Amazon, Microsoft Vie for Closer Ties to Digital Map Firm

SEATTLE (The Seattle Times/TNS) - and Microsoft are said to be jostling for the cloud-storage business of a German-based digital mapping firm, as well as closer ties that could pave the way into the world of self-driving cars.

Reuters reported Friday that Amazon and Microsoft, both Seattle-area firms, want to offer computing power and data storage for rent to Here, the former Nokia real-time mapping company. The report says Amazon is considering taking a stake in the company as part of the deal — and that Microsoft is also considering “closer ties.”

Since last year, Here has been owned by BMW, Audi and Daimler. The company specializes in real-time mapping both for consumers and for what it calls the “next stage in the evolution of the car”: automobiles that will ultimately become autonomous. The firm, headquartered in Berlin, also has an office in Seattle, among other places.

Amazon declined to comment. Microsoft didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Christopher Lawton, a spokesman for Here, declined to comment on the Reuters report, but wrote in an email that “our shareholders have stressed since the acquisition in early December that they are open to additional investors from all industries.”

Lawton said that Here is currently a customer of Amazon Web Services, Amazon’s cloud computing division.

The report underscores both the heating competition between the two tech giants in the exploding cloud computing business and their ambitions to stake out emerging fields in technology.

Both companies have set their sights in the automobile sector before. Microsoft helped Ford develop Sync, an infotainment system installed in millions of vehicles. More recently, Ford said it’s working on ways to connect Sync with Alexa, the voice-powered artificial intelligence assistant developed by Amazon.

On Thursday, BMW said it would use Microsoft’s Azure cloud-computing network to power a new app for car owners. The German automaker also uses Amazon’s services.

Analysts with Morgan Stanley said that while Amazon might simply want to lock in Here as a customer by taking a stake in that company, it could also be looking for mapping data it needs as it builds out an in-house delivery fleet.

Longer term, the analysts say, the mapping technology could be “critical”, as Amazon deploys self-driving trucks and drones.

The move, the analysts say, is also part of the revolution brewing in the automobile industry, one of the latest to be disrupted by mobile internet connectivity and cloud computing.

One day, the Morgan Stanley analysts wrote, the car fleet could morph from an ecosystem in which people pay for expensive vehicles that sit idle most of the day into a new world in which cars are self-driven and available on demand. And Amazon could become a big user of that self-driving transportation capacity.