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With New Ovi Maps, Nokia Seeks Location Heaven

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Nokia's Ovi Maps

In an attempt to ward off competition from the likes of Google (s goog), Nokia (s NOK), the largest maker of mobile phones, has released the latest version of its Ovi Maps software and made the app available for free. Nokia, despite an early start in the mobile phone-focused maps and navigation space, has lost attention to Google and Apple’s (s aapl) mapping and navigation efforts.

With the new Ovi Maps app, the company is hitting back, especially at Google. More importantly, it’s Nokia’s big chance to become the GPS device maker of choice in countries where standalone navigation devices are still hard to find.

“Maps and navigation are as core and natural in a phone as digital cameras,” Tero Ojanperä, Nokia’s EVP of services, said to me about Nokia’s new release. “We think that the mobile phone-based navigation market is about to take off in a big way. GPS is now commonplace and average consumers are perfectly comfortable with navigation systems, but more importantly complete solutions are finally coming to market.”

I would agree — and I think it’s further bad news for the standalone GPS companies such as Tom Tom and Garmin. As I said earlier, 2010 is shaping up to be the year of location.

In an interview last year, Ojanperä said, “We want maps to be part of everyday life, and as a result, we are working on building a richer experience on top of the map…I think it is going to become obvious that companies with mapping assets are at an advantage.” Nokia bought gate5 and Navteq as part of its efforts to get a toehold in mapping and location-based services.

If gate5 gave the company the ability to build maps into mobile phones, Navteq is giving it a lot of contextual information and up-to-the minute maps. Ojanperä said that while it’s easy to build a mapping navigation, there needs to be enough intelligence built into the mapping and navigation systems to provide context to location. Navteq provides exactly that.

For instance, he pointed out that the new Ovi Maps have the ability to add location context to your Facebook status messages. This feature is called Share Location via Ovi Maps. How it works is that if I’m eating at Delfina Pizzeria on 18th Street in San Francisco and say so on Facebook, my friends would know exactly where I am, instead of seeing a bunch of numbers. The reason Nokia is able to do this is primarily because it’s constantly collecting local data via its Navteq division.

“Coordinates don’t mean anything, but social location makes everything interesting,” Ojanperä said. With the new software, Ojanperä believes that Nokia is pushing mapping and location into a new phase, one in which advertising will also become part of the whole experience.

During our conversation, Ojanperä made no bones of hiding about his scorn for Google. For starters he pointed out that Nokia has over 84 million GPS-enabled devices in the market.  Google Maps Navigation, he said, is only available for a handful of device in one country in one language.

In comparison, he said that the new Ovi Maps includes essential car and pedestrian navigation features, such as turn-by-turn voice guidance for 74 countries in 46 languages, traffic information for more than 10 countries and detailed maps for more than 180 countries.

As of March, the new Nokia GPS-enabled smartphones will include the new version of Ovi Maps along with Lonely Planet and Michelin travel guides at no extra cost. More importantly, Ojanperä said that Nokia’s software was superior to Google because the company used hybrid vector maps, which are high-quality vectors that are stored into the device.

In comparison, Google Maps Navigation has to download maps constantly over a network connection.  It doesn’t matter if your don’t have a 3G connection or have lost data connectivity, the basic functionality of Ovi Maps will work, Nokia claims. This low data consumption model is something carriers are going to love, Ojanperä said. Why? Because it will save them money on network costs, as explained by this image.

Another reason why carriers are going to love Ovi Maps: It will help them sell data upgrades to voice-centric customers, even in emerging markets such as India and China where standalone GPS devices have yet to become commonplace, unlike in the U.S. and Europe. To me, this is Nokia’s big opportunity.

45 Responses to “With New Ovi Maps, Nokia Seeks Location Heaven”

  1. silvsurfer

    Good article!

    Ovi maps have been working great in places I’ve been travellin lately… Europe, Asia, even Moscow. Last year I had to pay 1000Euro phone bill, because I used the network to download maps in Moscow in one weekend! Now I have all the maps with me!

    TO buy new phone, I have been spending months going through all the reviews and comparisons and last two days I really put time to test nexus one, htc, n900 and n97 mini and Iphone..

    And through all the hype I have to sadly say that even though its really good, nexus one is not that good considering the high price. Iphone sucks, its over priced and slow. Milestone was quite nice, but I have to say nokias flagships give more value for the money you spend. And If you want google services you can have all of them in symbian aswell.

    The the difference in user experience and speediness and usability is after all quite similar or sometimes even better in symbian.

