NOKIA HAS STUCK IT TO the likes of Tomtom and ALK with the launch of free turn-by-turn navigation for a range of its phones.
The upgrade to Ovi Maps brings driving and walking directions, with maps stored locally on the device, so the basic service can be accessed without the need for a mobile data connection. However additional services like traffic information or city guides can be accessed via a data connection, something you'll probably only want to do if you're not going to have to stump up for roaming data charges.
According to Nokia, this hybrid model of storing the maps locally and using vector maps keeps data traffic to a minimum. All new Nokia devices with GPS will have local maps preinstalled, so the UK will have maps for most of Europe already on the device, and any other maps can be downloaded to the phone over the air or preferably over a Wifi connection or side-loaded from a computer.
While full navigation has been available on mobiles for some time as paid-for applications from the traditional navigation firms, by offering it for free and tightly integrated into the phone, Nokia is delivering a major blow to these companies.
Nokia isn't the first to make this service free, with Google beating it to the punch recently when it launched the Nexus One. However Google's version is limited to the US while Nokia's is up and running with detailed maps for over 180 countries. The service is available in 74 countries and 46 languages, and, provided you have an active mobile data connection, you can also get traffic information for over 10 countries as well.
"We want to make using your mobile for navigation as familiar as using it to send a text or take a picture. We believe that making the best maps with voice guided navigation available for free will be the catalyst to do this," explained Anssi Vanjoki, executive vice president of Nokia.
"Why have multiple devices that work in only one country or region? Put it all together, make it free, make it global and you have something that is truly useful and can help you get round almost any city in the world whether you're on foot or driving."
As well as turn-by-turn, voice guided navigation, drivers get features such as lane assistance, traffic information and safety camera and speed warnings.
For those on foot, walking mode will give you 3D landmarks, with currently around 6,000 landmarks in 200 countries available, and route you through parks, alleys and other pedestrian only areas, provided it knows about them of course.
Nokia has also teamed up with content providers and social networks such as Lonely Planet, Time Out, Wcities, Michelin and Facebook to provide additional location based services.
According to Vanjoki, the move is currently being funded by Nokia itself, with the idea being to help boost smartphone sales, although he didn't rule out the possibility of advertising coming in future, particularly as the platform is being opened up to developers to create other applications that will be able to tie into the service.
"This is not just a product announcement," he added. "This is major industry news that will change how we perceive context sensitive services. This leads to our larger vision where the map is the user interface of our life."
The service is available from today on 10 Nokia phones, namely the N97 mini, 5800 XpressMusic, 5800 Navigation Edition, E52, E55, E72, 5230, 6710 Navigator, 6730 classic and the X6, with more devices set be added in the coming months, including the original N97 and Meamo devices like the N900. µ
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