Huawei is developing a “mapping service,” according to a report by state-run news outlet China Daily, seemingly designed to challenge Google Maps — but not the way you might expect. The service is apparently intended for software developers, meaning apps that offer navigation or ride-hailing services could use Huawei’s planned mapping technology instead of building their own.
A Huawei exec told China Daily that the mapping service, called Map Kit, will offer developers a street navigation system they can use in their apps as well as a way to show users real-time traffic conditions. The exec also said that Map Kit will support “augmented-reality mapping.” It’s unclear what that means. Perhaps it’s something similar to Google’s recently launched AR walking directions.
The report offers a few clues as to where Huawei will be getting its mapping data. China Daily reports that Map Kit “will be connected to local mapping services,” and a source told China Daily that Huawei will partner with Yandex, a Russian internet service giant that already provides maps and offers a mapping services API. The director-general of a telecom industry association also told China Daily that Huawei has “telecom base stations” that can “offer complementing information to satellite positioning data.”
China Daily’s source also says Huawei will partner with Booking Holdings, but since Booking currently relies on Google Maps for its online travel services, I suspect that it will be a Map Kit customer, not a provider of data.
Huawei would need to invest heavily to compete in maps, which have been notoriously difficult. Only Google has been wildly successful, launching Google Maps in 2005 and investing heavily since then, including buying Waze for $996 million in 2013 and literally driving a fleet of its own cars up and down streets around the world to help map them.
Apple has offered its own maps since 2012, but it famously botched the launch and has been playing catch-up ever since. Apple originally tried to use a pastiche of mapping data from TomTom, OpenStreetMap, and others, but it has been slowly rolling out new maps built from its own mapping data since last year. Nokia offered Here maps for a number of years before selling it to a consortium of German car companies for just over $3 billion in 2015, and it’s used in Microsoft’s Bing Maps.
Huawei’s new service comes in the wake of the US government’s trade restrictions on Huawei, which caused the company to scramble to build out its own hardware and software to reduce reliance on US-made tech. In May, the US government gave Huawei a license expiring August 19th that allows US tech companies to continue to work with Huawei. But there’s still uncertainty about whether Huawei will be able to continue to use Android on its smartphones long term.
Huawei says it plans to stick to using Android on its smartphones “for the time being.” But it did recently reveal HarmonyOS, a new in-house operating system for its products. Huawei says HarmonyOS will eventually run on smartphones, but its CEO told Pocket-Lint that the company could switch phones that would be built with Android to HarmonyOS in mere days if the company could suddenly no longer use Android.
The report says that Map Kit will be unveiled in October, will cover 150 “countries and regions,” and will be available in 40 languages.