Nokia Buys Mobile Navigation, Social Networking Firm Plazes

Plazes links its mobile phone users with each other as they move about.
Nokia moved to beef up its mobile navigation and social networking capabilities Monday by acquiring Plazes, which links its users with each other as they move about.

"This acquisition helps Nokia to accelerate its vision of bringing people and places closer together, in line with our broader services strategy," said Niklas Savander, head of Nokia Services & Software, in a statement.

Based in Berlin, Plazes fits into Nokia's grand Ovi (door) strategy and builds on its 2007 acquisition of Navteq, upon which it is layering its mobile navigation and social networking features. Nokia did not disclose the acquisition price of the 13-person German company.

By adding "place" and "time" elements, Plazes enables users to plan, record, and share their social activities, whether in the past, present, or future. According to its Web site, Plazes "uses location hints -- GPS location, MAC address of networks, Wi-Fi access points -- to make its meaningful location guessing more accurate."

Plazes builds a grid of locations using databases and namespaces for locations. Its users have already built a database of hundreds of thousands of locations.

Nokia has been gradually adding to its Ovi strategy and continues to add to its social networking features, including providing easy access to YouTube on some of its advanced handsets. Many of the pieces don't work well together yet, but the rough outline is taking shape as Nokia -- which has a 40% market share of mobile phone handsets worldwide -- dives into entertainment and social networking to bolster its traditional call- and data-driven services and products.

The Plazes acquisition also follows by nearly two years Nokia's pickup of another Berlin-based company, Gate5, which has a strong background in wireless mapping, routing, and navigation software.

The move will bolster Nokia's effort to downplay reliance on service providers, because so much key technology is provided by the handset manufacturer itself.