Going places

Eighteen months after its acquisiton of mapping and navigation firm Navteq, Nokia aims to make Ovi Maps a contextual platform at the centre of a variety of mobile applications.

In mid-January Finnish handset vendor Nokia revealed what it’s been up to with location and mapping firm Navteq, which it bought in 2008 for $8.1bn. It turns out that the world’s biggest handset vendor is shaking up the mobile space by making mapping and turn-by-turn navigation available for free to a potential 83 million users. At a London launch event hosted by Anssi Vanjoki, executive vice president of Nokia, the company removed all costs associated with its Ovi Maps offering, for which it had previously charged up to €59.99 per year for a European Maps 3 Drive licence.

Besides the price, the big attraction with the revamped service is that the maps are available in both on- and offline mode. They can either be downloaded on the fly over cellular or wifi, or sideloaded in advance from the PC. Any maps that are downloaded are also cached so they don’t need to be downloaded again, and this goes for all the maps available for 180 countries. The service also features car and pedestrian navigation features, such as turn-by-turn voice guidance for 74 countries in 46 languages, and traffic information for over ten countries.

Through a partnership with Facebook, Nokia has also introduced a ‘share my location’ feature to use with the social networking service. The offering will also include free Lonely Planet and Michelin guides as standard.

Already ten Nokia models are able to download the new version of Ovi Maps as a free update; the N97 mini, 5800 XpressMusic, 5800 Navigation Edition, E52, E55, E72, 5230, 6710 Navigator, 6730 classic and X6. Going forward, all Symbian S60 devices released by Nokia will boast this same functionality and the vendor will later make Maps available on its Linux-based Maemo platform. Devices will come preloaded with the relevant regional maps out of the box.

Research firm Gartner estimates that, globally, 26 per cent of mobile devices were GPS-enabled in 2009, with the figure leaping to 76 per cent for North America. In Europe the number is more moderate, at 30 per cent, while Asia Pacific is a long way off the pace at 13 per cent. Still, Nokia’s move threatens to take a chunk out of the PND (portable navigation device) market, and also sticks the boot into any other paid for navigation offerings. It also makes an attractive alternative to offerings like the iPhone, which boasts native mapping using Google Maps, but does not allow for caching or offline usage. In this respect Ovi Maps provides a far greater range of data and services than Google’s Maps Navigation offers, which is, for now, limited to the US.

Gavin Byrne, research analyst at Informa, notes: “Clearly, Nokia has one eye on developments in Mountain View, CA. Google’s announcement of Google Maps Navigation Beta for Android 2.0 in August 2009 was a shot across Nokia’s bows. That danger became all the more imminent in late November when Google announced that it had backported the application to Android 1.6. Suddenly it could become available to a host of in-market devices, such as the G1, Magic and Motorola Dext.”

Nokia’s proposal allows the user to sidestep heavy data roaming charges by preloading maps before they visit a county and just using GPS, which is free, rather than the data network to find their location when abroad. While the Maps application is free, data charges will apply to users downloading maps on the fly over the cellular network. For many this may be included in their data plan, but prepay users may get hit by charges. Still, Nokia claims that the vector mapping technology used by its platform is ten times more efficient than the bitmap-based offerings from other providers. An innovative feature is the inclusion of 3D landmarks on the maps, to better help the user with orientation.

Vanjoki indicated that, in the long term, Nokia hopes to gain greater revenues through the widespread adoption of Ovi Maps as a contextual platform for mobile applications, which will, of course, be sold through the Ovi store. Vanjoki said that Nokia believes the map should become “the user interface to our life,” marking another step toward positioning its mapping data and technologies as a key platform at the centre of applications.

And when asked about the potential revenue loss from making features such as turn by turn available for free, Vanjoki said the intention was to make a little money from a much bigger pool of users, rather than taking a lot of money from a smaller base. He also hinted, however, that in the long term, the platform would be good for mobile advertising, suggesting another, much hyped, revenue stream. In September of 2009, Navteq acquired location based advertising firm Acuity Mobile for an undisclosed sum. Navteq and Acuity are long-term partners with a jointly developed interactive advertising platform already deployed by the mapping firm. Navteq launched the LocationPoint advertising platform early in 2009, using Acuity’s precise location targeted advertising.

“The acquisition of Acuity Mobile further strengthens our eight plus years in location-based advertising and interactive advertising,” said Chris Rothey, vice president of advertising, at Navteq at the time of the purchase. “Our research indicates that the more finely we target advertising, the higher value it brings to consumers and advertisers alike.”

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