Nokia’s free sat-nav app could disorient Apple and Google

21 Jan 2010

Nokia has revealed plans to release a new version of Ovi Maps for smart phones that includes high-end walk and drive navigation for no extra cost. The move has the potential to double the size of the current mobile navigation market.

Available for download online, Ovi Maps covers more than 180 countries with car and pedestrian navigation for 74 countries in 46 languages and 6,000 3D landmarks for 200 cities around the world. Lonely Planet and Michelin guides have information on more than 1,000 destinations globally.

The move to free sat nav could give Nokia, with its enormous installed base, a competitive edge against players like Apple, which has deployed a navigation solution with TomTom and Google which in October launched a free sat-nav tool for Android 2.0 mobile phones.

Ovi Maps is immediately available for download for 10 Nokia handsets, including the popular Nokia N97 mini, Nokia 5800 XpressMusic and Nokia E72, with more Nokia smart phones expected to be added in the coming weeks. In the meantime, current owners of Nokia smart phones that are compatible with the new Ovi Maps can download it free of charge.

From March 2010, new Nokia GPS-enabled smart phones 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. 

Nokia says this move has the potential to nearly double the size of the current mobile navigation market.

“Why have multiple devices that work that work in only one country or region? Put it all together, make it free, make it global and you almost double the potential size of the mobile navigation market,” explained Anssi Vanjoki, executive vice-president, Nokia.

“Nokia is the only company with a mobile navigation service for both drivers and pedestrians that works across the world. Unlike the legacy car navigation manufacturers, we don’t make you buy maps for different countries or regions even if you’re only visiting for a few days. We offer both navigation and maps free of charge, with all the high-end functionality and features that people now expect.”

Nokia says it is removing the costs associated with navigation for drivers and pedestrians and allows the company to quickly activate a massive user base to which it can offer new location features, content and services.

The move is also in line with Nokia’s vision that the next wave of growth will be centred on the location-aware, social internet – as the “where” people are doing things becomes as important as the “what” they are doing.

“The large-scale availability of free-of-charge mobile-phone navigation offerings using high-quality map data will be a game changer for the navigation industry,” said Thilo Koslowski, vice-president Automotive and Vehicle ICT at Gartner.

“Such offerings will accelerate mass market adoption for navigation solutions and shift innovation focus to location-based services that go beyond traditional routing benefits.”

According to research firm Canalys, the number of people worldwide using GPS navigation on their mobile phones was about 27 million at the end of 2009.

Nokia could potentially grow the size of this installed user base to about 50 million by enabling smart phone owners, with compatible devices and devices that will be made compatible shortly to activate free drive and walk navigation through a simple download of the new Ovi Maps. Nokia says it will further grow this base as it quickly adds more smart phones to the compatible devices list.

Canalys also estimated in 2009 that the installed base of smart phones with integrated GPS was 163 million units worldwide, of which Nokia accounted for more than half (51pc) having shipped cumulatively 83 million GPS devices.

“This is a game-changing move. By leveraging our NAVTEQ acquisition, and our context sensitive service offering, we can now put a complete navigation system in the palm of your hand, wherever in the world you are, whenever you need it – and at no extra cost,” continued Anssi Vanjoki.

“By adding cameras at no extra cost to our phones we quickly became the biggest camera manufacturer in the world. The aim of the new Ovi Maps is to enable us to do the same for navigation.”

By removing the added costs for consumers Nokia expects to fuel the take-up of mobile maps and navigation providing its ecosystem of partners with clear business opportunities.

It says operators will be able to offer customers a complete car and personal navigation package as well as encourage the take-up of data plans.

Third-party application developers will see the customer base for location-based applications expand.  Via the Ovi for Developers Beta Program, Nokia has given selected developers and publishers a preview of the Ovi APIs and SDK – Beta (software development kit) which will allow them to build such applications. These will then be made available through Ovi Store by Nokia.

Last week Nokia opened its doors to Irish apps developers, inviting them to develop apps that they can sell via the Ovi store.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Ovi Maps

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years