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Nokia trumpets smartphones’ map precision, Apple’s flaws

– As Apple faces consumer scorn over errors by the iPhone’s navigation software, Finnish rival Nokia is seeking to seize the opportunity by touting the reliability of the digital maps it has spent billions crafting.

The company, struggling to win back smartphone customers lost to the iPhone, is poking at Apple in social- media and blog postings claiming map superiority, while promoting location features in ads for its latest devices. Nokia is betting that the critique Apple has received will highlight the advantage it has gained through years of investing in its maps, said Michael Halbherr, head of Nokia’s location and commerce unit.

“What I love and what I think has happened is that the discussion has moved to quality and moved away from ’I have a map app you have a map app,’ ” Halbherr said over coffee at his division’s office in Berlin. “People start looking at how precise it is.”

Nokia bought Chicago-based map provider Navteq for $8.1 billion in 2008 and has thousands of employees making constant improvements to its location product, part of a push to stand out from the iPhone and devices running Google’s Android software. The method contrasts with that of Apple, which licenses location data from TomTom NV and OpenStreetMap.

After five straight quarters of losses, the maps push is part of Nokia’s effort to reverse falling sales. Advertising for its Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 smartphones set to start selling before the year-end holiday shopping season highlight the new location features built on Nokia’s in-house maps.

Nokia, based in Espoo, Finland, is also building a business of its own for its maps, selling them to Amazon.com, Yahoo, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz and Nikon.

While Nokia was forced to play catchup after it misjudged the success of the iPhone, it continued to pump money into the location unit over the past several years. It now has data covering 100 navigable countries, up from 27 countries at the time of the Navteq purchase.

Nokia has thousands of workers gathering and sorting data collected on roads, public transportation and popular sites. The Lumia 920 and 820 include City Lens, which uses so-called augmented-reality technology, allowing users to hold up their phone to see tips on stores and restaurants. The phones also include driving and public transport instructions that used turn-by-turn guidance and offline maps.

Still, rather than saving the maps and location data for itself, Nokia is striking deals in a bid to become the dominant location-services provider. The agreements announced so far are only the start, with Nokia targeting carmakers, electronics companies and all other original-equipment manufacturers, Halbherr said.

“Amazon is just the beginning,” Halbherr said. “We are talking with OEMs and we will work with any OEM who needs a location platform. They all need one and they only have two choices.”

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