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Report: Nokia To Sell HERE Maps, Apple May Be Favorite Bidder

HERE Maps on iOS

Bloomberg reported that Nokia is auctioning its HERE Maps business and is expecting to get at least $3.2 billion for it. The main bidders seem to be Apple, Alibaba and Amazon.

Facebook, a group of German car makers, and a private-equity firm are also looking at the purchase. Nokia has also approached Baidu, Sirius XM Holdings and Harman International Industries for their interest. Suffice it to say that this should be one interesting auction, potentially landing Nokia a significantly larger sum than the asking price of $3.2 billion. However, it's unlikely that the money-losing maps business could get Nokia more than the $8.1 billion it initially paid for it back in 2007. 

Nokia bought the NAVTEQ maps business just after the iPhone came out, at a time when it probably should have invested the money in catching up to Apple in touchscreen smartphones. It also didn't help that Nokia couldn't manage the business to a point where it was profitable and the company could get its acquisition money back.

According to Nokia's own financials, the HERE Maps assets were only worth $2.15 billion last year. The vision had sales of $980 million in 2014, but an operating loss of $1.34 billion.

Nokia recently signaled that it's going to focus much more on the networking side of its business with the $16.6 billion acquisition of Alcatel. However, there are some reports that the company is also going to come back to the smartphone market in 2016.

The most likely buyer of Nokia's maps service may be Apple, which was furiously criticized by many when it launched its own maps service back in 2011. The company launched a service that used aggregate data mostly from other providers, which ensured that the data wouldn't be of the same quality everywhere. In some cases, the data was completely wrong, leading people to wrong streets, bridges and so on.

Since then, Apple has improved its service, but it's arguably still incomplete compared to Google Maps. Right now, HERE Maps is seen as the most compelling competitor to Google Maps. That means that if Apple buys it, it could finally have a credible maps solution and brand.

One of the biggest advantages of HERE Maps compared to Google Maps is its ability to store maps of certain locations completely offline but still offer users navigational capabilities. Google Maps, on the other hand, can only cache certain map elements, and navigation doesn't work on them. All of this makes HERE maps significantly more compelling for traveling abroad, because you can download the maps ahead of time.

All of that said, Apple doesn't like to pay too much when acquiring companies. If Cupertino feels it has to overpay to get Nokia's maps division, it may back out, leaving the acquisition opportunity to Amazon, Facebook, Audi, Daimler or one of the two Chinese companies (Alibaba and Baidu). The initial bids from the companies are expected to be made by the end of this week.

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