Nokia unveiled a free version of its Ovi Maps navigation software Thursday that provides turn-by-turn navigation on the company's smartphones. Analysts expect the move will have a major impact on the mobile-communications and personal-navigation industries, and could potentially be more disruptive than Google's navigation offering.
"While free Google navigation is only available in the U.S. on certain Android phones, free Ovi Maps is rolled out globally on a large number of Nokia smartphones," said Dominique Bonte, practice director at ABI Research. "At the same time, Ovi Maps is based on state-of-the-art NAVTEQ digital maps and proven navigation software, making it very difficult to compete against with premium offers."
"The pressure is mounting and like many other things in mobile, we are moving to a model where you give the basics for free and you make money either on added services or on advertising," said Gartner Research Director Carolina Milanesi. Given that turn-by-turn navigation is an important service to attract customers, IDC Research Manager Francisco Jeronimo said Nokia's free service "will prevent the Finnish maker from seeing a stronger decline in its smartphone market share in the future."
Doubling Market Size
Nokia's free software covers 74 nations in 46 languages, provides detailed maps for 180 countries, and delivers detailed traffic information for more than 10 countries, so it no longer makes sense for consumers to purchase and use multiple devices that work in only one country or region, said Nokia Executive Vice President Anssi Vanjoki.
"Unlike the legacy car-navigation manufacturers, we don't make you buy maps for different countries or regions, even if you're only visiting for a few days," Vanjoki said.
The number of people worldwide using GPS navigation on mobile phones last year was approximately 27 million, according to Canalys. However, Nokia expects its free Ovi Maps release will help grow the installed user base to about 50 million.
"Put it all together, make it free, make it global, and you almost double the potential size of the mobile-navigation market," Vanjoki said.
Nokia has already given selected developers and publishers a preview of the Ovi APIs and software development kit that will allow them to build apps for release at Nokia's Ovi Store.
"By adding cameras at no extra cost to our phones, we quickly became the biggest camera manufacturer in the world," Vanjoki noted. "The aim of the new Ovi Maps is to enable us to do the same for navigation."
Addressing Major Challenges
Free Ovi Maps strengthens Nokia's position against rivals running Google's Android operating system and counters the market gains that LG Electronics and Samsung have achieved by using GPS as a key selling point for their devices, Jeronimo said.
"Worldwide, LG shipped 30.7 million GPS-enabled units in 2008, Samsung 28.5 million units, and Nokia 24.7 million units," Jeronimo explained. "The same trend continued in the first nine months of 2009, with Samsung shipping more GPS-enabled devices than Nokia."
The free smartphone navigation offering is also expected to have a negative impact on personal-navigation device makers as well as the developers of premium navigation software for handsets such as Apple's iPhone. Milanesi noted that it will be up to developers "to come up with something different other than just pure navigation."
Moreover, the main advantage of having a separate dedicated device is that users don't have to worry about battery life, Milanesi observed.
"Nokia is tackling that issue by making sure the screen turns off when you are driving along the road and no directions are needed for a while, say on the highway," Milanesi said. "I also think that pedestrian navigation is growing in popularity, so having a separate device just does not make sense for that."