updated 08:35 am EST, Thu January 21, 2010
Nokia makes Ovi Maps free
Nokia at a special event has unveiled a major new initiative to fend off competitors with GPS-savvy phones. A new version of Ovi Maps now offers both driving and pedestrian turn-by-turn navigation for free, shedding the subscription that Nokia previously needed for either feature. It also uses a unique mix of preloaded and online content that can work entirely offline in some situations while still providing online map data if the offline information isn't available.
The updated version takes advantage of Nokia's recent acquisition NAVTEQ to supply the maps and also includes 3D landmarks in major areas. Visitors to unfamiliar areas also have access to Lonely Planet and Michelin guides to recommend restaurants and other points of interest.
Ovi Maps is available immediately to download and is optimized for about 10 phones, including the N97 mini (but not the full-size N97) as well as the 5800 and 5230 XpressMusic, multiple newer Eseries phones and a trio of 6-series feature phones. More should receive the update soon, and all GPS-aware phones from March onwards will have it preloaded. An Ovi Maps SDK will let developers hook the service into websites.
The gesture is a direct reaction to Google Maps Navigation, which late last year became the first free GPS app for smartphones to offer true turn-by-turn mapping. It gave the Motorola Droid, as well as all Android 1.6 and 2.x devices, full GPS services without having to pay for either a stand-alone app or services like the previous Nokia service or TeleNav. iPhones are eventually also expected to get the service, though they may require direct involvement with Apple.
Nokia claims a particular advantage over Google's service as its existing maps and offline routing save about 55 percent data in an example drive. It also doesn't provide much secondary information. However, Google's service includes full voice recognition (on Android 2.x) for both directions and search as well as street-level photos with map overlays.