SAN FRANCISCO -- Nokia is leveraging its considerable portfolio of navigation services to become the first company to offer free navigation worldwide on its handsets. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) shook up the nav market earlier when it announced free maps and navigation on Android-based handsets in the U.S., but Nokia has considerably more reach.
The new offering, Ovi Maps, has its roots in Nokia's multi-billion purchase in 2007 of navigation leader Navteq. Nokia previously charged for the services, which include turn-by-turn navigation in 74 countries, it's now offering for free.
"Google's in the U.S. only, while Nokia via Navteq offers the best coverage in the world from Africa to China, Europe and elsewhere," Dominique Bonte, practice director at ABI Research told InternetNews.com. "What's unexpected about this is that when you get something for free, it's not usually the best in the market, but this is."
But where Google's Android OS is appearing on a growing number of smartphones, Ovi Maps is, for now, only available on Nokia smartphones. The Nokia 5800 and E72 are among the ten the Finnish mobile phone giant it's available on now with more to follow. Starting in March, Nokia said it plans to preload phones with Ovi Maps. Lonely Planet and Michellin Travel Guide content is also being made available free to Nokia users.
Christof Hellmis, vice president of location services for Nokia, said the company is definitely interested in getting its mapping services onto competing handsets. "Why not? Yes, eventually we'd like to see these services on other devices, not just Nokia's," Hellmis told InternetNews.com at a media event here.
Bonte said he fully expects Nokia to offer navigation to other handset makers. "The whole Ovi service platform is like a separate business unit and that's always been the master plan to offer these services to others," he said. "Otherwise they are limited to their own devices, but what they really want to do is offer navigation, music and money/payment services to a variety of handset makers."
Hellmis said Nokia is actively pursing distribution and support of a software development kit (SDK) designed to help developers bring out new location-aware applications. The company already offers a level of integration with Facebook with and Twitter, which lets users keep in contact with friends by letting them see where they are geographically.
Hellmis said that as maps are entering a new 3-D world that allows for a lot more information and geo-tagging to be embedded in buildings, historical monuments and the like.
From a competitive point of view, Bonte said Nokia has a deeper offering than Google which he calls "offboard" navigation in that all the information resides on a remote server. Nokia's "onboard" software runs locally on the device letting users download maps and, for example, work out travel plans offline.
"I just spent 11 hours on a flight coming out here and I was able to figure out everywhere I needed to go and how to get there when I was in the plane without an Internet connection," said Hellmis.
Bonte said he thinks the addition of free navigation services could help Nokia in the U.S. where its share of the smartphone market remains in the single digits. "Their sales have been dismal in the U.S. but this might be the kind of thing to get Nokia clicking with U.S. consumers," he said.