Nokia gains one on Google by making its Smartphone Navigation service free and global

The Finnish company touts Ovi Maps as better than Google’s Mobile Maps Service, releases new free, updated version of Ovi Maps for Nokia phones.

In the face of acute competition from Google’s Android devices, Nokia is looking for avenues to up its game. It has decided to start with its GPS technology and has announced that it will stop charging for its walk and drive navigation system.

From March 2010, new Nokia GPS-enabled smartphones will include the new version of Ovi Maps with voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation in 74 countries, in 46 languages and containing maps of 180 countries. Google’s similar service is also voice guided and free but is limited to only English and United States. Another feather on Nokia’s cap is that it’s Operating System Symbian gives developers the freedom to use a variety of programming languages and their apps are featured in about nine application stores as compared to the one or two offered by it’s peers. This might be the case as the Finland based Nokia is more popular outside of the United States with an established record of having shipped over 250 million phone units worldwide while the Mountain View based Google is yet to reach such a stature outside of the US.

Nokia is taking no chances however. Analyst firm IDC recently released a report that indicates that Google Inc.’s Android software will be the fastest growing operating system between now and 2013, when it will become the second most popular mobile OS behind Nokia’s Symbian. Rival research firm Gartner inc. also had made a similar prediction.

Nokia hopes to gain ground over the increasingly popular Android phones by making the Mobile Map usage global and free. Nokia points out other advantages over Google like how the maps can be accessed without a data connection by merely downloading to the phone while Google Maps require a network connection. Ovi Maps uses hybrid vector graphics, which according to Nokia use a tenth of the data as Google’s bit maps, and is more cost effective to users on rigid data plans with wireless service providers. The company has added more bells and whistles to the map service like turn-by-turn voice guidance, lane guidance, traffic data in more than 10 countries, and safety camera and speed warnings. For pedestrians, the service will present shortcuts through parks and pedestrian-only spots in more than 100 cities worldwide. The maps now include more than 6,000 3D landmarks in more than 200 cities and information from Lonely Planet and Michelin tourist guides is available on more than 1,000 destinations.

Nokia hopes that by leading the market in location awareness and mapping technology, it would trigger a massive migration from competitors like Google and Apple who are generally associated with more innovative user experiences. Whether this will be a game changer for Nokia in terms of being viewed as an exciting, radical brand is highly doubtful. However this could be a start of a path leading to a potential facelift for the brand in North America where it is considered more as a “has-been” and a drab alternative.