21 jan 20

Huawei and TomTom set to disrupt digital navigation

Phone maker Huawei and Dutch digital mapping company TomTom have signed a deal to put a new mapping app on the Chinese company’s smartphones.

In the wake of US trade restrictions that effectively banned Huawei from using the Android operating system and Google Maps, the deal became public last week, although a TomTom spokesperson told Reuters it had closed some time ago.

Huawei can now use TomTom’s maps, traffic information and navigation software to develop apps for its smartphones.

Sales of navigation devices petering-out

The Dutch company is moving away from selling devices to offering software services. It sold its telematics division (now known as Webfleet Solutions) to Japan’s Bridgestone tyre company last year.

Huawei has been keen to disrupt the navigation mapping market for some time. Forced to develop its own service, it has taken a different approach under the brand name “Map Kit”.

A report in China Daily in August 2019 revealed details of Huawei’s mapping technology. Rather than offering a Google Maps competitor, the phone maker aimed its product at software developers who were already creating navigation or ride-hailing services. They could use Map Kit instead of investing time and money developing their own solution. Map Kit has been available in 40 languages and 150 countries since October 2019.

Partnering with Russia for mapping data

The report also revealed from where the Chinese company would be getting its mapping data – a partnership with Yandex, a Russian internet service giant already providing maps and mapping services.

Additionally, Huawei has telecom base stations that can offer companion information to satellite positioning data.

The navigation mapping market has been notoriously difficult to compete in to date. However, according to a report from Mordor Intelligence (released in 2019), the industry is expecting a CAGR of 15% to 2025 driven largely by the demand for advanced navigation systems in the automotive sector and increased adoption of connected devices.

Google is clear winner so far

Having launched Google Maps in 2005, the internet company currently holds the majority market share (over 60%) and has been investing heavily, driving a fleet of its own cars, fitted with specialist cameras, up and down streets around the world literally building the maps. It bought Waze for $996 million in 2013.

Google boasts 99% coverage of the world, 200 countries and territories, over 154 million active users (plus the 25.6 million Waze active users) and 25 million updates daily.

Undoubtedly, Google has a powerful search engine to rely on. It also offers facilities like integration with Google Reviews for business destinations and Explore, which allows users to look for events, attractions, hotels and so on. For regular trips, such as going to work, Commute allows travellers to set up real-time traffic and travel alerts. Google also has Street View (courtesy of those eager camera cars), which helps visualise where they’re travelling too.

Apple playing catch up

Apple Maps has been around since 2012 but famously botched its launch, upsetting many customers and necessitating an open letter of apology from its CEO Tim Cook. It has been playing catch-up ever since and has only 11% of the market.

Apple maps is available in 75 countries, has 23.3 million active users and supports Public-transport directions.

For fleet managers, the consequences of a potentially new major player in the digital mapping market can only be good. Competition is a good thing as it will ensure all actors on the stage try harder to up their performance and differentiate themselves to stand out. We can expect to see better collaboration with partners, new and more powerful services and a better overall user experience.

Authored by: Alison Pittaway