Nokia maps it out, buys Navteq

Nice thing if you can get it: for a modest $8.1 bn ($7.7 bn if you discount the cash the company has in its coffers), Nokia acquired the provider of digital maps, Navteq. Even though this marks Nokia's largest acquisition ever, it is a hardly surprising move given the recent activities of the company to flex its muscles in the content space. Its Nokia Maps application cried out for something like that (it ran on Navteq-supplied maps anyhow). To combine GPS-equipped phones with the people who power loads of todays digital maps seems smart, in particular when one fairly apparent new competitor in Nokia's courtyard runs a fairly successful digital mapping solution itself, namely Google: If the proprietor of Google Maps enters the handset market with the already somewhat fabled GPhone (another article here), Nokia is arming itself to withhold and defend its still impressive market share of c 1/3 of the global market for mobile handsets, errh, multimedia devices. Last year's acquisition of Gate5 seems to not have been enough for that. No other big OEM has come out with GPS-enabled devices with force yet, so Nokia's move would also cement its positions amongst its current peers.

So what will we see? Easy, huh? After turning mobile phones in multimedia computers and slashing away on the digital camera and music player market along the way, navigation systems (or "sat nav" as your ubiquitous salesman affectionately calls it) will apparently be the next victim: who needs them if one has a GPS-equipped Nokia N95 (which, yes, also comes with a digital camera powered by a prestigious Carl Zeiss lense and has 8GB space to accommodate your music and videos).

This is the near-sighted and easy bit and I am all for it: if I can have the quality of specialist devices merged into one, then that is my device of choice even though the challenge is that you then have to beat every leader in the segment. But the history of camera and music phones shows that there is a niche that is rather a gaping cleft, in particular when also cleverly branded, and one that is apparently growing. So why not for sat nav, too?

The magic word however is context-awareness. It can probably be called the holy grail of service and product discovery and the provision of relevant offers: if I am being offered something in a context that makes the offer relevant, I am much more likely to be lured into using/buying it. This is exactly how Google's famed AdSense works (and advertising is an area Nokia recently focussed on, too, i.e. with the acquisition of Enpocket).

The principle of context increasing relevance naturally applies to everything: if I am hungry, I am more likely to visit a restaurant. If I am at an airport, I am more likely to be interested in flight times, or travel offers, etc, etc. So combining a device that adds an important context parameter, namely location with a platform like Nokia's Ovi that adds an array of different services (games, music, maps, etc) looks like a model that should increase the likelihood of a purchase - because it can offer the user a more relevant offering in the context in which he uses the device. Nokia seems to be finding it easier to get its content-loaded multimedia devices past the carriers' doors, too, that is if Graeme Ferguson, ex-Vodafone Content Meister, is to be believed...

However, I will continue to call it a mobile phone...