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Nokia introduced a new cloud-optimized version of its mapping technology on Tuesday. The company hopes the Web service and associated apps, rebranded as Here, will be a hit across different devices and software platforms—including on the iPhone and Android phones.

The company’s CEO, Stephen Elop, introduced Here at an event in San Francisco on Tuesday morning. Here is available through a Web browser and as an iPhone app. It includes directions, 3-D city views, the ability to create and save a collection of destinations, and live traffic data. The same technology is already built into Windows Phone 8, the software that powers Nokia’s smartphones.

The announcement comes about a month after Apple launched its own mapping app to replace Google Maps as the default navigation tool on its devices. Apple’s app was widely criticized for being buggy and incomplete (see “Is Apple Losing Its Way?”), and the controversy highlighted the importance of quality mapping technology to mobile users.

Here includes technology from Nokia-owned Navteq, as well as Earthmine, a 3-D imaging company that Nokia announced it is acquiring. Elop said Nokia hopes developers will create new location-enabled services on top of Here.

Nokia already provides mapping technology to Microsoft’s Bing search engine, Yahoo Maps, and others. But the success of Here could be crucial if Nokia is to regain favor in the smartphone market, where Apple’s iPhone and smartphones running Android dominate.

Michael Halbherr, executive vice president of Nokia’s location and commerce business and the head of Here, said that Here offloads many tasks to the cloud so that it doesn’t require much bandwidth to load and its maps can be downloaded to a smartphone without taking up much storage space.

Peter Skillman, head of design for location and commerce at Nokia, demonstrated Here on the Web, zooming in from a large 3-D map of the world to a vivid 3-D map of San Francisco and down to the city’s streets. Searching for Greek restaurants yielded a number of results and little blue arrows peppering the map; you can pick any of the results and drop them into personal “collections” of destinations you plan to visit (these collections can be viewed with any device on which you’re using Here).

Skillman also showed off the iPhone version of Here, which will be available as a free app in the next several weeks and will include features like turn-by-turn driving directions and voice-guided walking directions.

Nokia is rolling it out “on the off chance that there may be some iPhone users that want a different map,” he said, taking a shot at rival Apple over its mapping application. The company says it will make a Here software tool kit for Android smartphone makers available during the first quarter of next year.

Additionally, Nokia is partnering with Mozilla to make Here available on the browser maker’s forthcoming smartphone operating software, Firefox OS.

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Tagged: Computing, Communications, Business, Google, Microsoft, apps, smartphones, Nokia, apps, Mozilla, Google maps, Bing, Maps

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