11:12 AM

Nokia Launches Free Mobile Maps Service

Ovi Maps for GPS smartphones trumps Google Maps' Droid-only service, Nokia says.

Hoping to better compete with Google's mobile maps service, Nokia has dropped its paid service and is offering free turn-by-turn navigation service for its GPS-equipped smartphones in 74 countries.

Nokia had been charging for its navigation service, making it difficult to compete against Google's free offering. In making its service free, Nokia has taken price out of the equation, and is touting what it claims are its advantages to Google Maps for Mobile.

For one, Nokia's latest version of Ovi Maps offers voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation in 74 countries in 46 languages. The service offers maps for a total of 180 countries.

In comparison, Google offers voice-guided navigation only in English and in the United States. The service is available only on Droid smartphones offered by multiple wireless service providers. Droid refers to Google's Android operating system.

"Why have multiple devices that only work in one country or region?" Anssi Vanjoki, executive VP of Nokia, said in a statement released Thursday. "Put it all together, make it free, make it global and you have something that is truly useful and can help you get round almost any city in the world whether you're on foot or driving."

Other advantages of Ovi Maps over Google Maps, according to Nokia, include the ability to access maps without a data connection. While Nokia's maps are downloaded to the phone, Google Maps requires a network connection.

In addition, Ovi Maps uses hybrid vector graphics, which use a tenth of the data as Google's bit maps, according to Nokia. This means less data moving across operators networks, and a reduction in the amount of data smartphone users consume, which could be a boon to users with metered data plans " and their wireless carriers.

For motorists, Nokia's service will include a number of "smart features" with turn-by-turn voice guidance, including lane guidance, traffic data in more than 10 countries, and safety camera and speed warnings.

For pedestrians, the service will exploit shortcuts through parks and pedestrian-only spots in more than 100 cities worldwide. The maps are bolstered further by more than 6,000 3D landmarks in more than 200 cities. In addition, information from Lonely Planet and Michelin tourist guides is available on more than 1,000 destinations.

Beginning in March, all new GPS-enabled Nokia smartphones will include the latest mapping service. Nokia also is making the service available for download immediately for some existing smartphones, including the N97 mini, 5800 XpressMusic, 5800 Navigation Edition, E52, E55, E72, 5230, 6710 Navigator, 6730 classic and X6. More phones, including the N97, will be added over time, and the list will be updated regularly on the Ovi Maps site.

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