Nokia is rolling out a new version of Ovi Maps on Jan. 21 that will offer free walking and driving navigation to users of Nokia GPS-enabled smartphones.
The new Ovi Maps is immediately available as a free download to 10 particular handsets - the Nokia N97 mini, 5800 XpressMusic, 5800 Navigation Edition, E55, E72, 5230, 6710 Navigator, 6730 classic and Nokia X6 - at www.nokia.com/maps.
Beginning in March, however, all new GPS-enabled Nokia smartphones will come pre-loaded with the new Ovi Maps, which will include map data for the country it's purchased in, as well as data from Nokia partners, including Weather.com, Lonely Planet and, in Europe, the Michelin guide.
Ovi Maps includes turn-by-turn voice guidance in 74 countries and 46 languages, detailed maps of more than 180 countries, and traffic information - diverting drivers around accidents or heavy traffic areas - in more than 10 countries.
Pedestrian guidance can additionally guide users through malls or parks, and there are maps with 6,000 3D landmarks for 200 cities.
"Nokia's announcement today is interesting in that it significantly increases the richness of navigation on phones," Crawford del Prete, an analyst with IDC, told eWEEK. "Nokia is doing a good job of leveraging their considerable investment in Navteq in order to create a navigation experience for the phone that's comparable to many of the dedicated GPS devices."
He continued, "Nokia has focused on ease of use, community and a positive out-of-the-box experience as key differentiators - this is important, as these kinds of applications can get complex very quickly. From a community standpoint, they are sourcing features such as traffic updates from free community sources, which increases the richness of the application, without adding to the cost. [It's] a nice differentiator for Nokia."
Another differentiator is that, because Ovi maps are loaded on the smartphones, they don't depend - as Google Maps does - on a network connection. When a connection is made, however, maps are refreshed with the latest information.
"This is a game-changing move. ... We can now put a complete navigation system in the palm of your hand, wherever in the world you are, whenever you need it - at no cost," Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia executive vice president, said in a statement.
"By adding cameras at no extra cost to our phones we quickly became the biggest camera manufacturer in the world," Vanjoki added. "The aim of the new Ovi Maps is to enable us to do the same for navigation."
The new Ovi Maps will also encourage developers to create new location-aware applications for Nokia's Ovi Store. Revenue for Nokia will also come through advertising within the software.
"By using advanced vector graphics, plus an intelligent combination of pre-loaded and online maps, the new version of Ovi Maps uses a fraction of the bandwidth of the bulky bitmap technology used by most mobile map providers," Nokia said in the statement, with an inferred nod to Google.
On Oct. 28, Google launched a beta Google Maps Navigation with voice guidance on Android 2.0 smartphones. And in a Nov. 5 review of the Motorola Droid, which runs Android 2.0, The New York Times' David Pogue, responding to its navigation software, wrote, "The real mind blower/game changer? This software is free. All of it."
He might now be saying the same thing about Ovi Maps.