Nokia frees voice-guided maps feature

Phone maker announces turn-by-turn navigation feature on Ovi Maps will be free on 10 of its models, delivers blow to standalone GPS devices.

SINGAPORE--Nokia has announced it will provide its mobile maps with turn-by-turn navigation for free to 10 of its phone models.

Turn-by-turn voice-guided directions are a feature found primarily on standalone PNDs (personal navigation devices). Google, too, released a turn-by-turn directional features on Google Maps for Android phones in October last year.

Vlasta Berka, Nokia general manager for Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, told ZDNet Asia that the company has also roped in service providers such as Lonely Planet and Expedia to deliver travel information based on the user's location. In some countries like Singapore, tie-ups with local providers like HungryGoWhere.com aim to deliver more detailed information, he added.

Ovi Maps is built on maps from Navteq which Nokia acquired for US$8.1 billion in 2007. Users of Nokia's Series 60 devices can download their maps from the company's Web site or through a device software update, said Berka.

This turn-by-turn feature isn't new to Nokia. It has been making the service available to users for a subscription fee. Those whose subscriptions haven't run out before today will not get a refund, however.

A blow to standalone PNDs
Amid the rising trend of GPS-enabled phones, there has been speculation that the influx of such devices would lead to the demise of standalone PNDs. According to a September study released by iSuppli, PNDs may go extinct by as early as 2014.

In an October interview with ZDNet Asia, several PND makers said this would be unlikely. They cited a more stable experience with the maps onboard a PND, compared with one on a phone which may have less computing power and would need to stream maps from the Internet--as is the case with Google Maps.

With Nokia's announcement today, however, its devices may come close the gap toward the dedicated experience touted by PND makers. The Ovi Maps is stored on device and does not require an Internet connection to function.

Another similar hybrid marrying a PND with a phone is the nuviphone, made by Garmin and Asus.

Quoting Canalys figures, Berka said some 27 million people used the GPS navigation feature on their mobile phones in 2009. Nokia's 10 Ovi Maps-carrying models cover an installed base of 20 million globally, "potentially doubling the size of this market overnight", he said.

Location-based app opportunity
Berka disclosed that Nokia has a longer-term plan for mapping and location-based services (LBS).

"The locally-aware, social Internet-based app is the way to go," he said, noting that Ovi Maps hooks up to social-networking platform Facebook to allow users to broadcast their whereabouts.

With an estimated 163 million GPS-capable phones globally--and Nokia having shipped 83 million of those--the company is aiming to court developers to its Ovi Store with its broad installed base, he said.

"Making navigation on a mobile as familiar as sending a text or taking a picture presents a huge opportunity as the customer base for additional location-based applications expands," said Berka.

Nokia has released a preview of the Ovi APIs (application programming interface) and a beta version of its SDK (software development kit) to some developers, he added.