Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Nokia Moves To Dominate Mobile Map Applications

Posted by Tom Foremski - January 21, 2010

"Navigation has become a commodity, it's become the platform for innovative applications," said Christof Hellmis, Director of Navigation at Nokia.

This morning I made my way through torrential rain showers to a Nokia event in San Francisco, announcing that its Ovi Maps service is now free.

In one fell swoop Nokia said it had doubled the size of the world's mobile navigation market -- that's the kind of power Nokia has because of its status as the world's largest mobile phone maker.

Instead of paying $70 a year plus extra for services such as its traffic congestion navigator, all Nokia smartphone users are now able to download its Ovi Maps service for free.

"We intend to monetize the service through advertising and new apps that overlay hyper-local information about events and local businesses," said Christof Hellmis, Director of Navigation at Nokia.

Nokia is leveraging its acquisition of NAVTEQ in a bid to dominate the mobile maps market in a similar way that Google and Yahoo have done with their web browser based map services. Although Ovi Maps can be accessed through a web browser it works best on a Nokia smartphone.

Unlike Google maps, Ovi Maps works without the need for a data connection. The map is downloaded and it uses vector based imaging instead of bit-mapped images to reduce the size of the map data. This saves money on wireless data plans.

Nokia says that there are now a potential 50 million users of Ovi Maps.

Mr Hellmis believes that Ovi Maps will help Nokia sell more phones. "We could offer it on non-Nokia phones but we don't have plans for that yet."

The success of Ovi Maps as a platform for commerce will depend on how many innovative applications are developed. There are several thousand developers enrolled in a private beta of the Ovi Maps API.

Tracking apps...

Future apps might include versions of a research project in the Bay area between the Nokia Research Center in Silicon Valley, and the University of California at Berkeley. The Mobile Millennium project tracked the GPS locations of 5,000 Nokia phone users as they travelled on local highways and streets over a 12 month period.

This revealed traffic patterns and related data that could reduce traffic congestion by rerouting or delaying travel times.

"You might wait 15 minutes to take a trip because you'll avoid a long wait in traffic," said Mr Hellmis. The data collected from the project has also helped to improve the accuracy of predicting traffic congestion.

He said that the project revealed that there are three types of drivers: one type doesn't change routes no matter how bad the traffic congestion; a second type immediately tries to reroute around bottlenecks; while a third type will only seek an alternate route if there is a major problem.

Interestingly, there is an equal distribution of all three types of drivers.

Future Nokia maps apps might make use of location data collected from large numbers of Nokia phone users.

"The data would be collected anonymously since it's the statistical data of large numbers of Nokia travelers that we are interested in."

Peer-to- peer apps...

"Google has its data centers but we have the largest distributed computer system in the world -- the processing power in Nokia smartphones," said Mr Hellmis.

Peer-to-peer applications could take advantage of the ubiquity of Nokia phones. In the near future, your Nokia phone might be helping to provide computational services to another Nokia phone user nearby -- and vice versa.


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