. Replicating all this is a lot of difficult work that would turn a good portion of Samsung into a cloud software company. So far though, the company has not shown it's willing to commit to that.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Nokia, Samsung

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