In a mobile world, the conversation opener is less likely to be, “How are you?” and more likely to be, “Where are you?” Since the goal of social networking technology seems to be to get us to speak less and look at screens more (all hail the mighty text ad), Nokia’s purchase of Plazes makes all the sense in the world. In fact by buying the social mapping service, the handset maker is merely continuing efforts that began with its $8.1 billion NavTeq acquisition, which should close soon.
Nokia’s efforts, along with the iPhone’s new GPS chip, are a sign that location-based services are becoming a reality after years of hype. Previously a dearth of true Internet access paired with high-priced GPS plans made LBS more of a wish than reality, but the iPhone and unlimited pricing plans are changing that. Aside from picking up a cool LBS tool, the Plazes purchase drives home the message that Nokia is spreading its attention across multiple devices, something it signaled a serious interest in when it offered to buy TrollTech.
Plazes had only been available on the PC and Mac until earlier this year (with SMS texting tools too), when it launched an iPhone application. The crossing of the PC-to-mobile chasm may have been what triggered Nokia’s interest, as the handset maker has been busy thinking across all screens. As carriers lose their ability to control Internet access on phones and users have the true Internet available, companies who can offers people seamless applications on PCs and mobiles will thrive. Nokia is pretty close to carriers despite the grumblings over its latest handset offerings, so I look at this deal as validation for both LBS and a true-Internet experience on mobiles.