Starting today, Nokia is offering turn-by-turn vehicle – and pedestrian – voice-guided navigation for free on 10 of its best-selling smartphone devices.
While the move follows Google’s free beta navigation offer late last year, a Nokia executive says this is not a reactive move. Rather, it’s been in the works for a while and it’s an evolution of Nokia’s LBS strategy that included the acquisition of companies like Navteq and Gate5. That navigation would become a free, core functionality was inevitable and only a question of time, says Christof Hellmis, Nokia vice president of the location business.
One big advantage that Nokia touts in its worldwide presence. While Google Maps Navigation is available only in the United States, Nokia’s voice-guided navigation is available for 74 countries and works in 46 languages (both male and female voices are available in all those languages).
Nokia is making no bones about the fact it wants to be the leader in mobile navigation, harnessing its many years in the handset business to make the service work without draining the battery life and providing access to maps without needing a network connection.
Hellmis suggests that what Apple did for mobile music and what Research In Motion (RIM) did for mobile e-mail, “we want to do it for navigation.”
Like Google’s system, Nokia’s provides access to GPS signals so the system knows where the user is at any given moment. But Nokia says it goes a step further by not requiring an always-on connection to the network. Users can download the maps once and do not need to reconnect to view those maps; it will remember. Nokia also offers network-based cell ID and will add Wi-Fi positioning.
While drive navigation is one in which Nokia’s Navteq division invested heavily, getting pedestrian routes is another. Navteq’s map makers left the cars behind and walked or used bicycles to collect the data.
Nokia executives say what’s really exciting is the potential for developers to come up with applications. There are about 1.4 million Nokia developers worldwide.
Via the Ovi for Developers Beta Program, Nokia has given selected developers and publishers a preview of the Ovi APIs and SDK – Beta that will allow them to build such applications. The apps will be made available through Nokia’s Ovi Store.
Ovi Maps is immediately available for download for 10 Nokia handsets, including the Nokia N97 mini, Nokia 5800 XpressMusic and Nokia E72, with more Nokia smartphones expected to be added in the coming weeks. Current owners of Nokia smartphones that are compatible with the new Ovi Maps can download it free from www.nokia.com/maps.
Starting in March, new Nokia GPS-enabled smartphones will include the new version of Ovi Maps, pre-loaded with local country map data, with high-end walk and drive navigation and access to Lonely Planet and Michelin travel guides at no extra cost.
ABI Research says Nokia’s move will help its beleaguered position in the smartphone market and create momentum for Nokia’s open LBS development platform.
“In the short term, Nokia’s free navigation is potentially even more disruptive than Google’s offer,” says Dominique Bonte, practice director at ABI Research, in a statement. “While free Google navigation is only available in the U.S. on certain Android phones, free Ovi Maps is rolled out globally on a large number of Nokia smartphones. At the same time, Ovi Maps is based on state of the art Navteq digital maps and proven navigation software, making it very difficult to compete against with premium offers.”