    It is massive marketing machinery in States that makes all this hype around Iphone and android (mainly in US)and few fancy transitions in operating system that is making many of the average consumers go blindly buy it. Additional reason might be also the availability in North America.

    I’m so fed up with all this hype marketing making people follow it like lambs and sell them whatever they want to sell ;-)

    Dont fall on that psychology of marketing trap, use your own brains

    • barkleyfan

      It really comes down to the individuals needs. Apple offers a solid, idiot-proof user experience. It’s all many will ever need. Android offers a lot more options for those who don’t want a stagnant UI. WinMo is the most feature-rich mobile experience I’ve seen, with the help of XDA. But it’s the network, and both software and hardware options, combined with carrier subsidies that made the Moto Droid the choice for me. Milestone would have made international travel easier, but the bump in pricepoint would have negated the value. Good thing I don’t travel much. All comes down to what the individual needs in their mobile experience. I do a lot of rural travel, and nothing comes close to VZW’s 3G footprint. If I did more international travel, that wouldn’t mean nearly as much to me. It’s not “all” hype. And the Droid is still the best horse in VZW’s stable, especially when you root it and take advantage of it’s true potential.

  2. This is one of the best thing Nokia has done. It really increases the attraction of the Nokia device in market. A low end smartphone with free lifetime navigation is really good. Nice and informative post. Thanks.

  3. Um… If you tell your friends you are eating at Delfina Pizzeria on 18th Street in San Francisco, wouldn’t that be a pretty good clue where you are? Why would they need a map?

    • Actually this location information will be automatically shared with friends. For instance, it will be Eating Pizza at Delfina and system would insert “on 18th Street in San Francisco.” Or in some cases it will be “Delfina on 18th Street in San Francisco.” Point is that you don’t have to enter the location information, just what you are doing/want to share with your friends.

  4. Brett Glass

    See why Google is lobbying for “network neutrality” regulations that prevent ISPs from managing bandwidth? Google’s apps are bandwidth hogs, and turn their users into bandwidth hogs.

  5. barkleyfan

    Nice to see the competition. Googles dependency on data connection has been a problem for outdoor enthusiasts. Trimble just announced revisions to their android app giving us offline caching. If Ovi comes to android, it will likely sell well in the Market with offline caching and a more efficient data stream. I would love to see Nokia come into the google market and lift their leg. I’m more than ready to profit off this little war.

  6. “…Nokia is pushing mapping and location into a new phase, one in which advertising will also become part of the whole experience…”

    Now that is just what consumers DON’T want — ads using up the valuable space needed for the map on these small screens. I only want to see the location or institution I search for, unless I ask to see more. Wanna’ bet that Nokia, or the phone companies, screw this up for consumers?

  7. “lost attention to Google and Apple’s mapping and navigation efforts.”

    I didn’t know Apple has gathered attention in the mapping and navigation department…

  8. Brilliant move on the part of Nokia and something that I have been urging my Nokia exec buddy to do for a couple years now. Those guys make great phones, especially the hardware. They wanted to be a services and software company or something, but forgot to realize that for many the services etc are icing on the cake, not the cake itself and that consumers get fussy when when you ask them to pay for both cake and icing, not just the cake.

    Now to fix the Ovi Store….

  9. Anonymous

    Why are so many getting this wrong? Ovi maps has existed for some time now, and has been free for some time (if not always, I just haven’t confirmed to be 100% sure). What is now free by this announcement is the walking and voice navigation features.

  10. In Spain, Nokia phones come bundled with “3 months free map navigation”, after which you have to pay a monthly subscription to keep using the nav software. I guess this kills that model, or is it only for certain countries?

  11. For countries like India price point is very important, even a GSM tower triangulation based location API which is not very accurate would be very useful to have available on the phone without the price range of smartphones enabled with GPS. It is easier for someone like Nokia to get an updated cell tower database in India rather than smaller startups I know who are trying to do that.

  12. Anonymous

    I did not understand when you say “This feature is called Share location via Ovi Maps. How it works is that if I am eating at Delfina Pizzeria on 18th Street in San Francisco and say so on my Facebook, my friends would know exactly where I am, instead of seeing a bunch of numbers”

    Isn’t Google’s Latitude does the same thing?

  13. Anonymous

    I did not understand when you say How it works is that if I am eating at Delfina Pizzeria on 18th Street in San Francisco and say so on my Facebook, my friends would know exactly where I am, instead of seeing a bunch of numbers.

    Isn’t Google’s Latitude does the same thing?