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By Alex Walker

Nokia Offers Free Google Maps Alternative

By Alex Walker

Let’s make this clear up front: Google Maps is awesome, some might even argue the most important web service to come out of the last decade. What’s more, our collective love of maps only looks to be growing with the rise of Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, Urbanspoon and a slew of other location-based services.

However, we also love a bit of niggle to keep everyone honest, so it was pleasing to see Nokia last week announce their Ovi Maps service is to be released as a free offering.

Ovi Maps from Nokia

Although still in closed beta for the moment, quite soon anyone with a little HTML and JavaScript know-how should be able to use Nokia’s Ovi SDK/API to tap map data fromany mobile application or web app.

Ok, so maybe you’re thinking ‘Meh.. I already know the Google Maps API. Why would I change?‘. Well, here are a few reasons to give it some thought.

Ovi Maps 3D View

  1. Vectors: Ovi maps are vector-based at their source. This allows your app to download, store and use large map sections, negating any issues with slow, spotty or non-existent connectivity — always a potential issue with download-as-you-go bitmap services.
  2. 3D View: Like a classic in-car GPS unit, Ovi offers a pilot’s perspective view of your map.
  3. Turn-by-turn: Ovi does turn-by-turn route navigation out of the box. This is something the most recent Android build has built-in (as seen in the Droid and the Nexus one), but iPhone currently doesn’t.
  4. Night ModeNight mode: Ovi offers a mode where the color set is optimized for easy reading in low light environments. I suspect night mode would use less power too, if that were a concern.
  5. Location-based data: Ovi automatically provides automatic weather, traffic and news feeds for the location.
  6. Travel modes: Ovi maps give you the choice or driving or walking routes.
  7. Speed: Generally Google’s signature characteristic, Ovi seems lightning fast on zooming and panning. Faster than anything I’ve used.

The only slight downside I found was currently the web-based version requires a browser plug-in to access it’s full functionality (3d, night mode, etc) on IE8, Firefox and Safari. Other browsers get a simpler map app without the bells and whistlers.

Nevertheless I think there are some pretty compelling reasons to at least put a little bit of research into the Nokia offering.

And golf claps for Nokia. Although they still sell a ridiculous number of phones every second, it feels like it’s been a long time since they’ve done anything interesting. Here’s hoping the trend continues.

On the other hand, if you’re still hanging on to those Garmin or Tomtom shares, maybe have a look at that.

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