Alliances Mergers & Acquisitions

Bosch joins Amazon and Microsoft in talks for Here stake

Bosch has joined Amazon and Microsoft in talks to acquire stakes in Here, the former Nokia mapping division that was recently acquired by a coalition of German carmakers. Ostensibly, Audi (VW), BMW, and Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) wanted to get their hands on a mapping platform for their connected car and autonomous vehicle ambitions, but if these three companies also buy in, it seems that demand for a non-Google mapping platform is growing more widely in anticipation of the IoT.

For now, Here has only confirmed that the three companies are in talks to acquire those stakes, but the talks show that Here is looking to raise cash to fund future endeavors – which would propel its map and crowdsourced data platform forward. Acquired for around $2.8bn last year, the new owners have a definite interest in expanding the platform out from its automotive roots in the hyper-connected world that is emerging on the back of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Amazon has a developing drone project that would require the kinds of maps that Here can provide. For drone-based deliveries, as well as for larger autonomous logistics vehicles, which could become core parts of its business in the near future, Amazon needs a way to provide eyes to its machines.

Buying into Here makes a lot of sense in this regard, as a means of avoiding being tied to Google or Apple’s own mapping platforms. But such mapping services require a large amount of cloud computing infrastructure, especially if Here’s ambitions to turn the platform into something much more dynamic by combining sensor data from distributed users come to fruition.

Both Amazon and Microsoft have their respective AWS and Azure cloud platforms, which would enjoy profiting from hosting the Here cloud, but Microsoft’s Windows platform has an obvious need for a mapping system – used to provide greater contextual awareness and integrations for the operating system on personal devices, and eventually on dedicated IoT devices too, if its expansion plans are successfully. When Microsoft acquired Nokia it also licensed Here for Windows and Bing, but the application was recently withdrawn from Windows 10 Mobile.

Bosch, a quiet industrial giant with a $625bn market cap, would use such a system internally to better track the industrial assets its sells to customers. Internally, Bosch may see a great benefit to its own cloud platform, which it plans to open up to external customers sometime next year. Bosch makes a lot of things that could be tracked as part of a service offering, and a mapping platform would be a welcome addition.

The company is also a very sizeable automotive OEM, and has been involved in autonomous vehicle testing, and has a standing agreement with TomTom to use its high definition maps in this self-driving strategy. Here might provide an alternative option to TomTom in these plans, and if Bosch opts for Here, it could be interpreted as a sign of a lack of confidence in the future of TomTom.

Google has never really pushed its Maps service as a commercial venture. It is an extremely useful service for consumers, and a great way for physical businesses to interact with them, but there hasn’t been much in the way of public comment about the future of the platform outside of Android and Google Now – where it acts as the interface between the smartphone user and the physical world.

The Maps and Google Earth tools are currently just extensions of Google’s other web services – placing the physical aspects of websites at locations within the world. While Android Auto might end up placing Maps at the center of a dynamic and evolving mapping strategy, Google is currently relying on sporadic passes by its cars and planes to catalog the world in which its users live. Here is planning something more ambitious – but don’t rule Google out.

Here seems committed to turning its maps into live feeds that collate data from multiple sources. The end goal in such a project would be to be able to provide a real time representation of an environment, a city center for example, that merges data gathered from city infrastructure, weather stations, the vehicles moving through the streets, and even from individual smartphones – all feeding data back to the platform that should help applications work more efficiently through using the crowdsourced data.

Of course, Here would be selling access to this platform, but if it gains enough in the way of data points, the system will be extremely useful to many applications. Here’s core business currently is in automotive software, and claims to be found in upwards of 80% of new vehicles – usually as part of the in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) or navigation systems.

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