TomTom to fill the Google mapping void for Huawei

Dutch navigation specialist TomTom has been announced as Huawei’s replacement for Google’s mapping expertise, following the firm’s entry on the US Entity List.

While there was no doomsday sirens sounding when the US banned suppliers from working with Huawei, the trickle-down effects are starting to become much more prominent, especially in the consumer business unit which has fuelled so much growth over the last few years.

“We can confirm that developers can now use TomTom Maps APIs, Map content and traffic services via Huawei’s developer portal,” a TomTom spokesperson said.

Details are thin on the ground for the moment, though TomTom has confirmed it has entered into a multi-year agreement to act as the powerhouse behind navigation, mapping and traffic applications which will feature on Huawei devices.

Huawei’s friction with the White House has been well-documented over the last 12-18 months, though the impact seems to be more of a slow-burner than apocalyptic. When similar sanctions were placed on ZTE in 2017, the disruption to the vendors supply chain was almost an extinction level event. Some US politicians might have hoped the same would be the same for Huawei, though the damage is much more nuanced.

Thanks to the ‘Made in China 2025’ and perhaps more foresight from the management team, Huawei has a much more diverse supply chain and less of a reliance on the US than ZTE. When President Trump signed the executive order banning US suppliers from working with Huawei, it was certainly notable, but the impact was muted, evidence by the fact Huawei’s revenues have continued to grow through the period.

But the consumer division, and Huawei’s smartphones in particular present some difficult questions. And almost all of them focus around Google.

No new Huawei devices will feature any of the Google applications. The immediate challenge is replacing the operating software, Android, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. For Huawei’s OS to be competitive, it needs to have a developer ecosystem, and for many of the applications to work properly, mapping data needs to be plugged into the applications.

While it might not have the reputation of Google, TomTom is certainly no stranger to the mapping and navigation game. Those who are a bit longer in the tooth might remember TomTom being a mapping innovator in the noughties, though it seemingly lost the battle for supremacy with Google. Few get the better of the Googlers, so there is little shame, though this could act as a spring board into a brighter future for TomTom.

TomTom claims to travel more than three million kilometres a year to collect mapping data, as well as augmenting this information with satellite imagery, as well as drawing from data from government and private sources, aerial imagery, and field analysts. The business already has numerous partnerships in place with the likes of Subaru, Alfa Romeo and Stelvio for driving navigation, as well as 5G initiatives with Verizon.

This is a critical step in validating the Huawei OS and developer ecosystem as location-based data is very important nowadays for the performance of many apps and security features. TomTom fills a noticeable hole.

What is worth noting is that while TomTom will offer mapping data to Huawei and the developer community, this is should not be seen as a direct replacement for the Google Maps application. This is a feature which offers basic navigation, which will be simple enough to replicate, though the embedded features will take time. Through Google Maps you can book tables at restaurants, see how busy trains are, access reviews on local business, amongst other benefits. This will take a significant amount of time to replace.

Huawei gets Yandex and Booking.com for upcoming mapping service – report

Huawei aims to launch its own business-facing mapping service in October, with Russian internet service company Yandex and Booking.com already embracing the initiative, reports China’s media.

Days after it unveiled its own mobile operating system Harmony OS, Huawei is reportedly preparing to launch its own mapping service, called Map Kit, in October, according to a report by China Daily, one of the key official media outlets in China. The newspaper cited “a source familiar with the matter” (although other sections of the report indicate that source may actually have been the president of cloud services at Huawei’s consumer business group) that Huawei has already recruited as software partners in Yandex, the Russian internet heavyweight sometimes dubbed “Russia’s Google”, and Booking Holdings, the American travel aggregator and parent company of Booking.com, Kayak.com, Cheapflights, etc.

The is a logical move by Huawei when it aims to gain more independence from Google, to prepare for the rainy days if the axe of American ban falls heavy again (there are plenty of signs that it may if the trade war is not solved soon). However not enough details have been disclosed for the observers to evaluate the viability of the initiative.

As its name suggests, the Map Kit is not meant for end users but rather an SDK for application developers to build location-based services on top. Huawei plans to make the software suite available in 40 languages and roll it out in 150 countries. According to the report, the Map Kit will support apps to offer real-time traffic conditions and sophisticated navigation systems as well as support augmented-reality mapping. The report specifically said that the software will be able to recognize a car changing lanes, suggesting extremely high precision of its location data.

The report does not spell out the sources of the location data though. China has launched its own satellite navigation system BeiDou to rival the American owned GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, and the European Union’s Galileo. To couple with the fact that Google services including Google Maps are inaccessible in China, it is safe to bet that in China, Huawei’s Map Kit will gather the location data either directly from the state’s navigation system or through third party, such as AutoNavi (an Alibaba subsidiary).

The partnership with Yandex may indicate that the Russian internet giant will provide location data that is not attainable yet from China’s BeiDou, which aims to provide global coverage by 2020. The line in the China Daily report that “Huawei Map Kit will be connected to local mapping services” suggests that Huawei may also use location data from existing navigation and mapping services in countries it intends to offer the Kit to. This is a common practice in mapping data gathering. Because China’s law bans unofficial navigation and location data gathering, both Google Maps and Apple Maps buy location data from AutoNavi.

Another key missing point in the report is the operating system the SDK will run on. It is highly unlikely that it will operate on Harmony OS, which will not be ready by the targeted time frame of the intended launch of Map Kit: Harmony OS was only introduced on PowerPoint slides at the developer conference when it was unveiled, with no hardware nor user manuals for the developers to try their hands on. Additionally, Harmony OS is meant primarily as an operating system for IoT businesses.

On the other hand, if the Map Kit was to run in the Android environment, it would defeat the very purpose of Huawei becoming more independent of Google.