Nokia’s first blood in maps war

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Five months ago at Nokia World, Nokia chief executive Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo admitted the Finnish handset giant needed to learn from its mistakes. Apple had set up camp in its stomping ground, and set new rules for even heralded brands like Nokia to now play by.

Its Ovi Store launch had, to the watching industry, bombed. Nokia, it was agreed, needed to better understand the new age of application distribution – of maps, email and music. Nokia affirmed its desire to be the leading provider of software and services. And entertainment and location-based services would be central to achieving this goal.

Thus 2010 is a pivotal year for Nokia. And it seems the organisation has put its money where its mouth is.

Just three weeks into the New Year came the announcement that detailed voice-directions and turn-by-turn navigation for 74 countries in 46 languages would become free on a number of handsets. 

For pedestrians this includes shortcuts through parks and pedestrian-only zones for over 100 cities around the world, as well as 6,000 3D landmarks in over 200 cities.

A free version of Ovi Maps for 10 handsets has turned the navigation industry on its head. The question yet to be answered is exactly how Nokia will make up the losses on its old mapping revenue (if indeed there ever was much revenue from its pay-as-you-use pricing models).

It seems quite probable that the cost will simply be absorbed into the trade price, which will put noses out of joint. The upside, from Nokia’s point of view, is a more predictable revenue stream that helps develop future services around maps.

The Ovi Maps application and individual maps can be preloaded onto the phone, by the user (Over-The-Air or via a PC), but Nokia will ship new models with relevant maps already installed (UK and Europe for UK models, US maps for American-bound handsets etc). Maps for anywhere else can be added free of charge.

A new vector-based file format ensures these maps don’t impact heavily on storage space that could otherwise be used for photos, videos and applications.

Having the maps in the phone from the outset means the user doesn’t have to access map data over the air, and can even use navigation with the phone in ‘offline’ mode.

Clearly Nokia was leading up to this in its €8.1bn acquisition of map-maker Navteq, even if Google had already announced to the world its intentions to making mobile mapping free – as it has already done in the US. It is taking the fight to those that have dared dictate to its market.

It is facing down Google and Apple by offering a free navigation service, as well as the traditional satellite navigation specialists TomTom and Garmin.

Nokia UK managing director Mark Loughran (pictured) explained: “When we purchased Navteq two years ago, we always talked about giving consumers easy access to people and places and all the associated information. This announcement is a milestone, and everyone seems to be really excited about it.”

Full article in Mobile News issue 456 (February 1, 2010).

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