I’m into my second week looking at Nokia’s Ovi suite of services. So far N-Gage has impressed, Share on Ovi holds it’s own against Flickr and the music store worked, but was a nasty click-fest experience. That left Nokia Maps to look at…
London is covered in Nokia Maps advertising at the moment. The picture to the left is the IMAX cinema near Waterloo wrapped entirely in Maps advertising – there’s also been plenty of radio advertising. Confusingly, there’s no mention of Ovi in any of it, but regardless this would be a great opportunity to test something Nokia’s spending some serious money on promoting right now.
Except I didn’t go to the main site and downloaded the Beta 2.0 release instead … not intentionally, I just didn’t expected the markeing would be for a shiny new version. Instead Nokia’s advertising all points to the out-dated 1.0 release… something that’s been kicking around for quite some time. Nokia’s own FAQ describes the differences:
Nokia Maps 2.0 Beta offers a lot of new features:
Satellite and hybrid images
Improved user interface for car navigation
One box search
Multimedia city guides
Real time traffic information (RTTI)
…all things consumers are well familiar with from either Google Maps Mobile or personal navigation devices such as TomTom’s range. Bizarre – what are they playing at?
So I can’t tell you anything about the product most people are currently being pushed, but I can report (fortunately) that the Beta 2.0 version is generally a strong performer… I’ll be testing the live navigation features next week on a GPS-enabled device, so concentrated on the basic features this week.
What stands out almost immediately on loading the application is how focused on enriching the basic maps the application is. ‘Points of Interest’ jump off the screen at you and the navigation snaps to the nearest as you scroll around. Initially this felt a bit odd having been conditioned by the map-centric Google approach, but in real-world use this was incredibly helpful. Also, categorised and tagged with suitable icons finding restaurants, pubs or ATMs based on proximity to a route or my location was a quick process – substancially easier that Google’s efforts which also seemed to be a bit more hit and miss about finding things.
Visually and speed-wise the application still has some way to go – it’s basic but functional. Presentation of road or place names can look clumsy at times compared to the very polished presentation typically available on a PC. Speed of use varies, but for downloaded maps all is well… and this is another major difference: the Nokia application caches mapping data on the handset preferring to attempt routing locally before deferring to an internet-based server only as a 2nd choice (most others, Google included, are internet only). This as the advantage of removing the reliance on a fast data connection to use a map (on the Tube was very useful – planning the route from the station), but seemed much slower when a download was required. Also, with routing on a few occasions major locations (Trafalgar Square in London, for example) could not be found… which was frustrating. It seems Nokia want you to pre-load the maps normally, but this only served to demonstrate the final annoyance :
Google’s approach is simple – 1 click download then install…
Nokia are back to their old tricks of making hard work of it…
Overall, as a purely browsing and searching tool Nokia Maps looks strong and is obviously improving. Offering city guides is a good additional bonus feature (although I still think I’d prefer a normal guide book personally if given the choice), but there’s still some kinks to be ironed out and the bar is set pretty high for sat nav devices now – I don’t know many people without a dedicated in-car device (portable or otherwise) and Nokia’s offering doesn’t threaten many of them… yet. As ever with Nokia – technically proficient, but lacking the finishing touches and polished presentation others have.
During the course of my testing, the news came out that Nokia will be adding an Ovi portal to Maps to define routes and share locations. I’ve yet to see this in action, but it’s excellent news that the product is developing and adding some features that takes advantage of the wireless data features… Other products fudge this by requiring a wired sync or miss this completely. It’s a strong point for Nokia – I hope they can get the user interface right so it’s easy to use.