Why augmented reality is the future of mapping

After only being launched in late January, Ovi Maps has had well over three million downloads to date.

TechRadar caught up with Michael Halbherr, Head of Ovi Experience and Services at Nokia, to talk about the future of mapping, pedestrian navigation and how augmented reality will bring together our physical and virtual lives.

Before working at Nokia itself, Halbherr was at Gate 5, a mobile mapping and community provider. This experience clearly informs his view of the future of mapping. "[It's about] where the real world meets the virtual world. You go to the virtual world… or you go to where your friends are, the physical world.

"It's taking the static internet and contextualising it. It happens on two indexes, the map index and the social index. One is where and the second one is when. That's why we call this whole thing social location. That's the whole thing. This device could become the gate to the next six or seven miles of your life – or 50 if you drive! All the social networks are adding location."

"Mapping today is very car-centric. Mapping will become more granular – in the building – and three dimensional." Halbherr says Nokia are taking such new technologies very seriously: "Huge investments. How soon? Soon.

"You see 3D being used already for landmarks but it's not really in proper 3D." Halbherr says this is something Nokia are working on alongside Navteq, the Chicago-based mapping provider that the company wholly owns.

Going on foot

And pedestrian navigation? "I'm convinced it's huge. You need to take pedestrian guidance a little bit more literal in the sense that I'd like to call it 'on foot'.

"In the car you answer and make phone calls, you navigate and you listen to music. On foot [it's different]. Where is my friend? You'll just switch the phone to 'on foot' mode, hold the phone up and augmented reality will tell you your friend is two miles away. It's a lot more than just left and right, that's why we call it 'on foot' rather than just pedestrian guidance.

"Augmented reality is big because at the end of the day it's core to what I'm saying between the real world and the virtual. The real image overlaps the virtual stuff. It's just beginning. I hope mixed reality is going to be much bigger than virtual reality."

"In Second Life or whatever, it's fun for a while, but I have a real life! The mixed reality – pulling your Facebook friends into a mobile context– is [where it's heading]."

Halbherr says he is pleased with the popularity of Ovi Maps so far. He talks about the release of free mapping as "navigation [becoming] a functionality not a product".

Map development has also moved up a gear, according to Halbherr. We have moved from yearly cycles to three month cycles.

"I have a very good feeling about where we stand, let's be clear. I'm more happy about the elements we haven't released… people are using maps three or four times per day [as opposed to old maps] where they were using three or four times a month.

"Some people are actually moving to using the product daily. At the end of the day it's about use, you know?"

At last month's Mobile World Congress Nokia revealed there are more than one million downloads a day from the Ovi Store, with the number of people shopping on the store doubling every month and "daily highs of over a thousand downloads per minute".

The top five devices installing Ovi Maps are the 5800 XpressMusic, N97 mini, E72, 5230 and N97. It's now available in 74 countries and 46 languages, with a map downloaded every second.


Dan (Twitter, Google+) is TechRadar's Former Deputy Editor and is now in charge at our sister site T3.com. Covering all things computing, internet and mobile he's a seasoned regular at major tech shows such as CES, IFA and Mobile World Congress. Dan has also been a tech expert for many outlets including BBC Radio 4, 5Live and the World Service, The Sun and ITV News.