Nokia takes on Google – offers free navigation

Nokia has announced plans to release a new version of Ovi Maps for its smartphones that includes high-end walk and drive navigation at no extra cost, available for download at

Why is Nokia doing this?

The simple answer is because it can and because it thinks it will help its phone business.

The buzz surrounding Google’s introduction of free navigation on its Android phones shows that consumers are interested in this service.

Nokia also owns one of the world’s largest mapping data providers (Navteq) and a mobile mapping firm called gate5, so it’s relatively simple for them to provide this data.

Tero Ojanperä, Nokia’s executive vice president of services, says the potential market for navigation-equipped handsets is in the tens of millions.

Is Ovi Maps better than Google Maps Navigation?

The two services have different advantages. Google has built unique features into its maps, such as “Street View” (360-degree images) and “Satellite View” (bird’s-eye perspective). Nokia is including 3-D landmarks for 200 cities around the world and point-of-interest information from Lonely Planet and Michelin guidebooks.

Ovi Maps is also designed to be less “bandwidth hungry” than Google Maps, which requires a more constant data connection to view maps. Nokia says Ovi is 10 times more efficient in its use of bandwidth than Google’s service.

Ovi Maps will also be available in many more places (74 countries, 46 languages) than Google Maps Navigation, which is currently limited to the U.S. Nokia also contends that its maps are of higher quality than Google’s, due to its close relationship with Navteq.

What does this mean for Navteq?

In theory, Nokia’s launch of free navigation could rankle other device makers that use Navteq’s mapping data, but it probably won’t affect its partnerships. Nokia runs the Navteq business, which is based in Chicago, at an arm’s distance, industry insiders say. There are also only two large mapping data providers in the world–Navteq and Tele Atlas, which is owned by Dutch navigation device maker TomTom–so companies don’t have much choice in providers.

How will this affect the GPS industry?

Like Google’s November announcement, Nokia’s news is widely viewed as a threat to portable navigation device makers. TomTom’s stock price dropped 10% on Jan. 21, while Garmin’s dipped 5%.

A TomTom spokesman noted, “While competition continues to be fierce in the development of location-based services and sponsored maps…customers have consistently demonstrated a willingness to pay for the best user experience.”

A Google spokeswoman said, “We’re pleased to see more free navigation options now available for mobile phone users. This benefits consumers, and provides them with even greater choice.” Representatives for Telenav and Networks In Motion, which make GPS software for phones, declined to comment on the announcement.

Courtesy: Nokia, Forbes.

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