Nokia has made the map data for its Ovi Maps service free, in a move designed to boost sales of Nokia handsets. However, the phone giant also expects it to kick-start the development of location-aware applications and so build momentum behind its online app store.
Available immediately, the new Ovi Maps will be pre-installed all new Symbian-based Nokia handsets with built-in GPS. Handsets in the UK will have Europe-wide maps ready loaded as well.
The system features turn-by-turn and pedestrian navigation features for 74 countries worldwide, and is available in 46 languages.
Nokia vice president Anssi Vanjoki said at an event in London that Ovi Maps is now "a completely different class of navigation experience than on any other device".
The revamped service is designed to work both online and offline, according to Nokia, allowing users to store maps on their handset rather than map data being downloaded on demand over the air.
With an internet connection, users will also have access to live information such as traffic data, and services including Lonely Planet travel guides, Vanjoki said.
The move could hit vendors of standalone sat-nav devices such as TomTom, especially as Ovi Maps integrates with social networking sites including Facebook, allowing users to update their status with their precise location and add geographic tags to photos snapped with their phone.
When asked whether users downloading maps would affect the mobile networks, Vanjoki explained that the new platform uses vector-based data, meaning that files will be a tenth the size of traditional maps and only need to be downloaded once.
Although entirely free at the moment, Nokia did not rule out using advertising to generate revenue from Ovi Maps in the future.
"Advertising is not an immediate concern for us, but the platform could be expanded in future," Vanjoki said.
As well as boosting smartphone sales, Nokia hopes that developers will be drawn by the new location-aware capabilities in its handsets to provide a new wave of applications for the online Ovi Store.
"What this will do for us is that developers have a huge platform to build applications. It's like a giant mashup," said Vanjoki.
Ovi Maps is available for 10 Nokia handsets at launch, including the N97 Mini, Nokia 5800 XpressMusic and Nokia E72, but more will be added in the next few weeks.
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