Nokia take a ride in connected cars

Nokia has set its targets on the car dashboard with Here Auto - is this a side project, or a potential escape route from the mobile phone market?

The change in mobile phones over the last five years has brought once-mighty companies low. BlackBerry is looking at options for a sale, while Nokia has bet the farm on the Windows Phone operating system.

Or has it?

Yesterday, it announced an interesting new approach to its business, moving its Here mapping technology into cars with Here Auto.

While several companies – Apple amongst them – are trying to integrate their phones more deeply with cars, Nokia is working on making the car’s dashboard a smart device in its own right. The system brings all the technology associated with its respected navigation app for the phone right into the car – and with an interface that actually looks usable – and which is cloud-connected. Figured out a route on your computer or phone? It’s accessible in the in-car dashboard straight away.

There’s certainly an opportunity here. In-car systems are notoriously clunky. I gave up on one recently when trying to navigate my hire car back to the airport at the end of a holiday in France earlier this week. I couldn’t persuade the in-built navigation system to choose Poitiers airport as the destination, so ended up just using my iPhone instead.

Get the interface right, and Nokia have won half the battle. The other half, though, is persuading manufacturers to use the system. Nokia’s solution? Make the Here Auto system essentially an application layer than can sit over any existing embedded system. Oh, and give it an SDK, so other app-makers can integrate with it as well.

You can find a deeper look at the Here Auto system at GigaOm.

Nokia has a history of changes in direction – it was formed from the merger of a cable company and a rubber operation, and only became a telecoms player much later.

This is a long-term vision, as Here EVP Michael Halbherr outlined to GigaOm:

But he did say that Nokia is thinking far beyond the dashboard with plans to broach autonomous — or driverless — vehicle technologies and explore ways of integrating the car into larger transportation and “smart city” networks.

Smart cities and driverless cars are certainly two technologies to watch over the next decade: is it possible that in 20 years, people might find the idea of the car technology specialists Nokia making mobile phones as amusing as we find the idea that it used to make rubber boots?