Upping the stakes in the keenly contested GPS market, Nokia announced this evening that its turn-by-turn navigation service is now free for 11 of its high-end phones - including flagship models like its N97, E72 and 5800 XpressMusic (see full list end of article).
Previously, Nokia’s Ovi Maps has cost $17 a month or $122 a year for New Zealand users.
The Finnish company - the world's largest cellphone maker - says its aggressive play has the potential to double the size of the mobile satellite navigation market.
A study by research firm research firm Canalys estimates at the end of 2009 there were 27 million people using satellite navigation on their cellphone; Nokia's move increases that - on paper at least - to 50 million users (assuming most with compatible handsets take up the free mapping option).
Canalys also estimated that in 2009, the installed base of smartphones with integrated GPS was 163 million units worldwide, of which Nokia accounted for more than half (51%) having shipped cumulatively 83 million GPS devices.
Not every Nokia phone with a GPS chip is Ovi Maps compatible, but the company says it will "quickly expand" its list (which will be available online at www.nokia.com/maps).
From tonight, customers with compatible phones will be able to get turn-by-turn voice instructions for Nokia’s Ovi Maps 2.0 for nothign (basic maps, without real-time instructions to reach a destination, are already free for download).
Owners of the 11 compatible phones (essentially, every Symbian 60 model) can download the turn-by-turn navigation software for their phones now - apart from N97 users, who'll have to wait another week and a half.
From next month, all compatible phones will be sold with Ovi Maps, including new Lonely Planet city guides and Michelin travel guides, also for no extra cost.
The newly free service covers your home country, and 74 others, and includes both walking and driving modes.
Real-time traffic ... still on the way
Most countries, including Australia, get real-time traffic updates too as part of the free service.
New Zealand, however, will miss out, although Nokia says it’s in discussions with a local service provider (currently Navman, with its tie-in with the AA’s Geosmart, is the only GPS vendor to offer real-time updates in New Zealand, giving the old school sat-nav maker a leg up on the cellphone insurgents).
Aggressive fight back, led by free software and services
Nokia has lost market share in the smartphone segment to BlackBerry maker RIM and iPhone maker Apple over the past 12 months, both of which are also offering mapping services. Google, in turn, is offering free turn-by-turn navigation for those using Google Maps with a cellphone running on its Android OS.
To regain the initiative, the Finnish phone maker is placing a heavier emphasis on software and services. Beyond Ovi Maps, these include Nokia Messaging, which offers a BlackBerry-style push email service for free and Comes With Music, which offers unlimited music downloads for 12 months (though only for Aussies, not Kiwis).
Match this ever-expanding pool of quality free services with a top-notch Nokia handset like the E72, and you've got plenty of reasons to at least give the old school Finns a second look before you leap to iPhone.
While Google offers more graphical frills, Nokia's Ovi Maps can work from a phone's GPS receiver alone, meaning you don't lose a navigation signal (or rack up any data charges) when out of cellular range.
Filtering down the food chain
Nokia first got into GPS-enabled mapping in October 2007 when it bought Navteq for $US8 billion.
But limited promotion and still monthly fees meant the service - which proved fast and accurate in NBR tests - gained little public profile, let alone update.
Now, as it goes free with 11 high-end handsets - and over time filters down to most of Nokia's range - Ovi Maps is destined to become a household name, and a serious threat to the existence of the likes of Garmin and Navman (if not so much TomTom, which has taken the savvier approach of making its software available for the iPhone.
Currently compatible Nokia phones:
Nokia N97 mini
Nokia 5800 XpressMusic
Nokia 5800 Navigation Edition,
Nokia 6710 Navigator
Nokia 6730 classic
Nokia says it will add more models shortly. See www.nokia.com/maps for hardware updates and free map downloads.
A spokeswoman for Nokia told NBR that that a compatible service for the N97 was still around "a week and a half" away.