Ovi Maps: Nokia makes navigation free and global, one ups Google

Noah Kravitz
 from  Oakland, CA
| January 21, 2010

Nokia today announced the immediate availability of the new version of Ovi Maps, their free mapping and navigation software. Ovi Maps is available now for 10 Nokia devices, including the N97 mini, E72 and 5800, and will come pre-installed on all GPS-equipped Nokia smartphones beginning this March. Left in the cold, dark wilderness to find their way without Ovi Maps (for now) are the N97 and N900 devices, the latter of which is the company's first device to run the new Maemo OS platform.

I had a phone briefing with some Nokia brass yesterday and they're super excited about Ovi Maps, calling it a "game changer" and a "watershed moment" that we'll look back upon in days to come. Readers in the US might not be nodding their heads up and down in agreement just yet, due to the lack of carrier-subsidized Nokia smartphones in our country, but given Nokia's install base globally and the key points of the announcement, I'd be hard pressed to argue the importance of Ovi Maps to Nokia's future. 

To wit, several of Ovi Maps' key features out-Google Google when it comes to offering free and open LBS services on a mobile device:

  • Offering voice guided navigation for both pedestrians and drivers in 74 countries, Ovi Maps offers an insanely large coverage map. Google Nav on Android 2.x only works in the United States, unless you hack it. Ovi Maps supports 46 different languages and there are maps for over 180 countries, according to Nokia.
  • Ovi Maps works without any network connections. In other words, you can download Ovi Maps to your compatible device, pop your SIM card out or otherwise kill your cellular connection, and still use the phone as a standalone Nav unit with spoken, turn-by-turn directions. Of course, you'll get more out of the system if you do have an active data connection (search, traffic updates, etc), but the fact that you can use your phone as a Nav unit sans data plan is pretty cool - at least in theory.
  • No sign-ins are required to use Ovi Maps. So you know how you have to create and sign in with a Google Account to use an Android phone? Not so here. Take that, Google, you Evil-doing personal data monitors! (Sarcasm implied. Or not. You decide.)
  • Nokia also touted their "hybrid vector maps" tech that they say allows for much smaller map data downloads than conventional bitmapped map data, and their pedestrian navigation mode which offers up alternative - and sometimes shorter - routes for times when you're hoofin' it instead of being driven around in your Bugatti Veyron (I'm lookin' at YOU, Conan O'Brien, you crazy guy!).

All sounds good to me. So I'm downloading Ovi Maps to my E72 right now, over WiFi, without a SIM card installed. And I'll take the device with me today when I head out to the Oakland Airport to drop a friend off and then over the bridge into San Francisco for a meeting. And I'll let you know how Ovi Maps does in guiding us all around the rainy Bay Area.

In the meantime, um, sorry Tom-Tom. And Tom-Tom stock holders. It's been a rough couple of months for you guys, huh?

Learn more about - or download - Ovi Maps at nokia.com/maps